Happy Labor Day (to the upper-middle class white-collar employees who ended up benefiting from the labor movement)

This image crossed my Tumblr dash yesterday, and I reblogged it, because I appreciate the sentiment.

A vintage black-and-white image of a labor rally with a large banner reading "Workers of the world unite"; superimposed text reads "This long holiday weekend has been brought to you by the blood, sweat, and tears of the labor movement."
A bit later, I saw a notification that someone had reblogged it from me, adding their own comment:
hahaha i have to work every fucking day of it
Which reminded me of the reason I generally have stopped wishing retail and service employees with whom I interact "have a good weekend" or variants thereof at the end of our interaction.  Because I remember when I worked retail, and I got one weekend off a month (maybe; LB was big on the belief that the managers, in addition to knowing the store operations stuff, were also the top salespeople and should always be present at high-traffic times, so we had to work most weekends), and well-meaning 9-to-5ers would cheerfully wish me a nice weekend as I handed them their receipt on Friday afternoon.  And I'd smile and return the pleasantry, of course, because that's what you do, but I was always thinking, "Sure, it's a nice weekend for you.  It's just two more workdays for me."

And it occurred to me that there's a lot to be said about how, decades after the main body of the labor movement made the major gains that it did - 40-hour weeks, minimum wage, paid holidays and vacation, etc - the bulk of those rights are going to the well-off white-collar employees, while the low-wage workers who actually formed the original labor rights movement have seen those protections eroded or denied outright.

Anecdotally: about a week or two into working at my current job (I'm the admin/receptionist for a general contractor's office), my boss stopped by my desk and said "Remember to take your breaks, okay?  I see you staying at your desk most of the day, you need to get out more."  I laughed and replied, "Thanks, I will - but honestly, my last job was retail.  This whole job feels like a break to me - I'm getting to sit down for 90% of it!"

At LB, I was one of a dozen part-time employees, with incredibly inconsistent scheduling - I was guaranteed 20-35 hours because I was a manager; the regular associates could get anywhere from 2-12 hours in a week, but rarely more than 15.  And nobody had a consistent schedule of days/times/shifts, it changed every week.  I had no access to health insurance, no paid time off, no sick days or vacations.  Lunches were 30 minutes exactly, and you were responsible for remembering to take your 15-minute breaks and clearing it with the manager on duty (and good luck getting the okay for that if it was busy on the floor).  I made a couple bucks over minimum wage and considered myself lucky for that.  And yes, I was required to work all holidays, including this one.

At Stq, I work 8-5, Monday-Friday.  I will have a good health care plan, with the premium covered 100% for me and 75% for any dependents - meaning I won't have to pay a dime out of my paycheck for it.  I'll accrue 3 hours of PTO per week, which will be retroactive to my beginning to work there (I started as a temp and we're playing paperwork games with getting me transitioned to perm, so I don't have these benefits yet, but it's when, not if).  Lunch is an hour, taken whenever I feel like it so long as I let someone know I'm leaving so they'll know to pick up the phone, nobody will care if I come back a bit late (if they even notice at all), and as I mentioned, my boss will actually remind me to take breaks and get out of the office from time to time.  I'm making about $4 over minimum as a temp, and my wage as a permanent employee will be about 2x minimum wage.  And I'm getting to spend today sitting on my ass in my pajamas fucking around on the internet and writing blog posts about it.

Does that seem fair to you?

So if you want to thank the labor movement for the holiday we some of us are having today, get involved.  Take note of bills eroding worker protections - not just big brouhahas like Wisconsin, but smaller things on the local level, too - and get involved in the fight against them if you can.  Support unions.  It's a fairly unpopular opinion to take in conversations a lot of the time, but it's necessary to push back against the right-wing framing of Those Damn Unions Making Businesses Go Broke (so shut up and let us abuse the workers for better profit margins).  Google around, find a local worker's rights org, and see what they need and what issues they're working on - the AFL-CIO might have something local, and it's a good place to start.

And if anybody has more or better ideas for getting involved, by all means, that's what comments are for!


LS said...

Thought provoking.  Thank you.

Sonneillon said...

You totally summed up what I was really trying to put into words about this.  Yesterday one of my friends asked, "What are we even celebrating today?" and I basically said "The workplace concessions won for us by the efforts of unions, such as:" and then I listed some, and her response was "HAH I don't get any of those".  Hell, I work at a bank and I barely get any of those.  

Jadelyn said...

Seriously.  I'm lucky re pay scale and health care, and I know it.  Everything is almost entirely up to the employer.  Vacation, paid family leave - the FMLA says they can't fire you for certain family stuff, but nothing requires that they pay you.  Which we are literally I think the last industrialized nation to NOT have mandatory paid family leave.  It's fucking ridiculous.  The labor movement got them to stop outright working us to death, but everything else has slowly slipped away via lax enforcement and well-paid lobbyists.  


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