Archive for September, 2016

What if there was no Labor Day?

Posted: September 5, 2016 in Public Relations

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Our nation once again gathers around the table to recognize the federal holiday of Labor Day, the day that was made possible by the hard work and achievements by American workers for the centuries that our country has existed. Specifically, it has been founded to remember the sacrifices made during the period known as the Labor Movement (mid to late 1800s, and early 1900s), in which workers called labor strikes against corporate management for grossly unfair labor practices. It was through these major events that Americans recognized the power and influence of the worker in the US economy.

Looking outwards in today’s times, this kind of spirit embodied by Labor Day of the past has now changed to anything but such.  Labor Day is now known as the “end of summer” and just a day off before school starts.  The only folks who get Labor Day off anymore are government officials and white collared, corporate members – not the laborers who it is supposed to recognize. Retail outlets take advantage of the holiday to mark down prices by 50% in hopes that the people who have the day off will give them even more profits. Politicians and public officials will wish everyone a “Happy Labor Day” on twitter while they continue to press for legislation that will end labor unions and prevent living wages.  Is Labor Day really about recognizing labor anymore?

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What most people do not realize is that many of the little things that you know about your regular work week were made possible by labor unions, recognized under Labor Day. You think that all the days off and employee benefits were given to you out of the kindness of your manager?  Think again.  If the labor unions were eliminated and thus Labor Day did not exist, here are the things you would lose:

1. Weekends

If it weren’t for labor unions, businesses could legally make you work every single day with no weekend. Sure, your manager might allow you to go to church, but you’d have to go right back to work afterwards. Fortunately, most nations adopted a 6-day work week in order to recognize the day of religious activities (Sundays) as a day of rest. Thanks to the efforts of the Jewish workers of a New England Cotton Mill, the Sabbath (Saturday) became an additional day of religious activity that eventually became adopted as a day off for all workers.

2. Workday limits and compensatory time/overtime

Imagine being forced to work 12-hour days at whatever wage the manager says, with no overtime or bonuses for additional hours worked. That’s what you would be experiencing without Labor Day. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), introduced in 1938 single-handedly became one of the most important documents of legislation that resulted from the Labor Movement.  This bill introduced the 40-hour work week, minimum wage, as well as compensatory and time-and-a-half (aka overtime) wages for labor produced over the 40-hour time period. The bill was introduced by Senator Hugo Black, a man who experienced some hard lessons during his political career that would eventually shape him into a stark advocate for civil rights and labor relations. His original proposed 30-hour work week was modified to become a 40-hour work week for the final Act, but gave workers legal protection to enjoy limits on the work week, as well as be compensated for additional time worked.

3. Safety Standards

If Labor Day did not exist and there were no labor unions, I as the manager could make you work in any conditions necessary to get the job done. There would be no requirement for me to provide you with safety equipment or repair faulty machinery known to cause accidents, and if you developed a long-term medical condition due to chemical exposure during your time as a worker, I would not be held liable for your own problems. This kind of attitude has fortunately been recognized as immoral and illegal thanks to the reasoning of laborers around the world. A series of high profile accidents and chronic medical conditions developed by mineworkers in England during the mid-19th Century became a benchmark for the movement towards safe working conditions, a movement that continued into the 20th century. Similar work condition concerns in the steel industry and the meat packing industry (immortalized in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle) also led to labor strikes for safer work places.  Today, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) exists to guarantee these rights to a safe workplace for all laborers.

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4. Child Labor Restrictions

Child labor is something that is an unthinkable activity to most decent humans, but it is still one that exists in many corners of the world. Fortunately, also under the FLSA a clause exists to restrict the legal limits of child labor, recognizing that children under a certain age cannot safely perform necessary labor tasks under conditions usually endured by adults.  These restrictions include specific types of labor that children under certain age groups cannot perform, as well as limitations on hours that can be worked.  Child labor is still a major issue all over the world, and children are often slaves at the hands of wealthy overlords producing cheap goods in underground sweatshops. It is because of this reality that the International Labour Organization (ILO) still exists to end child labor around the world.

5. Health Insurance, Retirement Plans and other benefits

Those little things that you enjoy such as your employer paying for your doctor’s visits, paid sick days and vacation days, 401(K)s and options to invest in the company’s profits are all benefits brought to you by the blood, sweat and tears of labor unions. In the writings of Karl Marx and Max Weber, an economy is nothing without the labor of its workers.  Thus the proletariat or the management must constantly reinvest its earnings into the health and welfare of its workers in order to improve the quality of its products and services. Such an idea might be considered liberal, socialist or communist in today’s society, but it is still in line with multiple philosophies including the Protestant Work Ethic. All in all, the principle of investing in your people equals better work produced and better products and services given to the American people.  Failure to treat your laborers like human capital investments will result in a failed business.

6. Equal Employment Opportunity

The idea that a laborer is a laborer, regardless of age, gender, race, color, national origin, or sexual orientation has become a strong foundation of the modern labor movement, although some progress must still be made in certain areas. Many high profile statutes such as the FLSA, The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act have made it possible for Americans of all walks of life to work in the same environments and achieve the same goals and opportunities as anyone else. The National War Labor Board took one of the boldest stances during WWII with its elimination of “white laborers” and “colored laborers” labels and referring to all workers as “laborers,” thus guaranteeing them equal pay and benefits under law.  There is still much work to be done, and the struggle continues today in an ever-shifting world economy.

 

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