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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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Remember, remember the fourth of May

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Many people don’t think about Labor Day. They see it as another day off from work. It’s a day when the retail corporations offer incentives to come out and consume. Yet, even those who have an inkling of what Labor Day is and what it’s about don’t realize that this day masks the real defiance and spirit of the workers’ movement.

The Knights of Labor were the driving force behind making the Labor Day of September officially recognized. They were aided in this effort by President Grover Cleveland who sought to commemorate this day instead of another more historic day in May 4th in which many in the international labor movement sought to recognize in the May Day of May 1st.

It was the events that occurred in May 1886 that eventually brought about the eight-hour work day. Starting on May 1st of that year there were thousands of rallies organized in support of eight-hour workdays. The one rally that forever ingrained May Day in our collective memories was the one which occurred on May 4th in Haymarket Square in Chicago.

If there is one thing that is true about labor versus capital, it is the reality that nothing is ever won by labor without a fight. Working people often face violence, repression and hostility when trying to organize and wring concessions from corporations and sometimes government. It is as true then, in the late nineteenth century, as it is now in the early twenty first century. If we want to take back Labor Day on whatever day we celebrate it–we must show people that this truth of the struggle is far from being over.

It was then with this ever present reality that striking and locked out McCormick Harvesting Machine Corporation plant workers in Chicago—which were attacked by Pinkerton thugs and then cut down by the police in gunfire on May 3rd—had had enough and organized a protest to take place at Haymarket Square.

The rally that occurred in Haymarket Square that day was meant to be peaceful. Unfortunately it did not end that way. Someone threw a pipe bomb at the police which resulted in anarchy as gunshots filled the air. Many police officers and bystanders were injured mostly by friendly fire. In the end seven police men and four workers were killed.

Afterward it is the trial that ensued and the injustice that the rally’s organizers faced is what gave the Haymarket Affair its notoriety. Eight people were charged and seven were given death sentences, including August Spies, a leader and labor activist.

It is my opinion that this trial was also used to try and discredit the workers and their cause. Thankfully this did not happen and we can thank organized labor for the eight-hour workday (and five-day workweek) today.

Yes, we enjoy benefits that the labor movement of the past worked to get us, but there are new issues and needs that we must address and fight for. We need to start working to organize sectors of the new economy like IT and the service-based jobs. This work has already begun and hopefully it will prove successful. We also need to look to the new green-collar jobs that will come into being. We also shouldn’t give up entirely on manufacturing. As the cost of oil rises we will probably see a return of some manufacturing jobs to America. We have to also look to organize plants that are opened in the US by foreign corporations. We have to focus on affordable college education and ensuring that the workforce is educated for any new sectors of the economy that may become a reality. Last but not least, universal healthcare and affordable housing are issues that deeply concern working America and must continue to be focused on until working families get what they need.

I think that another thing we must also do is to start thinking of a global labor movement. Corporations have successfully globalized, but labor is still at the very beginning of doing this. If manufacturing jobs are going to leave the developed countries that doesn’t mean that workers in other countries should be allowed to be taken advantage of. We can work to organize these workers as well. Every few months I read of tens of thousands of workers in developing countries going out on strike. We need to work on forming global labor unions. To take back Labor Day and make it truly a holiday to celebrate for not only America’s workers but for workers everywhere, there are many things we must do. Probably the one thing we can do as a society is also recognize that we can’t continue a race to the bottom. We can’t put the bottom line above people. Profit maximization and the lowest possible prices for the consumer isn’t everything. If we have to pay a little more as consumers and earn a little less as corporations then maybe it’s not a bad thing if it ensures more people have jobs and a secure life.

About the Author: Jason Gooljar is a progressive liberal blogger currently employed in the progressive movement and living in the DC metro area. A native New Yorker, Jason first got involved with political and civic issues in 1998 during his senior year in high school. At the time he was an intern and learned about the workings of local government in Westchester County, NY. Since then, he has worked as a paid staffer on two state senate campaigns and one gubernatorial campaign in NY. He was also a member of the first class to be trained in online organizing by the DC-based non-profit the New Organizing Institute in the winter of 2006. Jason holds an Associates degree in Multimedia Development and Management. His future goals include going back to school to study political science or a public policy-related area. While Jason always had an interest in politics, it was witnessing the 2005 TWU Local 100 transit strike in NYC which really galvanized him to focus on labor issues. In addition to labor issues Jason’s other areas of focus when he’s blogging is corporate abuse and consumerism. You can find him online at www.jasongooljar.com, where this post is cross-posted.


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