Labor Day 2009: Sky-High Anxiety

The working person's holiday means pension security and fair pay to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. To the AFL-CIO and unions such as SEIU, it means passing health care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Worldwide high unemployment concerns the ILO. Meanwhile, the latest U.S. rate is 9.7 percent -- but it's 10.9 percent for men and 8.2 percent for women. Not surprisingly, research indicates extended unemployment is depressing younger workers, men in particular.

Looking on the bright side, the National Association of Manufacturers' Labor Day 2009 report says 913,000 manufacturing jobs may be regained by 2014, but not if health care reform imposes new taxes or EFCA and climate change legislation are enacted.

Celebrating Labor Day apparently originated in Canada and arrived in America with a parade of workers in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882, with either of two union officials credited for organizing it. President Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, signed the legislation creating the official holiday in 1894 to quiet the uproar he'd caused by sending federal troops to Chicago days earlier to put down a railway workers' strike. He chose the first Monday in September to separate the holiday from May 1, still celebrated as International Workers' Day in many countries.

Solis' message for Labor Day 2009 concerns the shift in America's pension system since the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) was signed into law by President Gerald Ford on Labor Day 1974. "Thirty-five years later, it remains one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever adopted on behalf of American workers," Solis wrote in a message distributed by DOL's press office. She added, "it's important to recognize that enhancements are needed for this law's protection framework to keep pace with the realities of the new environment. Many of ERISA's key provisions are enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor. As we celebrate the anniversary of this important law's passage, therefore, I urge all of us to renew our commitment to ERISA's robust worker protections as developed by Congress in a bipartisan -- and nearly unanimous -- manner 35 years ago today."

The Census Bureau says 155.1 million people age 16 and older were in the U.S. labor force in May 2009. Some breakdowns: 10.4 million self-employed, 7.2 million teachers, 2.1 million janitors and building cleaners, 874,000 electricians, 2.8 million registered nurses, 293,000 firefighters, 751,000 farmers and ranchers. And 7.7 million workers, 5 percent of the labor force, hold down more than one job, while 288,000 of these people work full time at two jobs (source: Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2009, Table 589, www.census.gov/compendia/statab/).

These may be the most telling Labor Day 2009 stats from the bureau:

  • One-third as many Americans work at home, 5.7 million, as are members of labor unions, 15.7 million, according to the Statistical Abstract and the 2007 American Community Survey.
  • $45,113 and $35,102 were the 2007 annual median earnings for male and female full-time, year-round workers, respectively.

Members of the largest health care union, the 2.1-million-member Service Employees, are rallying Saturday through Monday to support President Obama's health care reform campaign and flying in Sept. 10 to lobby members of Congress about EFCA, which would make it easier to organize workplaces.

"This Labor Day, nothing is more critical to working families -- and we could do no greater honor to Senator Kennedy's memory -- than passing the sort of health insurance reform that would make him proud. The bottom line is simple: We cannot restore economic balance and bring prosperity to all Americans without drastically bringing down healthcare costs and ensuring that all Americans are guaranteed quality, affordable health care," SEIU International President Andy Stern said. "If we don't solve our national health care crisis, we will put the American Dream permanently out of reach for millions of Americans," SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger said. "Working with President Obama and leadership in Congress, we have made great strides for working families. But the skyrocketing costs of health care, if not addressed immediately, threaten to virtually eliminate the other gains we've made."

Posted by Jerry Laws on Sep 04, 2009


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