Happy Labor Day!

Happy Labor Day, everybody!

And since it’s Labor Day, I want to take a moment to think nice thoughts about labor unions.

They’re not just the people who brought you Labor Day weekend. They’re the people who brought you the weekend. Period.

They’re the people who brought you the eight hour work day, and time and a half for overtime if you work more than that. They’re the people who brought you workplace safety laws. They’re the people who brought you child labor laws. Etc. Etc. Etc. If you’re not working under 19th century working conditions, you have labor unions to thank. (And if you are working under 19th century working conditions — maybe you should unionize!)

For some reason — okay, I’m not stupid, I know the reason — unions have been framed in the United States as unpatriotic and un-American. I find this baffling. Unionizing is one of the most fundamentally democratic ideas people have ever come up with. Without them, employers hold all the cards in the employer- employee relationship. With them, working people have a voice — and the power to do something with that voice.

Are there problems with unions and how they operate today? Sure. There are problems with democracy and how it operates today, too. That doesn’t make democracy a bad idea. And it doesn’t make unionization a bad idea. It makes working on those problems a good idea.

Collective bargaining. It works. One of the best ideas people ever came up with. Thanks, y’all.

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40 thoughts on “Happy Labor Day!

  1. 2

    I do not get time and a half for overtime. I am classified as law enforcement. Law Enforcement personnel are worked 44 hours per week without time and a half.

  2. 3

    Thanks for writing this, Greta! It does annoy me how unions are painted as the bad guys while the employers escape from criticism for their wrongdoing (and are praised for being job creators, even if they’re not creating jobs at the moment). Happy Labor Day!

  3. 4

    But after those 44 hours, you do get overtime pay? Is that out of the goodness of the hearts of the agency that employs you?

    MJ – former member APWU, daughter of 35-year member of UA

  4. 5

    Robert: Don’t bitch to us…get your union to negotiate better hours…that’s what they’re there for. If they’re unwilling to do that, then vote for union representatives who want to represent their members rather than kowtow to management. And if that means that you become active in union politics, then so be it.

  5. 10

    Hi! I really love your blog.
    Just wanted to mention, when I came here, there was an ad–a big one– at the top for Liberty University– of all (god-forsaken) places, noting that it was the largest Christian University…. just thought you’d want to know this, in case you didn’t already.
    Uggh!!
    I understand it is difficult to know what ads may pop in on a blog.
    Good luck and thanks for your great articles

  6. 11

    On the other hand, I suppose that makes Unions partly responsible for the abominations that are “Normal Business Hours” and, more specifically, “Banker’s Hours.” >.>

  7. 12

    Thank you for this. I will never understand how any middle class member of the workforce could ever vote for a political party that opposes unions.

  8. 13

    Huh.
    I agree with most things you write on organized religion (I am deistic agnostic apatheist), and on sex (i am libertarian).
    But I disagree with unions.
    I don’t care if unions are unpatriotic, I am not a patriot.
    North America and Europe hadn’t got rid of child labour and such because of unions, but because of economic progress.
    Even if there were no unions, salaries/wages would be still rising.
    All unions are doing is slowing down the progress, and while doing so they are not benefiting workers. Employers dont crush workers for Evulz, they are doing it for economical reasons mostly. (standard laisez faire arguments really, so check any libertarian site if you want details)
    And since I am probably going to be torn apart anyway, i’ll also freely admit to liking Pinochet, being monarchist, and hating democracy as farce.

  9. 14

    Unions breed laziness. In all my experiences with unions they were always protecting guys who came to work drunk or high..or never bothered to show up at all. Then you got the guys who stand around not doing crap because they got seniority..and then the guys who actually work their tails off get laid off because they are new. The older guys are always the ones when something needs to be done that are always harping…”THAT’S NOT MY JOB CLASSIFICATION”…

  10. 15

    Same here. Overtime is totally unpaid for us salaried workers. And the 40 hour workday is not a reality either…sadly corporations are finding loopholes around the gains of unions it seems…

  11. 16

    “It took the Great Depression to end child labor nationwide; adults had become so desperate for jobs that they would work for the same wage as children.” (from the Wikipedia article on child labor laws)

    I admit wikipedia is not the strongest source, but it does illustrate that there were many factors involved in ending child labor in the US. Organized labor certainly played its part, along with activists pushing for mandatory education.

    @Matthew Graybosch
    That’s due to the differences in the way salaried vs. hourly paid work is treated, and the kind of work that falls under each group. I had a teacher in highschool that explained it really well, but I can’t remember now the exact way he put it, and I’m having trouble putting it into words myself while keeping it accurate.

  12. 17

    As someone that is going to be working “closing” again, for the like 20th day in 4 months, after time and again stating I don’t want the shift, has 5 years seniority on everyone else, yet *never* sees 40 hours, because that would make me full time, and require them to pay benefits, and who, other than not being able to go online when I used to, with the people that I interacted with, because of this bullshit, also hate the shift precisely because of the number of unqualified, lazy, assholes I have to re-do the work of, before going home (last night the bastard did absolutely nothing at all), you can kiss my ass.

    It seems fairly clear to me at this point that the only damn way I *am* going to get any results is by going to the union rep, telling them that “no one” has been allowed to bid their hours in the position I am in for the entire 5 years I have worked there, and that it bloody well needs to stop. Then, maybe I won’t keep getting shit shifts, where I have to come in at the second busiest time of the day, worry all night whether my “fellow employees” are doing their damn job, then put up with a manager that spends more time texting his frakking mother, the last three hours, as one of only three people in an often busy retail location, instead of getting his shit done (inevitably leading to whining about how his salaried ass will be stuck there until 3 am, to finish the shit that any other one of the managers, that work the shift on his days off, would have either left for the next day, or gotten bloody finished).

    While it is true that some unions have gone too far, and protect the wrong damn people. The fact remains, that even *with them* in some states, and businesses, you are screwed without one, and only slightly less screwed *with* one.

  13. 18

    Unions breed laziness.

    Citation or shut the fuck up.

    There isn’t one–NOT ONE–study that has been done that proves union workers are any less productive than non-union workers.

    If the study did exist, even if it were flawed, we would never stop hearing the end of it, and you damned well know it.

    If you’d ever been in a union, you might actually know what it is to work your ass off for a living, doing hard, physical labor.

    So cough up the study that backs up that bullshit, or shut up.

    THAT’S NOT MY JOB CLASSIFICATION

    And there’s 100% proof that you have never ever been in a union or even smelled one. I’ve been in three of them, and in every single one of them there was usually a provision that said, “Or as management instructs” in every single job classification that makes it possible for management to send, say, a DBCS worker at the USPS to flats for manual distribution, or to the computer area to forward magazines, or to a station to verify standard mail. Or, in the case of Lockheed, I could do not only the machine testing that was my “official job,” but also had to do the temp testing that was technically someone else’s job if management needed me to do it. Or at Levi-Strauss, I could be pulled off my ironing machine to go to the sewing machines if they were back-logged.

    My brother is also in a union, and he gets pulled to help people doing other jobs all of the time.

    If you’d ever been in a union, then you would know that management can move bargaining unit employees around to get the job done any time it’s necessary, and thus you wouldn’t be so full of shit.

    These are just a few of the reasons why morons like you who know ZERO about unions need to sit down and shut up.

  14. 19

    Aquaria and Kagehi: On the actual topic, I am in complete agreement with you. However, as host and comment moderator, I must ask you to not aim personally insulting language (such as “moron” and “kiss my ass” towards the other commenters on my blog. I welcome and encourage lively debate in my blog, but I ask that commenters restrict their critiques to ideas and behavior, and not aim personal insults at other commenters. Thank you.

  15. 20

    And that’s why a lot of companies have been “promoting” employees to positions that are surprisingly almost exactly the same as the one they’re already doing, but on salary rather than hourly.

  16. 21

    I just wanted to say, thank you for all of your hard work. I just watched your We Are Atheism video and I really liked it. Your story sounds a lot like mine. I’m a Neopagan witch turned Atheist. I’m in the process of building my own philosophy. I was a Neopagan since I was thirteen to nineteen years old. As I got older I became more and more skeptical. Within a year and a half I was wrestling with my chosen label. I found out that, within my teenage years, I was the one who created that thought form; that goddess. It was me that I was worshiping, talking to and blaming. I then became interested in another path that included philosophy, atheism and occultism. Soon, I realized that wasn’t for me either. So I decided that I’m more of a Philosophical Atheist.

  17. 25

    Employers dont crush workers for Evulz, they are doing it for economical reasons mostly.

    So, you’re admitting employers do crush workers? And yes, we do understand that they do it for economical reasons. Guess what? Unions aren’t “slowing down the progress” for the lolz either, they also do the things they do for economical reasons. I also doubt they are actually slowing down process that much anyway. The US seemed to have done just fine even when unions were stronger than today. It also wasn’t the unions who caused the current recession either.

    Libertarian opposition of unions has always puzzled me. If libertarianism truly is a philosophy of liberty and freedom, or the philosophy of free market, it should have no problem with unions. After all, labor is just as much a resource as capital is, and if investors are free to pool their resources for a stronger market position, so should workers be free to pool theirs.

    Then again, if libertarianism were just an excuse for keeping the rich and powerful in charge, its opposition to unions would make a lot more sense.

  18. 26

    I have no problem with people saying: “we wont work for less than x, pay us, or well go elsewhere”, I have problem with government granting privileges to unions, going as far as making it in some cases illegal to not be in union.
    And even when its legal to not be in union, unions will “crush” strikebreakers, ofter literally. Do you support union members beating “scabs” to death?

    Then again, socialism is just an excuse for keeping the rich and powerful in charge, its support of unions makes a lot sense.

  19. 27

    When you claim that employers are “crushing workers” for economic reasons, you mean they’re just making tough decisions for the benefit of the economy as a whole, right? Like, well, they’d rather not have to lay off all those people, or cut wages, or whatever, but if they don’t, The Economy will suffer, and that’s bad for everyone!

    Or, no, that’s ridiculous! You don’t believe that. You mean, they make those decisions so that they can put more money in their own bank accounts. The only part of the economy they’re basing their decision on is the part they get to take home and buy food/homes/toys with. But by that standard, workers/unions only want better hours, benefits, pay, etc for economical reasons, too.

  20. 28

    Again the double standard. Are you against corporations too, because government gives corporations special rights? Or because corporations have in the past hired thugs to break strikes?

    Then again, socialism is just an excuse for keeping the rich and powerful in charge, its support of unions makes a lot sense.

    That just made absolutely no sense at all.

  21. 29

    I have no problem with people saying: “we wont work for less than x, pay us, or well go elsewhere”, I have problem with government granting privileges to unions, going as far as making it in some cases illegal to not be in union.

    This is… How about we change the wording a bit, and see what happens. Hmm. ‘I have no problem with people saying: “We won’t like next to a garbage dump, so clean it up, or we will move”, but I have a problem with the idea of the neighborhood being given ‘privileges’ to organize, for sueing the garbage dump, or the city, or making any choices for themselves.”

    You seriously think its just simple and easy for people to go some place else for a job? What if *everyone* is paying the same? And the government hasn’t granted anything, all they have done is stated that, oh my, citizens are allowed to form organizations, to bargain for them. They have no control over what those bargains are. And in most cases the “your must be in a union” situation hasn’t cropped up by government fiat, its happened because the unions successfully make it impractical for people to be hired without being in one at that job. They did so by providing for people better wages, better vacation time, better working conditions, etc., such that someone dumb enough to get the job outside of one got paid way less.

    Now, look at some place like Arizona. Right to work laws, restrictions on unions, etc. The only places, in the low end of the business spectrum, which produce 70-80% of the jobs, in the entire state that don’t pay minimum wage, some of them *without* raises, are those from “out of state”. Those constitute probably 5% of the businesses? Then look at contracts, at a certain “unnamed” location, 10 years ago it took half as long to get a pay raise, everyone got one, and the pay cap was 3 times higher. Five years ago it took 20% longer, the pay cap was 1.5 times higher, and everyone got raises. The newest contract.. some employees are ***not allowed*** pay raises. The pay caps are all 50% of the max you could have made 10 years ago, and it takes nearly twice as long to get a raise, and ***its effectively impossible*** to get a raise based on merit.

    This is what you get when unions can’t negotiate, due to the laws of the state, and there is a trend, and has been for some time, to pass more and more “right to starve” (as workers call them) laws in other states. The result is invariably a 10 fold increase in the number of places “negotiating” their employees out of vacation time, raises, and pay. In some of the worst cases, they have Walmarted all their employees. Effectively erasing all distinctions for departments, where the pay scale was based on specialized skills, and reducing everyone to minimum wage. Where has that happened? In places where the union either didn’t exist, or the number of members where a tiny fraction of the employees.

    I doubt any place is making it “illegal” to be in a union. Or, if they have, its been a result of the union being so successful that hiring someone non-union becomes the threat to the business, not the other way around. After all, you know who your members are, you don’t have any control, or trust in, some random guy off the street. Whether or not that is reasonable or not, isn’t the issue though. The issue is that if you eliminate the unions, everyone gets screwed, including the businesses.

    And ***more to the point*** there is no way in hell that 70-80% of Arizona could just “move someplace else, to find a job that pays better”. Not with half the other states trying to go the same route, some major companies, like Walmart, already doing this BS on the national level (its workers are not unionized BTW, which is why they have been able to do this). So, what do you do, when we are back in the pre-union days, where 90% of the entire country is working for some place that refuses to pay them a living wage. Where the hell are people supposed to, “go to find a better job”?

    That BS only works for the maybe 1-2% of the population that is mobile enough to travel easily, without major debts, or expenses, and can just pull up roots and move some place. Its also what has, to a great extent, screwed up communities, and families, in this country, since its not just perception, but simple truth, that to succeed, even with unions trying to hold things together, its often absolutely necessary for 90% of whole generations to go “someplace else” to find bloody work, instead of staying in the towns they grew up in. And then, when they do, some 80% of them end up in jobs that are as poor, or worse, than what little was available where they started (except in those cases where there literally wasn’t anything at all, which, again, isn’t much different than where I am now).

    Seriously this is a fairly large town, but we have one minimum wage paying plastics manufacturer, one Walmart, a K-Mart, a few clothing stores (most of them outside the city, because the people owning land inside are idiots who drove them out of a) rent and b) opportunity to build, which is fairly typical of the sort that own large chunks of many cities), and a lot of small shops, none of which have more than 5-10 employees. There is absolutely *nothing* here for people to do, and the closest other city, which isn’t even worse in terms of work, is like 200 miles away. They.. likely don’t have much large employee, fairly well paying, non-Walmart type places either.

    We can’t survive as a nation if 90% of the country, even if they could teleport, has, as their only options, 100,000 jobs with pay well, and 299,900,000 jobs that pay $7.50/hr. Move where? Find better paying jobs where? And, for that matter, how, when half the people in the high end industry are the sort of clowns that, back when I was taking, what turned out to be useless, dumbed down, computer courses, had advertisements like this: “Seeking professional with 5 years experience with X product, which was only released 2 years ago.”

    Heh, I know, they are supposed to use that pay they are not getting, to take classes they can’t find/afford, so that once they have bankrupted themselves taking local “community college” classes on something, they can then hitchhike to some place where they can stand in line with 5,000 other applicants, for the two jobs that this new knowledge is suppose to qualify them for, right?

    All I see from people like you is a lot of union bashing, a complete incomprehension of either how bad things where before them, or how bad they are getting, even with them, as more and more of their negotiating power is stripped away with loopholes and legal nonsense, and a basic failure to grasp why some jobs are next to impossible to get hired at, if non-union, whether the government likes it or not, and without them having to “make it illegal to not be in one”.

  22. 30

    I’m glad I don’t have to join my union.

    My bf and I both work for Kroger over the school year. In my state (VA), no one is forced to join the union and in his (MI), everyone is. As a result, he is screwed over constantly. He is low on seniority, so people can switch shifts with him at their will (something I don’t have to worry about).
    And his union makes it damn near impossible for people to move up – even if he’s the only person available to work, his hours are limited because people with more seniority will complain if he gets them.

    But I respect all that unions have done. I just think states should follow a right-to-work model rather than making it so that being a union member is a condition of employment.

  23. 31

    Years ago I worked a job where I routinely put in one to three hours of overtime per day. I was “promoted” to supervisor, put and given a pay raise, yet my duties remained the same. Of course I lost the overtime pay, so effectively my “promotion” involved a pay cut. A couple of months later I quit.

  24. 32

    Yep, those are problems, alright. Our Hostess mentioned there are some. But may I point out a few things? The union reps are REQUIRED to defend every employee from negative personnel actions…like firings…but they are not required to win. If management has its ducks in a row, they CAN fire people for using drugs, drunk on duty, or even not working hard enough. They just have to do it right. No, it isn’t always easy – that’s because when it was easy, management misused it to get rid of people they didn’t like. Such as people who tried to form unions.

  25. 33

    I am against corporations getting government privileges. Unions, Coporations, special interest, churches or social group should have no special privileges.
    Can employers break strikes? That depends on whether “break” means: “force them back to work” (then no), or is it “they been fired (under conditions listed in their contract) and removed form someone else property” (then yes).

    Of course socialism, or “state capitalism” as it was sometimes called serves rich. In free market anyone who is smart and hardworking can become rich. Governement regulation exists to put those people down, beacuse governemnt is in league with big bussiness. Bureaucracy is consequence of socialism, and its results in privileged ruling class of officals, who opposes education vouchers, but sends their children to private schools, and who oppose privatised healthcare, but travel abroad for any serious surgery. And who receive bribes from big bussiness to squish their smaller competition with regulations.

    So where is my double standard?

  26. 34

    You weren’t paying attention.
    People should be allowed to bargain collectively, whether they are union, or just entered room together. But its not bargaining if other side can’t just say: “sorry, no deal”.
    Like minimum wage: even if someone wants to work below minimum, because, i dunno, he is not experienced enough YET for his labor to be worth minimum wage, he can’t. Its illegal to hire him. Sorry sucker!
    Of course its hard to get job. But its about priciple: No one should be allowed to forbid people to do with their stuff what they want, as long as everybody involved consented, regardless of whather its a dildo or steel factory.
    Example:
    “What you are doing violates my sense of aestethics/morality/social justice, I forbid you from doing it, so stop, or your home will be be invaded by men with guns dressed in black, they will scar your children for life, they will beat you up, take you to jail, and you be raped there!” – thats does not look like moral argument to me.

  27. 35

    Well, duh, of course CEOs like money. Whats wrong with that?
    Not to mention, that company going bankrupt is bad for workers as much as for CEOs. And they dont “eat away” all that money, a lot goes into investement. And even if they do spent money on luxuries, hey, its their money.

  28. 36

    Mackus, we tried letting people hire at “below” minimum. What resulted, since you don’t seem to know a damn thing about history, is that half the jobs available where “below poverty level”, instead of barely over minimum. Corporations ***will not*** pay people what they need to survive off of, if they can get by with not doing so, unless someone is forcing them. The only time they so much as even tried to do more than that was when they owned your house, the clothes on your back, etc., and made damn sure that you personally would *never* pay it back.

    We have people already working 60+ hours a week, 4-5 jobs *each*, because they have kids, and live in high rent areas, and medical expenses, and one of the two parents can’t work. You want them to farm their kids off to some shop some place? I know, we can just overturn pedophile laws, then they can sell their kids to make up the difference. That will work, right?

    If you let them pay less than minimum, within a year, half of the damn jobs will be less than that, and everyone worse off for it. The idea that it would fix anything is a-historical insanity.

  29. 37

    Wow, one whole year, and you thought you “deserved” the same hours are people that had worked there longer? Here is a hint, the one I work for, I get, at most, 30 hours, but I average 26, they are “required”, because of the union, to provide at least 20. If you are not in the union, you might find yourself with 15, or even 5, and its all based on how long you worked there, whether or not you are union or not. The only difference is, you have **no** protection for your hours, if non-union. This means that if you worked there 20 years, you might still find yourself with 5 hours that week, simply because its a slow week, and there are 100 other people in line, some of them union, who have to have their hours assigned before you.

    Senority exists, regardless of the union. The only thing “right to work” does, is rob you of the ability to negotiate worth a damn for anything, like pay, or how often you get raises. Otherwise, if doesn’t do one damn thing *at all* to stop them from deciding that someone that has only worked there for a year is going to get 10 hours, while the guy that worked there two gets 15, etc. There is nothing you gain from “right to work”. Every single thing it does, is 100% in favor of the people that decide when, and if, you will be working. And they are, for damn sure, going to tell you, as they do non-union at my store, “Tough shit, even if there wasn’t any union here, we don’t have the hours, and their are 100 other people in front of you.”

    Seriously, how is, “I think I could negotiate, with no rights at all, for more hours, if the damn union wasn’t in the way.”, even believable. I mean, you might, I don’t know, kiss the bosses backside more, or something. But then you would be a crony, and there would be a half dozen people pissed that *they* didn’t get hours, because you kept getting them. Is that fair either? How about that everyone gets less than they need to survive, instead of just the newbie, who hasn’t been there for more than a few months? Screw everyone, and everyone will feel better?

    I struggle to understand how, or what, you think would differ, without unions “enforcing” some sort of minimum hours.

    Mind, I suppose there is one *possible* outcome, which I am sure you would love – “You are now making $10/hr, instead of $7/hr., so since you now make 50% more than the guy we just hired, we are cutting your hours by 50% to compensate.” Its good business sense, right? Guess what was the reason for “seniority” in the first place..

  30. 38

    You ignored that I mentioned principle Kagehi.
    Even if it is true that corporations would pay people so little they starve (which I remain sceptical of), people still should be allowed to bargain how they want. You are not protecting peoples right to bargain if you prohibit them from bargaining certain things, because that violates YOUR sense of social justice.
    Hows that different from prohibiting certain people from having sex with certain people in certain positions? Both cases are “Why should I care that everybody consented? To jail with ya!” way of thinking.
    You are not for freedom of choice. You are only for allowing people what you are okay with. Even Jerry Falwell was all for allowing people to do what HE wanted.
    If you are for freedom of choice, you would allowed consenting people to do everything, even if idea of what they are doing repulsed you.

    And please dont give me “pedophilia argument”. Children cannot give consent, so its okay to forbid them to do things, and they are people, so they cant be sold into slavery either.
    So don’t treat adults like children, okay?

    And if you dont care about principles or freedom, just say so. Then will have no arguments against you. Well, except maybe “market will do it better than government”, but I am too tired to argue.

  31. 39

    Aquaria..I have worked in many union shops…I don’t a study..it was witnessed by my own eyes. If you have not seen these things…then you apparently have never worked in a union shop. I actually picked up a broom to sweep up during a boring downturn and was chastised by management for sweeping…because it was someone elses job and the union would have his ass if they saw me doing it. I see you fail to touch on my point about employees with substance abuse issues. Yes..unions breed laziness….they are the whiniest complaining people I ever worked with. If anyone from management dare so much as raise their voice they go crying to a shop steward. The only people the union bosses help are the old farts..and they usually sacrifice the younger employees to get contracts to benefit the old guys. Unions are corrupt and have since becoming a for-profit entity are useless. They have bid themselves out of jobs..and had them sent overseas to countries where people willl work harder for less. Good job …you have negotiated yourself out of work..I am so glad I live in a right to work state like Florida….plenty of jobs here now!

  32. 40

    Hi Greta,

    Big fan of all your work. Reading this blog entry reminds me that I always say I should join a union- but never get around to it. I have great working conditions, and its easy to forget that whether historically or currently, its because of the efforts on unions that this is the case.

    Off to fill in the paperwork now.

    Keep up the amazing work.

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