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Take Back Labor Day: Week 2 Roundup

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For this week’s installment of our Take Back Labor Day project, we had ten new posts representing the incredible quality and diversity that exists among those who think and write about workplace issues. With a wide variety of topics, including domestic workers, CEO pay, and workplace flexibility, and the representation of powerhouse organizations such as the Center for American Progress, the new Health Care for America Now coalition, and Women Employed, Week 2 was another stellar week.

Kicking off the week, on Monday, September 8, were Dr. David Madland and Karla Walter of the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Mark Harbeke of Winning Workplaces.

Madland and Walter, of the Center for American Progress‘s American Worker Project, point out the abysmal record of the current administration when it comes to having the Department of Labor simply do its job of protecting workers.  What’s the solution (besides voting, of course)?  Passing the Employee Free Choice Act, which the next administration should have the opportunity to do.

Winning Workplaces helps small and midsize organizations create great workplaces, and often it’s Mark Harbeke bringing some of the very best workplace practices and hottest workplace trends to our attention.  This post was no exception, as Mark found three different studies that all make it crystal clear that employers have to engage their employees, if they want them to be productive and satisfied with their work.  If you’re too busy to read the handwriting on the wall, just read Mark on a regular basis at the Winning Workplace blog.

Continuing on Tuesday, September 8, were workplace columnist Bob Rosner and Anne Ladky of Women Employed, respectively tackling the hot topics of CEO pay and paid sick leave.

In a bit of workplace Freakonomics, who figured out that CEO performance has an inverse relationship with their house size? No, it wasn’t Bob Rosner, but he tells us about the study that figured out that the larger the CEO’s house, the more likely that shareholders will pay for the CEO’s poor performance. Pay close attention to Bob — you’ll be seeing a lot more of him soon around these parts!

Anne Ladky of Women Employed provides us a great way to track our progress between this Labor Day and next:  have we passed a federal paid sick leave bill?  If not, we’re not done ensuring fairness in the workplace, while a benefit considered standard by most professionals—paid sick time—is unavailable to millions of lower-paid workers, including 22 million women.

Wednesday, September 10 featured two titans among lawyers who represent workers:  Paul Tobias and Ellen Simon.

Paul Tobias, who can count founding Workplace Fairness and the National Employment Lawyers Association among his myriad of career accomplishments, uses Labor Day to identify a number of necessary changes we need to our employment laws for workers to get a fair shake.  As he remarks, we all hope that the presidential candidates will take note of these needed changes and actually fix them during the next administration.

Ellen Simon, one of the foremost employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States, tells us about a recent surprisingly positive Supreme Court decision (Sprint v. Mendelsohn), which gives us a slight bit of hope that the Court — not especially known for its friendliness to workers — will actually enforce the long-standing rules of evidence, even when to do so might benefit workers.

Thursday, September 11, was a somber day of remembrance for many of us.  Blogger Jason Gooljar looked back to the very origins of the Labor Day holiday, while Chai Feldblum and Katie Corrigan looked to the not-too-distant future of the flexible workplace.

Jason Gooljar, blogger Working Families Party Man, points out what even the most worker-friendly among us might not know about Labor Day: that it was proposed as a September holiday to prevent the celebration of what was considered a much more radical observance:  May Day.  While we may now observe a watered-down holiday, we don’t have to have a watered-down global labor movement, and Jason tells us why that’s important.

Chai Feldblum and Katie Corrigan, who co-direct the Workplace Flexibility 2010 campaign at Georgetown Law, talk about how many workers have extreme difficulty juggling the competing demands of work, family, and community involvement.  Workplace flexibility (including telecommuting, phased retirement, and flexible work arrangements) is a solution which can ultimately bring about more effective business, a stronger workforce, and healthier families — if enough businesses choose to embrace flexibility principles and practices.

Week 2 wrapped up on Friday, September 12, but we didn’t slack off at the end of the week, with Melvina Ford and Jason Rosenbaum tackling two urgent workplace problems:  the lack of sufficient legal protections for domestic workers, and the lack of adequate health care for many, if not most, American workers.

Melvina Ford, Executive Director of the DC Employment Justice Center, identifies a problem hardly confined to the DC metro area:  the exploitation of domestic workers who cook, clean, and take care of children and seniors at home.  She correctly notes that many current laws weren’t written with domestic workers in mind, and either exempt them entirely or do not adequately protect them.  Some recently enacted laws show promise in educating oft-exploited workers about their rights, but we need to do even more to ensure that domestic workers are fairly compensated for their often back-breaking work.

Jason Rosenbaum, writing for the recently formed Health Care for America Now! coalition, makes a relatively obvious but incredibly overlooked connection:  a healthy worker is a better, more productive worker, and sick workers who lack adequate insurance sap productivity.  Yet both businesses and employees face skyrocketing health care costs as a result of insurance company intervention.  Yes, health care is an economic issue — and a vitally important one that we are forced to address in the days ahead.

Whew:  health care, CEO pay, domestic pay, the Supreme Court, the Department of Labor:  you name it, we covered it in week 2, if it’s important in today’s workplace.  And next week continues the fine tradition we’ve established this month:  with at least five guest bloggers continuing the quality posts you’ve seen all month.  Stay tuned!

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By Next Labor Day, Let’s Have Guaranteed Paid Sick Leave

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The first “labor day” celebration was a march—10,000 workers took an unpaid day off to demonstrate in New York’s Union Square in 1882 to promote the union cause. Now, the federal holiday is supposed to be a day of paying tribute to the American worker and recognizing the contributions that unions have made to American prosperity. It should remind us that we didn’t always have an eight-hour day, a minimum wage, unemployment compensation, pensions, or other reforms that are fundamental to the quality of life we enjoy as Americans.

Most of us probably spent Labor Day at a barbecue or an end-of-summer sale rather than a march, but we can’t forget that there’s still a lot to do to ensure fairness in the workplace. Today, too many workers can’t take a sick day without losing their pay or jeopardizing their jobs. A benefit considered standard by most professionals—paid sick time—is unavailable to millions of lower-paid workers, including 22 million women.

At Women Employed, we listen to the stories of women who have to choose between going to work sick and paying the bills. They have to send sick children to school to avoid losing a day’s pay—or losing their jobs.  Some work for companies with sick time policies, but they’re told by supervisors that if they take a sick day they’re entitled to, they shouldn’t come back. They face impossible choices. They’re among the 48 percent of private-sector workers who don’t have a single paid sick day to use for themselves or to care for an ill family member.

And it’s not just these workers who are paying a price. When workers come to work sick, they infect other people.  So do the kids they have to send to school sick. It’s a public health issue when people preparing food, working in hospitals, or coming to your office to fix the copier feel the pressure to go to work when they’re ill.  Experts estimate that “presenteeism”—coming to work sick—is costly for employers in terms of lost productivity. And research shows that paid sick leave policies reduce the rate of contagious infections by ensuring that sick workers stay home.

Bills have been introduced in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress to establish basic sick leave requirements. The bills require employers who do not already provide paid sick leave to allow employees to accrue up to seven sick days per year that could be used when a worker is ill or needs to care for an ill family member, as well as for medical appointments. Leave under these laws would be earned over the year so employers would only pay if and when workers accrued time off and needed it.  These measures are modest and reasonable ways to improve the quality of our worklives and ensure better health for our families and communities. It’s time to add this simple guarantee to the list of workplace reforms that we enjoy today. Urge your elected representatives to honor workers by passing a guarantee of paid sick leave.  Next Labor Day, we’d really have something to celebrate.

About the Author: Anne Ladky is Executive Director of Women Employed, a 35-year-old organization whose mission is to improve women’s economic status. Women Employed is widely recognized for its groundbreaking work to ensure enforcement of affirmative action requirements, outlaw sexual harassment, and promote family-friendly policies. Today, Women Employed focuses on women in low-paying jobs; its priorities are to improve workplaces by fighting for paid sick time, fair schedules, and better pay; and expand access to and improve the quality of post-secondary education and training. Ladky was a founding member of Women Employed, joined the staff in 1977, and was named Executive Director in 1985. She is a nationally recognized expert on women’s employment issues, equal opportunity, and workforce development. For more information on Women Employed, visit www.womenemployed.org.

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