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Labor Day’s Legacy: A More Inclusive America

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Amy DeanAt some point in their lives, almost all parents think about making a will to ensure that their assets are passed on to the next generation. But material gains, of course, are the least of what we give our children. Far more important are the values we teach them.

This Labor Day, I propose we think less about the material gains that working Americans have secured for their families over the past century. Instead, we should consider the values that organized labor embodies that we might hope to pass along to our children.

What I inherited from my grandparents — and what I want to see the labor movement impart to the next generation — is a legacy of inclusion.

In the early 1900s, my grandparents came to this country as Jewish immigrants fleeing pogroms and oppression in Eastern Europe. Although they worked low-paying jobs in the textile and apparel sectors, they were deeply motivated by a vision of building a better society.

Part of their motivation was secular, and part came out of their faith. Their vision of creating a better America involved a politics of mutual aid and mutual support. Working with this in mind, they helped to establish some of the foundational institutions of our democracy. Their generation built hospitals and synagogues. They built public schools. And they built trade unions.

When I was a child, my grandfather brought me from meeting to meeting, where we would hear people talk and argue. They would discuss pooling their resources to take care of someone who was sick, or to bury the dead, or to help a family whose breadwinner had been suddenly thrown out of work. Those informal networks of support, which existed for generations, were the precursors to modern trade unions. In more recent decades, unions have been the means for employees to come together, work in their collective interest, and help provide one another with a measure of economic security.

The result has been profound. Because my grandparents’ generation built unions of textile and apparel workers — as well as unions in other industrial sectors of the economy — their children were able to go to college. Many in the next generation became educators and public servants, and they built organizations of their own. Today’s teachers unions and public sector unions stand in this same tradition of being a bulwark of middle class life in America.

On this Labor Day, we can witness a new wave of immigrants coming to this country with a vision of building a better life. They may come from different countries, their complexions may be different, and they may be more likely to work as janitors or housekeepers than as factory workers. But their hopes and aspirations are the same.

The question for us as a society is: Will we leave a legacy behind of inclusion and preserve our country as the place that the world looks to as a haven of opportunity? Or will we take America down a very alien path, close our doors, and become a nation laden with fear-mongering, scapegoating, and exclusion?

This is an especially important question for Labor Day, because organized labor has been the central institution in our country that has allowed previous generations of immigrants — people like my grandparents — to enter into the economic mainstream of their communities. Today, as we work to create pathways that will allow newly arrived immigrants to weave themselves into the civic fabric of American society, a large part of our efforts must be to create a revitalized labor movement, one eager to welcome them into its ranks.

We need look no further than labor’s past to give us direction toward a more inclusive future.

About This Author: Amy B. Dean served as President of the South Bay AFL-CIO in Silicon Valley from 1992-2003 and chaired AFL-CIO President John Sweeney’s committee on the future direction of labor strategy at the regional level. She is co-author, with David B. Reynolds, of A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement.


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HAPPY LABOR DAY

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Will DurstPoor Labor Day. Gets no respect. It’s the Rodney Dangerfield of celebrations. The runt of the holiday litter. Just hearing the name conjures up depressing images of a last plastic souvenir sports bottle of lemonade poured on the dying charcoal briquettes of summer. It’s the end of the bright light and the beginning of the darkness. Vacation is over and the fun has expired.

White shoes are put back in the closet and storm windows taken out. Watermelons are replaced on the floor next to produce bins by pumpkins. Swimming pools get drained and ice cream trucks convoy back into their hibernatory garages. All the red, white and blue motifs give way to orange and black. The solstice is dead. Long live the autumnal equinox.

As a kid, I was too busy running from the shadow of school’s return and the end of my freedom to pay much attention to the meaning of the holiday. And when I did, it made no sense. Honor work? Who would do that? Might as well set aside a day to venerate broccoli. I thought of work as a thing to be avoided not celebrated. Chores squared.

But then I entered the real world and desired things, like food and shelter and clothing and gasoline, which forced me into gainful employment. And it was surprisingly enjoyable. Not the getting up at 4 am part, but the fruit of accomplishment deal- yeah. Got my social security number at the age of 12. Held over 100 different jobs. Then in 1981, I was able to earn a living at my chosen craft. Making me an extremely lucky man.

Without labor, we would still be nomads, boiling river water to wash down our nightly meal of beans and mush and roots and moss. Getting way too friendly with the livestock. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. From the people who brought you the weekend, not to mention the 40 hour work week and the lunch hour and the smoke break and the potty run and the punch clock dash.

Our society’s love affair with the genetically blessed can get tiresome. The rich and the beautiful and the fast and the strong. The lucky sperm club. People who were in the right place at the right time, and most of those places were wombal. That’s why it’s important to have this one 24- hour period to honor ordinary Americans. Real folks who don’t think “work ethic” is a dirty word. Or a dirty two words. Or whatever.

No, there’s no fireworks to watch or ugly birds to cook or chocolate covered bunnies to steal marshmallows from. Just one Monday off for all those regular guys and gals trying to make ends meet; raising 2.3 kids while juggling a mortgage and trying to cover the monthly cable bill with at least one premium channel thrown in.

One day to celebrate what it is that we do for a living by taking the day off from work. Paying tribute not to some dead presidents or a religious fertility ritual or the valiant who have fallen defending democracy, but to the living. To us. The true American heroes. The ones who keep democracy alive and shaking and moving and growing. You and me. All right. All right. Fine. Mostly you. Happy Labor Day everybody.

About The Author: Will Durst is a San Francisco based political comedian who writes sometimes. This being an example. Catch Durst with Johnny Steele and Deb & Mike, Friday and Saturday, the 10th & 11th at the Town Hall in Lafayette. His new CD, “Raging Moderate,” now available from Stand Up! Records on iTunes and Amazon. Coming early next year: “Where the Rogue Things Go.”



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A Tribute on Laborless Day

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(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

This time, grill some burgers, raise a glass of beer and drink a toast to Laborless Day, in honor of the 10% to 20% of the American workforce who cannot find work, or anything meaningful that pays a living wage.

The current state of labor affairs in the United States is this: We’ve just barely survived eight years in which corporations amassed even more political power and societal control than they had before.

The military-industrial complex has continued to provide us with war, the banking industry gave us substandard mortgage derivatives but won’t loan money to people with good credit, and the insurance industry forced us to buy home insurance, car insurance, flood insurance and life insurance, but refused to sell us health insurance. Labor unions are on the run in many states, and the minimum wage will buy you a dry spot under the U.S. 90A bridge.

The Captains of Industry have had their way, more or less, for decades, and never more than now. You’d think they’d be flying high, but instead, on the eve of this Laborless Day, they find themselves in a quandry.

They’ve re-learned the hard way that their stock appreciation, bonuses, vacation mansions and hot cars accrue in proportion to American consumer spending.

Economists such as Michael Mandel may argue otherwise, but American consumer spending accounts for in the neighborhood of 70% of the Gross Domestic Product, which is roughly to say, our economy. (Mandel makes a good argument that the consumer impact is less than that, but doesn’t count consumer wages confiscated as taxes, which are then spent on government programs and, yes, do have an economic impact.)

After taking a financial beating in a variety of ways, directly or indirectly from numerous corporate captains, the American consumer has lost the ability to spend. The big shots still are living high on the fuel that was stuffed into the pipeline before the Last Straw, but soon nothing will be left but fumes.

Thus we find the Captains of Industry, through major voiceboxes such as the Wall Street Journal, playing a dual role. Yes, as Republicans they still have to diss the Democrats’ stimulus spending (while forgetting Bush Jr.’s). But at the same time, because consumer spending is predicated on consumer confidence, they must declare that the glass is half full and in fact the recession, which was never all that bad to begin with, is really pretty much over and we’re all in recovery now.

Sure, guys. Paper me over with charts explaining how, technically, the bell curve has rung while Southeast Asian production rates clearly are leveling off and job losses truly are not gushing out on the ground as fast as they were just a month ago.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, almost every middle-class American who still has a job and is not employed in the medical industry faces the very real prospect of sudden job loss. In Detroit, by one measure, 17.7% of the workforce was out of work by the end of July. In the El Centro, Calif., market, for some reason, the unemployment total hit 30.2%.

Some, especially over at the Journal, will say these figures are overstated, that the Labor Department figures show the average U.S. unemployment rate at the end of August was “only” 9.7%.

I say that’s more than bad enough. But it’s also an example of how figures lie.

The Labor Department also tracks more meaningful numbers, which I believe the media should use to provide a more accurate picture of U.S. employment.

Like this one: “Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force.”

“Marginally attached” workers are those who have run out of benefits, been unemployed for a year or more but are available for a job and want one. The part-time workers referred to really want full-time jobs but can’t find any.

In August of 2008, as the current collapse began, this more accurate average U.S. unemployment rate stood at 10.7%. One year later, it stands at 16.8%. I shudder to think what this rate is in Detroit.

This holiday weekend, be as patriotic as you are on holidays honoring our brave military members who died serving their country. Honor the American working man and woman, salt of the Earth and the blood that keeps our country’s heart beating.

But also honor your fellow Americans, almost one in five now, who want to do their part, secure their families and help spend the country back into recovery with honest work, only there isn’t enough to go around.

About the Author: Bob Dunn is a writer, consultant and web developer based in Richmond, Texas. He can be reached via Bob Dunn’s Brazos RiverBlog.

This article originally appeared in Bob Dunn’s Brazos River Blog on September 5, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.


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Take Back Labor Day – The “Lost Decade” of Young Workers

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(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

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Labor Day has lost its luster as a holiday. First celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City, the day consisted of a parade and celebrations to exhibit “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” Now the holiday has been downgraded to back yard bar-b-ques and end of the summer getaways. The question is: who is resting on Labor Day? Certainly 15 million American’s aren’t taking the day off- because they don’t have job, as “real unemployment” rates have climbed to 16.8%.

Many of the older generation aren’t resting on Labor Day. They can’t afford to quit their jobs and retire. And, according to new data, our youth aren’t resting either. Nearly one in three workers under age 35 will be laboring on Labor Day, and almost half of them are working more than 40 hours per week. A full 50% do not have family leave time, at an age most likely to be growing a new family, 40% do not have sick leave and 33% don’t have any vacation time at all. (AFL/CIO, 2009). Not much “esprit de corp” to celebrate this year.

These grim statistics, and many more, were released in a landmark report called, “Young Workers A Lost Decade” conducted in July 2009 by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO and their affiliate Working America. The nationwide survey of 1,156 people follows up on a similar survey the AFL-CIO conducted in 1999.

The survey states; “young workers, (in 1999), were economically insecure, concerned about deteriorating job quality, distrustful of corporate America–and yet stubbornly hopeful about the future. Ten years later, the change is shocking. The status of young workers not only has not improved; its dramatic deterioration is threatening to redefine the norm in job standards. Income, health care, retirement security and confidence in being able to achieve their financial goals are down across the board. Only economic insecurity is up.”

An astounding one third of workers age 35 and under live at home with their parents – because they cannot afford housing on their own. Our best and brightest are frozen in place, while simultaneously running in circles. Many can’t afford to go to college, yet, those who do have upper level degrees can’t find jobs in their field, and are overwhelmed with student loans. Workers age 35 and under can’t afford health care, can’t get ahead, or save for the future.

AFL/CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka summed up the report’s findings this way:

“We’re calling the report “A Lost Decade” because we’re seeing 10 years of opportunity lost as young workers across the board are struggling to keep their heads above water and often not succeeding. They’ve put off adulthood–put off having kids, put off education–and a full 34 percent of workers under 35 live with their parents for financial reasons.”

Check out this short You Tube video clip of young professionals most affected by the economy speaking their minds:

The findings from this study are significant, and deeply distressing. The days of securing a job as a bank teller or in sales; settling down, buying a house and starting a family are over. The upcoming generation will emerge as the first to be worse off than their parents, and something must be done.

I have written previously about how the United States is one of the few countries that does not mandate paid vacation time for workers. We give a nod to Labor Day, but we do not believe in it. Stress related illnesses from our overworked population are the greatest burden on health care, but we do not support any measures for prevention. We complain to our government to fix our problems, but we don’t eat properly, exercise and meditate – what’s wrong with us anyway?

On Labor Day, while it is important to rest our bodies, we cannot rest in our determination to change the climate and opportunities in the work force. We cannot put our heads in the beach sand and ignore the far reaching implications of the “Lost Decade”. It is exactly the fire, imagination and energy of our nation’s young professionals that will carry us into a new era of prosperity.

While the outlook looks pretty grim for this bunch, there is a bright side to this group- they are incredibly resilient, creative and interested in service. Our working class, age 35 and under are unusually politically active – at the polls and in civic affairs, and are resoundingly optimistic President Obama can help turn things around for them to move forward as future leaders.

If we can give our youth a little room – they can get the job done. Let’s look at the health care reform issue from their perspective. While the politicians are punting sound bytes like Hail Mary’s, check out a creative approach in the “SuperMom Healthcare Truth Squad.” Picture a bunch of young women donning bright red capes and flocking in major cities across the nation to distribute information about why health care reform will help bring economic security to the nation. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, founder of MomsRising.org. writes,

“why do moms care (about health care reform?) Not only are families struggling with getting children the healthcare coverage they need for a healthy start, but 7 out of 10 women are either uninsured, underinsured, or are in significant debt due to healthcare costs.” 

Julia Moulden writes about the “New Radicals” who are making money – and making a mark on the world, through social change and empowering disadvantaged workers world wide. Recently, she highlighted a new “30-something” company that helps fund entrepreneurial projects, via mini pledges instead of investors, called Kickstarter.

The original Labor Day was born in during the peak of the Industrial Revolution as a backlash to workers being on the job 12 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to make a basic living. Hmmm. Sound familiar? Let’s take back Labor Day for the purpose it was created, and address the basic worker’s rights to a decent paying job, health benefits, paid leave time and a positive work environment in which to thrive. And, yes, let’s remember to Rest.

About the Author: Kari Henley is currently President of the Board of Directors at the Women & Family Life Center. She organizes the Association of Women Business Leaders (AWBL), and runs her own training and consulting practice. Kari is an avid writer, active in her community, and an expert in group facilitation. She has worked for the past 17 years with corporate, non-profit and public audiences. Past clients include Yale Medical School resident program, Fed Ex, Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Washington Trust Co., CT Husky program, the American Cancer Society. For more information, email: [email protected]


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2009 Labor Day

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(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

When I was growing up Labor Day was the most, maybe the only, sacred holiday of the year. My parents were both ardent labor union activists. My mom was a member of Local 1199 in NY – the health care workers union. She worked in a pharmacy and that was the union for workers there. My dad was a member of District 65 which was then part of the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Workers Union – he was a camera salesman. They both served as shop stewards during my childhood and I think before I was born they both held other positions in their unions with more responsibilities.

My parents met at an event my mother’s union was holding. They were showing a film and my father was hired as the projectionist, in the days before you could just slip a DVD into a computer to watch a film. I don’t know too much about their courtship, but their union came about because of union activities. I’m pretty sure that is not a unique situation.

I grew up going to Labor Day parades in NY – my stroller covered with streamers. I was so pleased when I got to be in a parade as a union member myself. It was 198? , the year that Reagan went all out to destroy PATCO. I belonged to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 3; I worked for a cable television company.

For this Labor Day, I’ll be going to a rally in Boston Common which will both celebrate labor, and the need of all people to have good health care.

The issues that arise on Labor Day are so closely related to an Ethical Culture view of the world. In Ethical Culture we follow the Kantian notion that all people are ends in and of themselves. We attribute worth and treat them with dignity and respect just because we are people. And here’s the part that’s most related to labor issues – we do not use people as means to reach our own ends. Seems to me that point has been missed by lots of people in the corporate and business world. I’m glad to say that there are also many who bring a very ethical and caring approach to their endeavors, there are those who form cooperatives, there are those who consider others and the natural world around them as they conduct their business.

But there are also many who see a business primarily as an opportunity to use the labor of others to make a lot of money for themselves. When workers join together in unions they have a chance to have greater influence on their working conditions, on how much they are paid for their work and what benefits they receive. The share holders of a corporation are very much like a “union” of business owners, looking out for what is best for them.

Corporations do not have to jump through hoops to organize the people with an interest in the profits of the corporation. Yet, others, workers, often do need to jump through hoops, or around other obstacles to be able to organize in labor unions. Even though workers, employees of a corporation also have an interest in the success of a business, they are not usually allowed to have input into the decision making which affects the business, and certainly not into the decision making which affects them directly.

Labor unions have been successful in providing a strong voice for employees, both on an individual level and on issues of local and national importance. At a time when unemployment levels in this country are incredibly high, I seeit as especially important that workers can organize for good working conditions. While many might say this is a time when businesses can’t afford to accommodate unions, I see it as a time when even more attention needs to be paid to not taking advantage of people – workers- not using people as a means for creating profit for some, but not for the people doing the work. As I understand it, the Employee Free Choice Act is a bill which would create a fairer process for union organizing. You can find out more about it in the Ethical Action section of the newsletter.

What is your experience with labor unions? How do you see a connection between Ethical Culture and Labor Day or labor issues?

About the Author: Susan Rose is the leader of Ethical Society Without Walls.

This article originally appeared in Ethical Society Without Walls on September 5, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.


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Honoring the Worker: What are you doing this Labor Day?

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(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

On Tuesday September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers marched from city hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first-ever Labor Day parade. Despite the threat of losing their jobs, participants took an unpaid day off to honor American workers and draw attention to grievances they had with employers.

And the list of grievances was long. During this time, the average American worked twelve hour days, seven days a week, just to make a basic living, with children as young as six toiling alongside adults.

As years passed, more states began to hold these parades, but Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later. A bloody strike by railway workers brought the issue of workers’ rights to the public eye and provoked Congress to officially make the first Monday of September Labor Day.

Today, it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “Unions: The Folks Who Brought You the Weekend.” And the saying is true: unions won the eight-hour day standard we all enjoy today. What many people don’t realize is that workers and their unions had to fight for the eight-hour day for nearly 3/4 of a century (beginning in August 1866) before any national reform was enacted. The dream of an eight-hour work day finally became a reality in 1938, when the New Deal’s Fair Labor Standards Act made it legally a full day of work throughout the United States.

The Struggle Continues

Union_Labor_vsm.jpgAlthough many Americans have now come to associate Labor Day as just a day off from work or the end of summer relaxation, it’s important not to forget the sacrifices of our brothers and sisters, whose brave acts earned us the working rights we now possess. Unions have historically laid the groundwork for impressive grassroots campaigns to strengthen America’s middle class and rebuild the economy in hard times. As we face the greatest recession since the Great Depression, unions continue to be at the heart of efforts to pass healthcare reform, restore economic balance and bring prosperity to all Americans.

This Labor Day, let’s remind members of Congress just how many working families are still struggling to make ends meet under the strain of skyrocketing health care costs. Help send Congress back to DC with a mission to reform healthcare by joining us at send-off rallies across the country.

Events being held by SEIU and HCAN across the country on Labor Day, September 7th in Arkansas, Colorado, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Washington state are listed after the break.

Read Entire Post for a listing of Labor Day events here.

About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.

This post originally appeared in the SEIU blog on September 7, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.


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Change Has Come to the Workplace

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(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

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At Workplace Fairness, Labor Day isn’t just another day off from work or the last day of summer. And while this former Kansas City resident has nothing against barbecues, the day is much more than one of the last chances of the season to grill outdoors with family and friends. We think that Labor Day is a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. In commemoration of Labor Day, we’re excited to launch two new website features, our “Taking Back Labor Day” blog carnival, and our 2009 Labor Day Report, Change Has Come to the Workplace.

Throughout September, Today’s Workplace will be hosting our second annual “Taking Back Labor Day” blog carnival. Our guest bloggers, who will include many of the leading thinkers on labor and employment issues, will focus on why the labor movement is still important and address some of the most critical issues affecting workers today. We are also inviting YOU to participate: either by preparing a blog post for submission, or by making comments and using “Taking Back Labor Day” as an opportunity to have a real conversation about the future of the American workplace. Tune in every weekday in September at www.todaysworkplace.org to see the latest “Taking Back Labor Day” post, and join right in!

It’s also time for a look back at the previous year in the workplace, and we do so in our 2009 Labor Day Report, “Change Has Come to the Workplace.” In the past year, there was no more important development affecting the workplace than the election of President Barack Obama. After eight years of an Administration that could generally be characterized as hostile to workers’ rights and more interested in promoting business interests than ensuring employees were protected, the election of a more worker-friendly president has the potential to bring about significant change. In Change Has Come to the Workplace, by legal intern Hannah Goitein (The George Washington University Law School Class of 2011), we highlight the changes we have already seen in the last several months, as well as talk about what is on the horizon.

We hope these two new website features provide much interesting food for thought for you on this Labor Day weekend, while you’re enjoying that barbecue or last dip in the pool, or getting your children ready to start school on Tuesday. Have a great Labor Day weekend, but don’t forget who makes it possible – the American worker.

About the Author: Paula Brantner is Executive Director of Workplace Fairness, after serving as its Program Director from 2003 to 2007, writing legal content for the Webby-nominated site www.workplacefairness.org. Most recently, Paula was the Program Director for Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and the Working America Education Fund. From 1997-2001, she was the senior staff attorney at the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), heading NELA’s amicus, legislative/policy, and judicial nominations programs. An employment lawyer for over 16 years, Brantner has degrees from UC-Hastings College of the Law and Michigan State University’s James Madison College.


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9to5: Celebrating Labor Day by Working for Change

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(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

For far too many women, work isn’t working. That’s why passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is so critical.

Women still earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men – and for African American women and Latinas the gap is even wider. Far too many working women labor in jobs that do not provide a family-supporting income. Far too many women, particularly low-wage women, lack paid sick days to care for themselves during occasional illness. And far too many lack even a single paid sick day to care for a sick child.

As we mark Labor Day 2009 – a day to pay tribute to the historic achievements and contributions of workers — it’s time to call attention to this fact:  Union membership is one sure way to address gender-based workplace disparities and unionization can provide important economic security for low-wage women and their families.

According to “Unions and Upward Mobility for Women Workers,” a December 2008 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in the 15 lowest-paying occupations, union members not only earned more than their non-union counterparts, they were also 26 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 23 percentage points more likely to have a pension plan.

“For women, joining a union makes as much sense as going to college,” said John Schmitt, author of the upward mobility study. “All else equal, joining a union raises a woman’s wage as much as a full-year of college, and being a member of a union raises the chances a woman has health insurance by more than earning a four-year college degree.”

As the entire country debates health reform, it’s important to note that health insurance is just one of the positive workplace standards unions can provide for working women. Union representation is also one of the strongest predictors of family-flexible workplace policies.

More than 60 million American workers lack a single paid sick day to care for themselves when ill, and nearly 100 million workers lack paid sick time to care for an ill child. Especially in this economy, no one should lose a job just because they or a loved one gets sick. Companies with 30 percent or more unionized workers have been documented to be more likely than non-union companies to provide paid time off to care for sick children (65 percent compared to 46 percent).

So, how can women work for workplace change?

Speak out in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. EFCA would put the choice of how to form a union back into the hands of workers. A free choice means that workers would have the option of unionization if a majority of them sign up. EFCA will protect women and men who join together to negotiate with their employers for health care, fair wages, retirement security and paid sick days.

It’s critical that we pass this federal legislation. Tell your family, friends, colleagues and neighbors about EFCA. And, most important, let your members of Congress know that you support it and expect their support as well.

On this Labor Day, it’s time to ensure that the workplace work for us all.

About the Author: Linda Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, an inclusive multi-racial membership organization founded in 1973 to strengthen the ability of low-income women to win economic justice through grassroots organizing and policy advocacy.

Under Linda’s leadership, 9to5 has won important victories on minimum wage, good jobs, work-family, anti-discrimination, pay equity, welfare, child care and other issues affecting low-income women. Linda has spent more than 30 years as a labor and community organizer. She also serves as an adjunct professor specializing in sexual harassment and other workplace issues.

Linda is a member of the Governor’s Colorado Pay Equity Commission, serves in the leadership of several state and national policy coalitions, and has received several awards for her work with and on behalf of low-income women, including the “Be Bold” Award presented by the Women’s Foundation of Colorado. She was recently appointed to the National Board of Directors of the American Forum, a progressive media organization.


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Obama’s Not Alone: Inviting Cities to the Labor Day Barbecue

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(Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

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We always knew it would take a fight to enact the kinds of sweeping reforms we need to fix the economy so that it really works for working Americans. The Employee Free Choice Act was never set to sail through Congress without opposition from the nation’s most anti-union employers. No one expects that it will be much easier to repair our broken immigration laws, overhaul flawed trade policy, improve retirement security or ensure that parents can finally afford time off work to welcome a newborn. But the sheer nastiness of the health care reform fight begs the question: if even modest reforms are this difficult for a popular Democratic President with large majorities in both chambers of Congress, how will we ever achieve the economic restructuring the nation needs?

One way to improve the odds that working people will have more to celebrate on Labor Days to come is to ensure that our cities get a special invitation to the national policy conversation. Picture it as a giant nationwide barbecue: gathered around the grill, cities can share local policy victories that have measurably improved the lives of their own residents – and can provide a successful model for other cities and for national action. Raising the profile of proven local policies may make the reforms proposed in Washington feel a lot less lonely.

San Francisco can share its own universal health care model, which currently provides 45,000 uninsured city residents with access to affordable primary and preventive care, prescriptions and lab tests through city clinics and participating private hospitals. The track record of Healthy San Francisco, as the program is known, should be informing the national health care debate to a far greater extent than it is.

While they’re talking health, the City by the Bay can also recount its experience guaranteeing everyone employed in the city the opportunity to earn paid sick days – a policy that is projected to reduce costs and improve public health and has not increased unemployment. Washington DC and Milwaukee have already passed weaker versions of this policy. Now New York City is looking to emulate San Francisco’s success. Examples like these can boost national legislation like the Healthy Families Act which would let working people nationwide stop having to make the untenable choice between their health and a needed paycheck.

Minneapolis could also pipe up. The City of Lakes insists that when they provide subsidies for economic development, companies that get public money need to create living wage jobs. The successful policy is a vivid example to cities across the country which regularly provide lucrative private tax breaks only to lure poverty-level jobs.

Then there’s New York, where grassroots organizations citywide have teamed up with the State Department of Labor to educate employees and employers about workplace laws and identify cases where employers are illegally cheating their workers out of pay. The program, known as New York Wage Watch has attracted national controversy because it enlists unions in the effort to detect illegal activity by employers. The debate provides a perfect opportunity to consider which poses a greater threat to the country: the pervasiveness of employers stealing employee wages or the potential for groups – which have no special power to look at a company’s books or confidential documents – to intrude on private business as they uncover illegal activity? Lawbreakers may be right to fear that this local education and monitoring effort could go national.

Finally, Los Angeles should join the party. Home to the nation’s busiest seaport, Los Angeles realized it would never significantly improve air quality as long as the dirty diesel trucks servicing the port were owned by overstretched independent operators without the resources to buy or maintain cleaner vehicles. The city took bold action to both clean up the trucks and transform the drivers from exploited independent contractors into employees with a chance of improving their own working conditions. Not surprisingly, national business interests don’t like the idea of port truckers unionizing. But other port cities are considering the policy, with the potential to improve the quality of both air and jobs.

Federal policy battles cannot be won in a vacuum. Cities and towns across the country demonstrate the success of policies that improve the lives of working people. This is one Labor Day barbecue we should all attend.

About the Author: Amy Traub is the Director of Research at the Drum Major Institute. A native of the Cleveland area, Amy is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. She received a graduate fellowship to study political science at Columbia University, where she earned her Masters degree in 2001 and completed coursework towards a Ph.D. Her studies focused on comparative political economy, political theory, and social movements. Funded by a field research grant from the Tinker Foundation, Amy conducted original research in Mexico City, exploring the development of the Mexican student movement. Before coming to the Drum Major Institute, Amy headed the research department of a major New York City labor union, where her efforts contributed to the resolution of strikes and successful union organizing campaigns by hundreds of working New Yorkers. She has also been active on the local political scene working with progressive elected officials. Amy resides in Manhattan Valley with her husband.

This blog was originally written for DMI Blog for Labor Day 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.


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What’s Wrong with This Picture?

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The following is cross-posted on the Winning Workplaces blog. I thought it was appropriate for Today’s Workplace’s focus on taking back Labor Day. After all, this holiday should offer pause not just for workers, but for company leaders to reflect on how they can do more with less in this difficult economic environment. Enjoy, and feel free to drop a comment below.
– MH

According to two new, independent employer studies – this one and this one – while more than half of employers are planning to hire full-time employees over the next year, over half also don’t offer paid maternity leave (and those that do provide only around 50% pay, on average).

This recruiting/retention picture doesn’t add up for me.  Companies that believe they’re seeing light at the end of the economic tunnel should focus on pleasing their current workforce and getting employees engaged – especially if they’ve had to make some wage or other concessions since the beginning of the recession.  This is all part of sharing the recovery as well as the pain with workers.

This is not to say that companies that see more demand shouldn’t hire more talent to meet it.  But while they make plans to do so, they should use this time as an opportunity to ramp up their benefit packages and other methods for improving productivity and commitment so their existing knowledge base is fully on board for the increased workload – and so they can serve as better ambassadors to acclimate new hires to the organizational culture.

Do you agree or disagree with my assessment that the above-mentioned studies represent conflicting human capital strategies?

About the Author: Mark Harbeke ensures that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University. Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.


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