Labor Day: show some respect for the working men and women of America

unionsToday is Labor Day, and unlike almost every other newspaper in America, our sad small town newspaper the Arizona Daily Star (“All the news that Jim Click decides is fit to print”) failed to publish an editorial opinion recognizing the working men and women of America. Show some respect!

So to correct the Star’s slight to the working men and women of America, here are two editorials today from a real newspaper.

The New York Times editorializes Labor Today:

In the months before Labor Day last year, job growth was so slow that economists said it would take until 2021 to replace the jobs that were lost or never created in the recession and its aftermath.

The pace has picked up since then; at the current rate, missing jobs will be recovered by 2018. Still, five years into an economic recovery that has been notable for resurging corporate profits, the number and quality of jobs are still lagging badly, as are wages and salaries.

In 2013, after-tax corporate profits as a share of the economy tied with their highest level on record (in 1965), while labor compensation as a share of the economy hit its lowest point since 1948. Wage growth since 1979 has not kept pace with productivity growth, resulting in falling or flat wages for most workers and big gains for corporate coffers, shareholders, executives and others at the top of the income ladder.

Worse, the recent upturn in growth, even if sustained, will not necessarily lead to markedly improved living standards for most workers.

That’s because the economy’s lopsidedness is not mainly the result of market forces, but of the lack of policies to ensure broader prosperity. The imbalance will not change without labor and economic reforms.

For instance, new research from the Economic Policy Institute shows that from the first half of 2013 to the first half of 2014, hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, fell for nearly everyone. An exception was a small gain for the bottom 10 percent of wage earners, which was because of minimum-wage increases in 13 states this year.

That’s clear evidence that raising the federal minimum wage, while only a first step toward better pay, would have a powerful effect. A lift from the current $7.25 an hour to the modest $10.10 called for by President Obama and Democrats in Congress would put an estimated additional $35 billion in the pockets of affected workers over a three-year phase-in period.

Unionization is also associated with higher wages and benefits, especially for low-wage workers, which argues for greater legal enforcement of the right to organize without retaliation.

Similarly, stronger enforcement of both labor laws and antitrust laws is needed to ensure against wage theft. Once assumed to be mainly an issue of unpaid overtime or other wage violations, wage theft became a white-collar issue this year, when it was revealed that collusion among the biggest companies in Silicon Valley had suppressed the pay of software engineers by an estimated $3 billion.

The pay of middle-income workers has also been diminished. Decades of outsourcing government jobs to the private sector has undercut public employment, once a mainstay of middle-class life, even as evidence has mounted that outsourcing often does not save money or improve services. What’s needed is a systematic review of government contracts with the private sector and a willingness to end those that are counterproductive.

Another threat to middle-class wages is rampant misclassification — of employees as independent contractors and of workers as supervisors — a tactic that employers use to deny pay and benefits that would otherwise be due. In a promising development, a federal appellate court recently ruled that drivers for FedEx in California are employees, not independent contractors, an example of the courts stepping in when the other branches of government have let an injustice persist.

There has been progress since last Labor Day. Mr. Obama has signed executive orders to improve the pay and working conditions of employees of federal contractors. The Labor Department is revising rules on overtime pay; simply updating them for inflation would make millions of additional workers eligible for time-and-a-half for overtime.

What is still lacking, however, is a full-employment agenda that regards labor, not corporations, as the center of the economy — a change that would be a reversal of the priorities of the last 35 years.

Well said.

UPDATE: I am told that the print edition of the Star as opposed to its online content includes a guest op-ed from Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez.  I had to search for this. On Labor Day, investing in the American worker:

As the Secretary of Labor, I have the opportunity to meet around the country with employers of all sizes and from an array of industries. So many of them tell me the same thing; they’re ready to grow their businesses and to hire more people.

But here’s the rub: Too often, they can’t find workers who have the skills they need.

Meanwhile, although businesses have added 9.9 million jobs since February 2010, a lot of people are still hurting, unable to access the opportunities that will allow them to share in our national recovery. About a third of those who remain unemployed have been unemployed for six months or more.

So we have ready-to-work people looking for work. And we have ready-to-fill jobs that employers can’t fill. If we want to continue our economic recovery, grow our middle class and ensure a prosperous future, we’ve got to match them up.

That’s at the heart of President Obama’s opportunity agenda. And that’s why he recently signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) — a bipartisan bill that passed with little fanfare, but represents the first major reform of the nation’s workforce system since 1998. The reforms in the new law will make the nation’s workforce system, which serves more than 20 million people a year, better able to provide people with the skills they need to access ladders of opportunity.

But that’s not all. Vice President Biden recently released a report calling for stronger partnerships with employers, better access to information for job-seekers and more effective training strategies.

All of these efforts are based on the principle of job-driven training. We’re doing away with what I call “train and pray,” — training people to be widget makers and praying that there’s a company hiring widget makers. We need to provide people with the skills needed for jobs that actually exist.

So what exactly does “job-driven training” look like? Here’s an example.

High school and community college students in the Tucson area are getting hands-on career training in the health information technology, biotechnology and cybersecurity industries. Through the Innovation Frontier Arizona program, local education officials are offering students an integrated career-focused academic curriculum, allowing students to receive college credit or industry certifications while working toward their high school diploma.

And perhaps the most important ingredient to making this program successful? The school system has developed strong partnerships with local employers – like Universal Avionics and HealthTRIO — to provide students with education and training that will lead to jobs in fields employers are looking to expand.

In April, this program was awarded a $5.3 million Youth CareerConnect grant from the Department of Labor to expand the program to more students. We’re putting more than $1 billion on the street in grant funding to support programs like this one. Those resources are being deployed in a number of different ways —strengthening our community colleges, promoting apprenticeship and on-the-job training, investing in youth employment and more.

On Labor Day, we honor the contributions that hard-working men and women make every day to our nation’s strength and vitality. And we recommit ourselves to helping more people enjoy the dignity of work, helping them acquire the skills and access the opportunities to reach the American Dream.

2 responses to “Labor Day: show some respect for the working men and women of America

  1. The second editoral you quoted contains some optimistic information in it: The fact that we are starting to move away from the mindset that everyone must go to college to be successful. When I was in high school, they had several tracts you could follow for your education, including vocational training and apprenticeships. If you planned on going on to college, they had college preparatory course loads, but they didn’t just assume everyone was going that route. When I went back for reunions, my friends that took the vocational route had done well for themselves and they were happy. Had they been forced into the college route it likely would not have been that way. It is a ray of hope that educators are starting to realize that not everyone wants to go to college. And as far as who contributes more to society, a good plumber runs circles around a literature professor any day.

  2. I certainly support well crafted Business – Government partnerships designed to convert the unemployed and under-employed into specifically trained workers.
    To this point, the rock & hard place dilemma has been business owner Republicans whining that “they can’t find trained employees”, but refuse to train them (?).
    The same Republicans then campaign against Common Core as an “intrusion”, when in fact CC is aimed at correcting many of the deficiencies of NCLB as modified by local school policy. Not to mention Republicans nefarious agenda for defunding public education, period.