Monday, September 7, 2015

Happy Labor Day!

Last Thursday, I ate something that profoundly disagreed with me.  Unable to stand for very long without being overcome by nausea, I called in sick to work and spent Friday in bed.

I will be paid even though I did not go to work or perform any of my job duties.  Having paid sick time allows me to stay home when I am contagious, preventing my co-workers from getting sick as well.  It also means that a minor cold has a smaller chance of turning into a serious complication.  My overall physical health is improved by having the ability to take a day off without worrying about making ends meet or losing my job.

Saturday and Sunday, I enjoyed my regular weekend.  Having a regularly-scheduled weekend and a defined time for my work week means that when my work week is done, my time is my own.  I can spend time with friends and family, I can pursue other projects, I can relax and recuperate for the week ahead, I can perform basic household tasks or maintenance when I am not tired from a long workday.  The time I have to myself on weekends is important for my mental health.

My sweetie and I spent some time working around the house, using power tools and climbing stepladders secure in the knowledge that if any mishap should lead to injury, our employer-provided health insurance would allow us to seek medical treatment without bankrupting ourselves.  I have the medical support to help me make good lifestyle choices, that allow me to understand my health needs and develop healthy habits.

Speaking of that house, our ability to purchase it depended upon the expectation that our employers would pay us promptly for that work, and that if we should be dismissed from those jobs without cause, we could not be blacklisted from finding further employment, and we might be able to collect on the unemployment insurance available for those dismissed without cause.

While we worked on our house, my partner and I reminisced about some of the mementoes we brought back from a recent vacation, and discussed plans for a future trip.  Each of us has an allotted amount of paid vacation to use each year, which gives us time to travel and broaden our perspectives.  We can go to see family or share an adventure together, then return to work with renewed focus and energy.

And today is Labor Day, a paid holiday.  My company provides me with several paid holidays each year, in addition to my vacation and sick time, closing the office so that all employees can enjoy their time off.

Tomorrow, I will return to my job, where I am mandated by law to have safe working conditions.  I cannot be fired for resisting sexual harassment, or for refusing to break the law in the course of my work.  I have legal recourse if I should be fired for my religion, my gender, or my political stances.

My life is profoundly improved by the labor movement.  For the last hundred years in this country, they've worked aggressively to defend worker rights, to insist that the possession of capital should not be the sole determination of power in the workplace.  Because of their efforts, I am able to balance work, leisure, my own health, and pursuing personal goals.

As workers organize, we gain collective power to force change.  Individually, I have only a minimal ability to convince my employers to change any policy or action, or to improve my workplace conditions.  But a combined meeting of everyone at my level to communicate a clear consensus of dissatisfaction has brought about the results we wanted.  Our employer recognised that there was a problem, and weighed the time and energy involved in replacing us against the cost of a change.  A national history of strikes and work stoppages has created a system in which employers have to take seriously the threat of "we will bring the work to a halt and you cannot do it without us."

I'm grateful to the labor movement for all its work.  But that work is not done.

In too many states, an employee can be fired for gender identity or sexual preference.

Too many employers avoid paying benefits by scheduling part-time employees instead of hiring full-time ones, meaning employees must balance multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet.

Too many companies have found they can save money by firing all employees and hiring them back as 'contractors' with little to no paid leave and no benefits.

Too many jobs are paid far less than they are worth, in companies where upper-level management receives the lion's share of compensation.

Too often, employers meet the bare minimum of workplace safety regulations, relying on outdated equipment or substandard training programs to comply with the lowest possible requirements.

Racism and sexism still play a large part in hiring and promotion decisions, and the resources for challenging those abuses are limited.

Jobs that insist on requiring a college degree don't pay enough to justify the expense of having one; answering phones at a customer service support line shouldn't require a four-year degree and certainly won't cover payment on a college tuition loan, but generally cannot be obtained without one.

We have come so far since the days of child labor and the company store.  But we still have a way to go, to fight injustice and exploitation in the workplace, to organise and demand fair treatment.  Not only are there still laws to change, but there is a relationship to maintain between labor and management, so that *both* can benefit from a business' success.  It will take time and effort, but it's a goal worth pursuing.

So if you're lucky enough to have this Labor Day off, thank the labor movement, and enjoy it.  Then, tomorrow, let's get back to our jobs -- and back to the work of building a safe, fair workplace for all.

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