Labor Day is a challenge for me. Since I shifted to a blogging schedule that includes a Monday post, and since that’s when I sometimes get all philosophical, it seems that I should address the holiday in some meaningful way.
It’s hard because, here in the US, Labor Day is tightly coupled with the end-of-summer, or the start-of-school or some “amazing” sale – yes, yes, I know, 3-Days only. The notion that we would pause from any of that to recognize labor and the labor movement is, sadly, laughable.
At first, I thought I would rewrite a post I did a few years ago. Then I realized that I did that last year. Then I read Evelyne Holingue’s post and I thought, “Well, at least someone else is thinking about this” so I decided to face this disrespected holiday head-on.
That didn’t go well.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a perfectly good draft, all about the modern labor problems caused by companies that keep their labor force working at part-time levels, or employ “contractors,” or who are feverishly eliminating anything resembling entry-level jobs, either with automation, or drones or Apps.
Last week, I asked an employee at Home Depot where steel angle brackets were. He didn’t know, but he told me to “download the Home Depot App, pick this location and search for the item.” It worked. Later, as I was standing in line, the cashier directed me to the self-serve checkout, if I wanted to “save time.” I wondered if either person realized the potential outcome of me helping myself (and helping them out of a job).
I was 950 words into that post before I got to the second of three main points. Count your blessings and thank your lucky stars I decided to shelve that one for a year.
Let me cannibalize that post and share a poor-poor-pitiful-me story of my history with real labor. Immediately before starting college, I worked in a non-union machine shop outside of Pittsburgh. I was trained to operate several different machines. The work was hard and dangerous. Once, I was cut very badly on my right hand. I was told that if I missed work the following day, I would be fired. I went to work for two days, with my hand bandaged to keep the blood in and in a rubber glove taped at my wrist to keep the cutting oil out. Then, I was told to: “take tomorrow off so your hand can heal.” “Tomorrow” happened to be the day of the “surprise” OSHA inspection.
Full-time employees in that shop got one vacation day for each year of service, up to a maximum of 15 days. They received an anemic medical insurance policy for themselves. They could pay the full cost of adding their spouse and family if desired. If one of those full-time employees was sick, he had the option of using a vacation day or not being paid. As a part-time employee, I got $1.95 an hour.
Actually, that was 20% more than minimum wage, and I was very happy to get it. I hated that job, but it helped me contribute to my college education. I was able to save one semester’s tuition. Try that with a part-time job today. Try that with a full-time job.
Anyway, I’ll leave the Labor Day musings for another day, or another blogger, or some social work PhD candidate or, please no, some politician. I don’t have the answers, but I know some answers will inspire more questions. I also know that technology will continue to change the labor landscape faster than our education system can prepare people to enter the workforce. Then again, given that I have spent the bulk of my career working in an industry that didn’t exist when I graduated from college, I guess that has always been the case.
For your viewing pleasure, I’ve included some recent scenes from my current part-time job, a.k.a. walking Miss Maddie. For your listening pleasure, Linda Ronstadt’s recording of “Poor Poor Pitiful Me.” Happy Labor Day. If you’re driving today, say a small prayer for the iron workers, machine operators and construction laborers who made that possible.
And, here’s Linda.