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Posts Tagged ‘Taking Back Labor Day’

‘Young Workers: A Lost Decade’

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

Take a look around this Labor Day. Chances are, you’ll see a lot of young workers on the job, because something bad happened in the past 10 years to young workers in this country: Since 1999, more of them now have lower-paying jobs, if they can get a job at all; health care is a rare luxury and retirement security is something for their parents, not them. In fact, many—younger than 35—still live at home with their parents because they can’t afford to be on their own.

These are the findings of a new report, “Young Workers: A Lost Decade.” Conducted in July 2009 by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO and our community affiliate Working America, the nationwide survey of 1,156 people follows up on a similar survey the AFL-CIO conducted in 1999. The deterioration of young workers’ economic situation in those 10 years is alarming.

Nate Scherer, 31, is among today’s young workers. Scherer lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he shares a home with his wife, his parents, brother and his partner.  He spoke at a media conference at the AFL-CIO today to discuss the report.

After getting married, my wife and I decided to move in with my parents to pay off our bills. We could afford to live on our own but we’d never be able to get out of debt. We have school loans to pay off, too. We’d like to have children, but we just can’t manage the expense of it right now…so we’re putting it off till we’re in a better place. My [work] position is on the edge, and I feel like if my company were to cut back, my position would be one of the first to go.

During today’s press briefing, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka summed up the report’s findings this way:

We’re calling the report “A Lost Decade” because we’re seeing 10 years of opportunity lost as young workers across the board are struggling to keep their heads above water and often not succeeding. They’ve put off adulthood—put off having kids, put off education—and a full 34 percent of workers under 35 live with their parents for financial reasons.

Just last week we learned that about 1.7 million fewer teenagers and young adults were employed in July than a year before, hitting a record low of 51.4 percent.

As AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said:  

Young workers in particular must be given the tools to lead the next generation to prosperity. The national survey we’re releasing today shows just how broken our economy is for our young people…and what’s at stake if we don’t fix it.

Some of the report’s key findings include:

  • 31 percent of young workers report being uninsured, up from 24 percent 10 years ago, and 79 percent of the uninsured say they don’t have coverage because they can’t afford it or their employer does not offer it.
  • Strikingly, one in three young workers are currently living at home with their parents.
  • Only 31 percent say they make enough money to cover their bills and put some money aside—22 percentage points fewer than in 1999—while 24 percent cannot even pay their monthly bills. 
  • A third cannot pay their bills and seven in 10 do not have enough saved to cover two months of living expenses.
  • 37 percent have put off education or professional development because they can’t afford it.
  • When asked who is most responsible for the country’s economic woes, close to 50 percent of young workers place the blame on Wall Street and banks or corporate CEOs. And young workers say greed by corporations and CEOs is the factor most to blame for in the current financial downturn.
  • By a 22-point margin, young workers favor expanding public investment over reducing the budget deficit. Young workers rank conservative economic approaches such as reducing taxes, government spending and regulation on business among the five lowest of 16 long-term priorities for Congress and the president.
  • Thirty-five percent say they voted for the first time in 2008, and nearly three-quarters now keep tabs on government and public affairs, even when there’s not an election going on.
  • The majority of young workers and nearly 70 percent of first-time voters are confident that Obama will take the country in the right direction.

Trumka, who is running for AFL-CIO president without announced opposition at our convention later this month, is making union outreach to young people a top priority. He said one of the report’s conclusions is especially striking:

Young people want to be involved but they’re rarely asked. Their priorities are even more progressive than the priorities of the older generation of working people, yet they aren’t engaged by co-workers or friends to get involved in the economic debate.

Currently, 18-to-35-year-olds make up a quarter of union membership. And at the AFL-CIO Convention, we will ask Convention delegates to approve plans for broad recruitment of young workers, as well as plans for training and leadership of young workers who are currently union members. And that’s just the beginning of a broad push towards talking and mobilizing young workers in the coming months and years.

According to the report, more than half of young workers say employees are more successful getting problems resolved as a group rather than as individuals, and employees who have a union are better off than employees in similar jobs who do not.

Read the full report here.

About the Author: Seth D. Michaels is the online campaign coordinator for the AFL-CIO, focusing on the Employee Free Choice campaign. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he’s worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. He also spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe.

This article originally appeared in employeefreechoice.org. Re-printed with permission from the author.

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Big Pharma Whistleblower Gets $51 Million

Monday, September 14th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

It’s an amazing story and one worth talking about.  Gulf War veteran and former Pfizer sales representative John Kopchinski is getting $51 million dollars as a result of his whistleblowing lawsuit against Pfizer – the world’s biggest drug maker — and that’s big news.

Pfizer to Pay $2.3 Billion for Fraudulent Marketing 

According to a statement from the Justice Department,   Pfizer’s illegal practices in connection with its promotion of an anti-inflammatory drug called  Bextra is what got it into big trouble.

Under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, a company must specify the intended uses of a product in its new drug application to FDA. Once approved, the drug may not be marketed or promoted for so-called “off-label” uses.

It turns out that Pfizer promoted the sale of Bextra for several uses and dosages that the FDA specifically declined to approve because of its safety concerns.

As a result of that conduct, (as well as violations involving other drugs) the company will pay a criminal fine of $1.195 billion, the largest criminal fine ever imposed in the United States for any matter.

Pharmacia & Upjohn (Pfizer subsidiaries) will also forfeit $105 million, for a total criminal resolution of $1.3 billion.

All in all, Pfizer settled the case( which included civil and criminal penalties) for a whopping $2.3 billion dollars.

False Claims Act Liability

Pfizer also agreed to pay $1 billion to resolve allegations under the civil False Claims Act (also know as Qui Tam).

Under the Act, it is illegal to knowingly present a false or fraudulent claim for payment to the federal government or use a false or fraudulent record to get paid. The way it works is:

  • individuals and entities with evidence of fraud involving the United States or its programs or contracts can sue the wrongdoer on behalf of the government
  • the government has the right to intervene and join the action
  • if the government declines, the private plaintiff may proceed on his or her own behalf

Those who violate the Act are liable for three times the dollar amount of the fraud and additional civil penalties. As far as the whistleblower goes, the Whistelblowers Protection Blog explains it this way:

A qui tam plaintiff can receive between 15 and 30 percent of the total recovery from the defendant, whether through a favorable judgment or settlement. To be eligible to recover money under the Act, you must file a qui tam lawsuit. Merely informing the government about the violation is not enough. You only receive an award if, and after, the government recovers money from the defendant as a result of your suit.

 In this case, Kopchinski (and others) claimed that Pfizer:

  • illegally promoted four drugs  (Bextra an anti-inflammatory; Geodon, an anti-psychotic drug; Zyvox, an antibiotic; and Lyrica, an anti-epileptic drug),
  • for uses that were not medically accepted, and
  • caused false claims to be submitted to government health care programs.

As a part of the resolution of the case,  six whistleblowers will receive payments totaling more than $102 million from the federal share of the civil recovery.

Kopchinski, whose reporting instigated the government investigation, will get $51.5 million.

Great Result For This Whistleblower

It’s a fantastic result for Kopchinski and the end of a long road. Most whistleblowers go through an enormous ordeal and so did Kopchinski,

First they struggle with the difficulty of reporting the illegal and/or dangerous practices to the corporate hierarchy and the pressure that goes with it.

What happens next —  when they are ignored as they often are — is that they are labeled as troublemakers and then fired because of trumped up charges of misconduct.

Once they report the wrongdoing to a government agency, they are blackballed in their industry and can’t get work. The stress, anxiety, guilt, and financial distress is overwhelming for most.

Kopchinski had this to say in a statement he released:

In the Army I was expected to protect people at all costs, 

At Pfizer I was expected to increase profits at all costs, even when sales meant endangering lives. 

I couldn’t do that.

That’s why Kopchinski got fired. At the time (2003) he had a baby and his wife was pregnant with twins. He went from earning $125,000 a year, to depleting his 401(k), to finally getting a $40,000 a year insurance job.

We appreciate Mr. Kopchinski’s courage and conviction and congratulate him (as well as his legal team and the Justice Department ) for a superb result.

It doesn’t often turn out this way — and it’s sure great to see it when it does. It’s a wonderful Labor Day story.

Image: images.huffingtonpost.com

About the Author: Ellen Simon is recognized as one of the foremost employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States. She has been listed in the National Law Journal as one of the nation’s leading litigators. Ms. Simon has been quoted often in local and national news media and is a regular guest on television and radio, including appearances on Court TV. Ellen has been listed as one of The Best Lawyers in America for her landmark work representing individuals in precedent-setting cases. She also received regional and national attention for winning a record $30.7 million verdict in an age-discrimination case; the largest of its kind in U.S. history. Ellen has served as an adjunct professor of employment law and is an experienced and popular orator. Ellen is Past-Chair of the Employment Rights Section of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and is honored to be a fellow of the International Society of Barristers and American Board of Trial Advocates. In additional to work as a legal analyst, she currently acts as co-counsel on individual employment cases, is available as an expert witness on employment matters and offers consulting services on sound employment practices, discrimination awareness and prevention, complaint investigation and resolution, and litigation management. Ms. Simon is the owner of the Simon Law Firm, L.P.A., and Of Counsel to McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman, a Cleveland, Ohio based law firm. She is also the author of the legal blog, the Employee Rights Post, and her website is www.ellensimon.net. Ellen has two children and lives with her husband in Sedona, Arizona.

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A Tribute on Laborless Day

Friday, September 11th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

This time, grill some burgers, raise a glass of beer and drink a toast to Laborless Day, in honor of the 10% to 20% of the American workforce who cannot find work, or anything meaningful that pays a living wage.

The current state of labor affairs in the United States is this: We’ve just barely survived eight years in which corporations amassed even more political power and societal control than they had before.

The military-industrial complex has continued to provide us with war, the banking industry gave us substandard mortgage derivatives but won’t loan money to people with good credit, and the insurance industry forced us to buy home insurance, car insurance, flood insurance and life insurance, but refused to sell us health insurance. Labor unions are on the run in many states, and the minimum wage will buy you a dry spot under the U.S. 90A bridge.

The Captains of Industry have had their way, more or less, for decades, and never more than now. You’d think they’d be flying high, but instead, on the eve of this Laborless Day, they find themselves in a quandry.

They’ve re-learned the hard way that their stock appreciation, bonuses, vacation mansions and hot cars accrue in proportion to American consumer spending.

Economists such as Michael Mandel may argue otherwise, but American consumer spending accounts for in the neighborhood of 70% of the Gross Domestic Product, which is roughly to say, our economy. (Mandel makes a good argument that the consumer impact is less than that, but doesn’t count consumer wages confiscated as taxes, which are then spent on government programs and, yes, do have an economic impact.)

After taking a financial beating in a variety of ways, directly or indirectly from numerous corporate captains, the American consumer has lost the ability to spend. The big shots still are living high on the fuel that was stuffed into the pipeline before the Last Straw, but soon nothing will be left but fumes.

Thus we find the Captains of Industry, through major voiceboxes such as the Wall Street Journal, playing a dual role. Yes, as Republicans they still have to diss the Democrats’ stimulus spending (while forgetting Bush Jr.’s). But at the same time, because consumer spending is predicated on consumer confidence, they must declare that the glass is half full and in fact the recession, which was never all that bad to begin with, is really pretty much over and we’re all in recovery now.

Sure, guys. Paper me over with charts explaining how, technically, the bell curve has rung while Southeast Asian production rates clearly are leveling off and job losses truly are not gushing out on the ground as fast as they were just a month ago.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, almost every middle-class American who still has a job and is not employed in the medical industry faces the very real prospect of sudden job loss. In Detroit, by one measure, 17.7% of the workforce was out of work by the end of July. In the El Centro, Calif., market, for some reason, the unemployment total hit 30.2%.

Some, especially over at the Journal, will say these figures are overstated, that the Labor Department figures show the average U.S. unemployment rate at the end of August was “only” 9.7%.

I say that’s more than bad enough. But it’s also an example of how figures lie.

The Labor Department also tracks more meaningful numbers, which I believe the media should use to provide a more accurate picture of U.S. employment.

Like this one: “Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force.”

“Marginally attached” workers are those who have run out of benefits, been unemployed for a year or more but are available for a job and want one. The part-time workers referred to really want full-time jobs but can’t find any.

In August of 2008, as the current collapse began, this more accurate average U.S. unemployment rate stood at 10.7%. One year later, it stands at 16.8%. I shudder to think what this rate is in Detroit.

This holiday weekend, be as patriotic as you are on holidays honoring our brave military members who died serving their country. Honor the American working man and woman, salt of the Earth and the blood that keeps our country’s heart beating.

But also honor your fellow Americans, almost one in five now, who want to do their part, secure their families and help spend the country back into recovery with honest work, only there isn’t enough to go around.

About the Author: Bob Dunn is a writer, consultant and web developer based in Richmond, Texas. He can be reached via Bob Dunn’s Brazos RiverBlog.

This article originally appeared in Bob Dunn’s Brazos River Blog on September 5, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.

Happy ‘Enlightened’ Labor Day

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that workers in the United States apparently don’t want to join unions because of the “very enlightened management in this country now, treating employees better and employees have decided they don’t want to pay the dues.”

McConnell, R-Ky., husband of the most anti-union Labor Secretary in history, enlightened the rest of the country with his ridiculous reason claiming why no Republican will vote for the Employee Free Choice Act

To borrow from Rep. Barney Frank, McConnell must spend most of his time on a planet that’s much better than the planet the rest of us live on.

In truth, the Employee Free Choice Act is desperately needed on my planet, where 16 workers die on the job every day because managers ignore their health and safety. On my planet, field workers die of heat exhaustion. Laundry workers are killed by dangerous machinery. Exhausted airline pilots die in crashes.

Here’s something else very enlightened managers do on my planet: cheat poor workers of their wages. Last week, 68 percent of low-paid workers were victimized by wage violations, according to a new University of Chicago report. The typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339.

So-called enlightened Amerijet managers forced pilots and flight engineers to strike on Aug. 27. Fort Lauderdale-based Amerijet doesn’t put working toilets on its Boeing 727s, which fly from Florida to Venezuela and the Caribbean. Amerijet’s female pilots are forced to relieve themselves by squatting over bags. Male pilots urinate into bags hanging just outside the cockpit doors. There are no sanitary facilities in which to wash.

Amerijet managers are so enlightened they think it’s a good policy to force exhausted, hungry, sick pilots to fly long hours. The company pays a small fortune to union-busting lawyers who have prevented Teamster pilots from negotiating a contract for 5-1/2 years. But Amerijet managers pay their co-pilots less than $35,000 a year.

Sen. McConnell might be surprised to learn of the outpouring of support for the Amerijet strikers from their dues-paying Teamster brothers and sisters in the airline and trucking industries. Teamster maintenance workers and cleaners at Miami International Airport are refusing to cross the picket lines. Amerijet’s picket line is being walked by unions at American, US Airways, Southwest, JetBlue, UPS, the Air Line Pilots Association and the Coalition of Airline Pilots Association. Other South Florida unions, as well as organized labor in the Caribbean and South America, are supporting the strikers.

So-called enlightened managers make life difficult for school bus drivers, who have an important job that requires skill and hard work. This is how managers at one private school bus company treated its drivers before they became Teamsters: At several depots, the toilet paper was removed from the employees’ bathroom. Workers had to ask for it at the office. They would get four or five squares.

Along with shabby treatment, school bus drivers earn low pay and enjoy few benefits. The Teamsters are building a movement of school bus and transit workers to change that. Almost 30,000 school bus and transit workers became Teamsters in the last three years. They are now seeing real improvements in their jobs and in their lives.

We are organizing school bus workers at First Student, Bauman/Acme and Durham School Services. Next week, we plan to file petitions with the National Labor Relations Board to unionize 3,500 school bus drivers, aides, attendants, monitors and mechanics at 30 yards across the country.

Studies show that millions more workers would belong to unions if they had the chance. We are working hard to pass the Employee Free Choice Act over Sen. McConnell’s objections. Workers need the chance to decide for themselves – without being spied on, threatened, interrogated or fired by their employers – whether to join a union.

The Employee Free Choice Act would give them that chance.

Enjoy your well-deserved holiday, brought to you by America’s labor unions.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on September 4, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.

 

Philip Dine - Taking Back Labor Day

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

When I hear questions about whether labor’s no longer relevant and has become a dinosaur, I have to chuckle – and then try to disabuse people or organizations of such a notion.

Why would it be the case that at the very time corporate influence is becoming more centralized, more powerful and more distant, that employees can suddenly cope with all their work-related issues as individuals, with no need for representation or collective efforts? On the face of it, that makes no sense.

That’s the philosophical response. In practical terms, we now have the biggest gap between rich and poor, and the largest share of the Gross Domestic Product going to corporate profits and the smallest going to wages/ salaries that we’ve had in some 80 years. And we find the middle class under assault at the very time labor’s been in decline, just as the middle class has expanded during the periods of labor’s greatest strength. This is, of course, no coincidence.

So the question is not really whether labor’s relevant or important, but what it can do to strengthen itself so it can meet those challenges. That’s such a large issue it could be the topic of a book (come to think of it, it is) but here are a couple of thoughts.

Labor needs to improve its political strategy. Spending all its time, energy and resources providing logistical assistance to endorsed candidates allows it only to have access to friendly politicians so it can remind them to live up to their promises. Barack Obama is a terrific public leader, but he’s found enough other priorities – economic stimulus, auto bailout and healthcare reform – to have the Employee Free Choice Act land on the backburner. The labor movement needs to complement its campaign work with a strong effort to make its own issues and values part of the political discussion, something that voters hear and think about as they decide how to vote, so that labor’s agenda gets a post-election mandate of its own.
 
Related to that, labor needs to effectively communicate its message well beyond elections, and explain to people why it matters to their lives. That’s not a hard case to make (see the above about wages, middle class, and so on). People need to know that it’s harder to form a union in this country than in virtually any industrialized democracy in the world, why that’s so – and why it matters. Tell them that 16 workers are killed daily on the job every day, and that union workplaces are safer. Let them know that the deindustrialization of America is damaging to our economic and national security – and that it flows in part from the way trade agreements are written and enforced, or not enforced.
 
A big part of the reason EFCA is languishing is that labor has not done enough in this political or communications sense. As a result, labor’s left waiting for the Democrats in Washington to decide to push the legislation. Meanwhile, there’s no pressure from constituents, because the public has no idea why something called the Employee Free Choice Act is necessary. Because the broader context mentioned above has not been presented, most people are simply presented with dueling ads, pro-EFCA and anti-EFCA, that they’re expected to make sense of. That’s quite a task, and many simply decide that this is a case of labor seeking a quid pro quo for its campaign work.
 
If labor is to take advantage of the current political and economic opportunities, it needs to sharpen its strategies. If it does, not only will Labor Days in the future feature a reinvigorated labor movement, working and middle-class people in this country will benefit – and so will the economy as a whole.

About the Author: Philip Dine, a Washington-based journalist, is one of the few remaining labor reporters and his labor coverage has twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His book,”State of the Unions: How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve Our Economy, and Regain Political Influence” (2008, foreword by Richard Gephardt) has been called “one of the best books in years on the labor movement” (AFL-CIO); “inspiring” (Sen. Edward Kennedy); “a great book” (Bill Clinton); and “a playbook for a comeback for organized labor” (Boston Globe).The book outlines why labor is as relevant as ever, and looks at how labor can revitalize itself so it can meet the daily challenges faced by working and middle-class Americans. Dine is an adjunct professor of labor relations at George Washington University, a periodic labor columnist for The Washington Times, and a frequent speaker on labor issues. He has appeared over the past year on CNN, Fox, CNBC, MSNBC, C-Span, XM Satellite Radio and National Public Radio, and has spoken at various union conferences, Harvard Business School, the AFL-CIO, National Labor Relations Board, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Labor College. Dine did graduate studies in industrial relations at MIT and spent two years researching labor unions and immigrant workers in France and Germany. His op-ed pieces have been published in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Providence Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Newsday. For a decade he wrote the only weekly labor column at a metro newspaper (St. Louis Post-Dispatch). More information is available at http://www.philipdine.com and Dine can be reached at philipmdine@aol.com.

 

Take Back Labor Day - The “Lost Decade” of Young Workers

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

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Labor Day has lost its luster as a holiday. First celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City, the day consisted of a parade and celebrations to exhibit “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” Now the holiday has been downgraded to back yard bar-b-ques and end of the summer getaways. The question is: who is resting on Labor Day? Certainly 15 million American’s aren’t taking the day off- because they don’t have job, as “real unemployment” rates have climbed to 16.8%.

Many of the older generation aren’t resting on Labor Day. They can’t afford to quit their jobs and retire. And, according to new data, our youth aren’t resting either. Nearly one in three workers under age 35 will be laboring on Labor Day, and almost half of them are working more than 40 hours per week. A full 50% do not have family leave time, at an age most likely to be growing a new family, 40% do not have sick leave and 33% don’t have any vacation time at all. (AFL/CIO, 2009). Not much “esprit de corp” to celebrate this year.

These grim statistics, and many more, were released in a landmark report called, “Young Workers A Lost Decade” conducted in July 2009 by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO and their affiliate Working America. The nationwide survey of 1,156 people follows up on a similar survey the AFL-CIO conducted in 1999.

The survey states; “young workers, (in 1999), were economically insecure, concerned about deteriorating job quality, distrustful of corporate America–and yet stubbornly hopeful about the future. Ten years later, the change is shocking. The status of young workers not only has not improved; its dramatic deterioration is threatening to redefine the norm in job standards. Income, health care, retirement security and confidence in being able to achieve their financial goals are down across the board. Only economic insecurity is up.”

An astounding one third of workers age 35 and under live at home with their parents – because they cannot afford housing on their own. Our best and brightest are frozen in place, while simultaneously running in circles. Many can’t afford to go to college, yet, those who do have upper level degrees can’t find jobs in their field, and are overwhelmed with student loans. Workers age 35 and under can’t afford health care, can’t get ahead, or save for the future.

AFL/CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka summed up the report’s findings this way:

“We’re calling the report “A Lost Decade” because we’re seeing 10 years of opportunity lost as young workers across the board are struggling to keep their heads above water and often not succeeding. They’ve put off adulthood–put off having kids, put off education–and a full 34 percent of workers under 35 live with their parents for financial reasons.”

Check out this short You Tube video clip of young professionals most affected by the economy speaking their minds:

The findings from this study are significant, and deeply distressing. The days of securing a job as a bank teller or in sales; settling down, buying a house and starting a family are over. The upcoming generation will emerge as the first to be worse off than their parents, and something must be done.

I have written previously about how the United States is one of the few countries that does not mandate paid vacation time for workers. We give a nod to Labor Day, but we do not believe in it. Stress related illnesses from our overworked population are the greatest burden on health care, but we do not support any measures for prevention. We complain to our government to fix our problems, but we don’t eat properly, exercise and meditate – what’s wrong with us anyway?

On Labor Day, while it is important to rest our bodies, we cannot rest in our determination to change the climate and opportunities in the work force. We cannot put our heads in the beach sand and ignore the far reaching implications of the “Lost Decade”. It is exactly the fire, imagination and energy of our nation’s young professionals that will carry us into a new era of prosperity.

While the outlook looks pretty grim for this bunch, there is a bright side to this group- they are incredibly resilient, creative and interested in service. Our working class, age 35 and under are unusually politically active – at the polls and in civic affairs, and are resoundingly optimistic President Obama can help turn things around for them to move forward as future leaders.

If we can give our youth a little room – they can get the job done. Let’s look at the health care reform issue from their perspective. While the politicians are punting sound bytes like Hail Mary’s, check out a creative approach in the “SuperMom Healthcare Truth Squad.” Picture a bunch of young women donning bright red capes and flocking in major cities across the nation to distribute information about why health care reform will help bring economic security to the nation. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, founder of MomsRising.org. writes,

“why do moms care (about health care reform?) Not only are families struggling with getting children the healthcare coverage they need for a healthy start, but 7 out of 10 women are either uninsured, underinsured, or are in significant debt due to healthcare costs.” 

Julia Moulden writes about the “New Radicals” who are making money – and making a mark on the world, through social change and empowering disadvantaged workers world wide. Recently, she highlighted a new “30-something” company that helps fund entrepreneurial projects, via mini pledges instead of investors, called Kickstarter.

The original Labor Day was born in during the peak of the Industrial Revolution as a backlash to workers being on the job 12 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to make a basic living. Hmmm. Sound familiar? Let’s take back Labor Day for the purpose it was created, and address the basic worker’s rights to a decent paying job, health benefits, paid leave time and a positive work environment in which to thrive. And, yes, let’s remember to Rest.

About the Author: Kari Henley is currently President of the Board of Directors at the Women & Family Life Center. She organizes the Association of Women Business Leaders (AWBL), and runs her own training and consulting practice. Kari is an avid writer, active in her community, and an expert in group facilitation. She has worked for the past 17 years with corporate, non-profit and public audiences. Past clients include Yale Medical School resident program, Fed Ex, Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Washington Trust Co., CT Husky program, the American Cancer Society. For more information, email: karihenley@comcast.net.

2009 Labor Day

Monday, September 7th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

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When I was growing up Labor Day was the most, maybe the only, sacred holiday of the year. My parents were both ardent labor union activists. My mom was a member of Local 1199 in NY – the health care workers union. She worked in a pharmacy and that was the union for workers there. My dad was a member of District 65 which was then part of the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Workers Union – he was a camera salesman. They both served as shop stewards during my childhood and I think before I was born they both held other positions in their unions with more responsibilities.

My parents met at an event my mother’s union was holding. They were showing a film and my father was hired as the projectionist, in the days before you could just slip a DVD into a computer to watch a film. I don’t know too much about their courtship, but their union came about because of union activities. I’m pretty sure that is not a unique situation.

I grew up going to Labor Day parades in NY – my stroller covered with streamers. I was so pleased when I got to be in a parade as a union member myself. It was 198? , the year that Reagan went all out to destroy PATCO. I belonged to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 3; I worked for a cable television company.

For this Labor Day, I’ll be going to a rally in Boston Common which will both celebrate labor, and the need of all people to have good health care.

The issues that arise on Labor Day are so closely related to an Ethical Culture view of the world. In Ethical Culture we follow the Kantian notion that all people are ends in and of themselves. We attribute worth and treat them with dignity and respect just because we are people. And here’s the part that’s most related to labor issues – we do not use people as means to reach our own ends. Seems to me that point has been missed by lots of people in the corporate and business world. I’m glad to say that there are also many who bring a very ethical and caring approach to their endeavors, there are those who form cooperatives, there are those who consider others and the natural world around them as they conduct their business.

But there are also many who see a business primarily as an opportunity to use the labor of others to make a lot of money for themselves. When workers join together in unions they have a chance to have greater influence on their working conditions, on how much they are paid for their work and what benefits they receive. The share holders of a corporation are very much like a “union” of business owners, looking out for what is best for them.

Corporations do not have to jump through hoops to organize the people with an interest in the profits of the corporation. Yet, others, workers, often do need to jump through hoops, or around other obstacles to be able to organize in labor unions. Even though workers, employees of a corporation also have an interest in the success of a business, they are not usually allowed to have input into the decision making which affects the business, and certainly not into the decision making which affects them directly.

Labor unions have been successful in providing a strong voice for employees, both on an individual level and on issues of local and national importance. At a time when unemployment levels in this country are incredibly high, I seeit as especially important that workers can organize for good working conditions. While many might say this is a time when businesses can’t afford to accommodate unions, I see it as a time when even more attention needs to be paid to not taking advantage of people – workers- not using people as a means for creating profit for some, but not for the people doing the work. As I understand it, the Employee Free Choice Act is a bill which would create a fairer process for union organizing. You can find out more about it in the Ethical Action section of the newsletter.

What is your experience with labor unions? How do you see a connection between Ethical Culture and Labor Day or labor issues?

About the Author: Susan Rose is the leader of Ethical Society Without Walls.

This article originally appeared in Ethical Society Without Walls on September 5, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

Honoring the Worker: What are you doing this Labor Day?

Monday, September 7th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

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On Tuesday September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers marched from city hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first-ever Labor Day parade. Despite the threat of losing their jobs, participants took an unpaid day off to honor American workers and draw attention to grievances they had with employers.

And the list of grievances was long. During this time, the average American worked twelve hour days, seven days a week, just to make a basic living, with children as young as six toiling alongside adults.

As years passed, more states began to hold these parades, but Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later. A bloody strike by railway workers brought the issue of workers’ rights to the public eye and provoked Congress to officially make the first Monday of September Labor Day.

Today, it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “Unions: The Folks Who Brought You the Weekend.” And the saying is true: unions won the eight-hour day standard we all enjoy today. What many people don’t realize is that workers and their unions had to fight for the eight-hour day for nearly 3/4 of a century (beginning in August 1866) before any national reform was enacted. The dream of an eight-hour work day finally became a reality in 1938, when the New Deal’s Fair Labor Standards Act made it legally a full day of work throughout the United States.

The Struggle Continues

Union_Labor_vsm.jpgAlthough many Americans have now come to associate Labor Day as just a day off from work or the end of summer relaxation, it’s important not to forget the sacrifices of our brothers and sisters, whose brave acts earned us the working rights we now possess. Unions have historically laid the groundwork for impressive grassroots campaigns to strengthen America’s middle class and rebuild the economy in hard times. As we face the greatest recession since the Great Depression, unions continue to be at the heart of efforts to pass healthcare reform, restore economic balance and bring prosperity to all Americans.

This Labor Day, let’s remind members of Congress just how many working families are still struggling to make ends meet under the strain of skyrocketing health care costs. Help send Congress back to DC with a mission to reform healthcare by joining us at send-off rallies across the country.

Events being held by SEIU and HCAN across the country on Labor Day, September 7th in Arkansas, Colorado, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Washington state are listed after the break.

Read Entire Post for a listing of Labor Day events here.

About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.

This post originally appeared in the SEIU blog on September 7, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

Change Has Come to the Workplace

Friday, September 4th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

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At Workplace Fairness, Labor Day isn’t just another day off from work or the last day of summer. And while this former Kansas City resident has nothing against barbecues, the day is much more than one of the last chances of the season to grill outdoors with family and friends. We think that Labor Day is a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. In commemoration of Labor Day, we’re excited to launch two new website features, our “Taking Back Labor Day” blog carnival, and our 2009 Labor Day Report, Change Has Come to the Workplace.

Throughout September, Today’s Workplace will be hosting our second annual “Taking Back Labor Day” blog carnival. Our guest bloggers, who will include many of the leading thinkers on labor and employment issues, will focus on why the labor movement is still important and address some of the most critical issues affecting workers today. We are also inviting YOU to participate: either by preparing a blog post for submission, or by making comments and using “Taking Back Labor Day” as an opportunity to have a real conversation about the future of the American workplace. Tune in every weekday in September at www.todaysworkplace.org to see the latest “Taking Back Labor Day” post, and join right in!

It’s also time for a look back at the previous year in the workplace, and we do so in our 2009 Labor Day Report, “Change Has Come to the Workplace.” In the past year, there was no more important development affecting the workplace than the election of President Barack Obama. After eight years of an Administration that could generally be characterized as hostile to workers’ rights and more interested in promoting business interests than ensuring employees were protected, the election of a more worker-friendly president has the potential to bring about significant change. In Change Has Come to the Workplace, by legal intern Hannah Goitein (The George Washington University Law School Class of 2011), we highlight the changes we have already seen in the last several months, as well as talk about what is on the horizon.

We hope these two new website features provide much interesting food for thought for you on this Labor Day weekend, while you’re enjoying that barbecue or last dip in the pool, or getting your children ready to start school on Tuesday. Have a great Labor Day weekend, but don’t forget who makes it possible – the American worker.

About the Author: Paula Brantner is Executive Director of Workplace Fairness, after serving as its Program Director from 2003 to 2007, writing legal content for the Webby-nominated site www.workplacefairness.org. Most recently, Paula was the Program Director for Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and the Working America Education Fund. From 1997-2001, she was the senior staff attorney at the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), heading NELA’s amicus, legislative/policy, and judicial nominations programs. An employment lawyer for over 16 years, Brantner has degrees from UC-Hastings College of the Law and Michigan State University’s James Madison College.

Paid Sick Days: A Social and Moral Imperative

Friday, September 4th, 2009

(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

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The first Labor Day, more than 100 years ago, was not a day of barbeques and relaxation.  It was a day when 10,000 workers marched in New York to secure basic rights for American workers.

Working conditions have vastly improved in the decades since that historic day, but too many working Americans still do not enjoy a basic right that is mandated by law in nearly every other nation in the industrialized world.  Nearly one half of American workers – almost 60 million of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues – do not have the benefit of a single paid sick day to care for themselves or their loved ones. 

Low-wage workers, who struggle to earn enough just to survive, are even less likely to have paid sick days.  If they or their children get sick, they have to make an impossible choice.  If they stay home, they will lose a day’s wages or even their jobs – a price most cannot afford to pay.

What are families without paid sick days to do?  This flu season, the White House estimates that one half of Americans will be infected by the H1N1, or swine flu, virus.  The federal government has recommended that anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms stay home, and that parents keep sick kids out of school.  Who will watch their sick children if they can’t afford to take a day off? How can we curb the spread of this virus unless sick workers can stay home without putting their families in financial jeopardy?

This Labor Day weekend, while you are enjoying holiday barbeques and picnics, remember that many of the people you meet every day working in your grocery store, your favorite restaurant, and even your own company may not have the basic right to paid sick days.  Then call your legislators, and tell them to support the Healthy Families Act, a federal bill that would require employers with more than 15 employees to provide up to 7 paid sick days for their workers.  With your help, we can build a stronger, healthier, more family-friendly nation.

About the Author: Melissa Josephs is Director of Equal Opportunity Policy for Women Employed. Since 1973 Women Employed has been a leading advocate for fair workplaces and economic opportunity for all American workers. As part of this effort, we promote policies that allow for a work-family balance, including the Healthy Workplace Act, which would guarantee paid sick days for all Illinois workers. Women Employed is leading the Illinois Paid Leave Coalition to bring family and medical leave to more working families. Working with public officials and organizations, we have developed a paid sick days program in Illinois to help workers who cannot afford to take unpaid leaves to care for themselves or ill family members, or go to medical appointments.  As Director of Equal Opportunity Policy, Melissa Josephs leads Women Employed’s efforts to secure paid sick days for Illinois workers.

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