Monday, September 03, 2012

Annual Labor Day Insult

Yes, it is Labor Day again, when Florida's traditional media editorial boards take the opportunity to either ignore or bash unions. Although organized labor is, yet again, largely marginalized by the editors, there are a few squeaks about income disparity and, incredibly, recognition, albeit minor, that "unions" actually exist. That, we suppose, is slightly better than the usual Labor Day insult.

A better than usual editorial from the putative libruls on the The Tampa Bay Times editorial board. On one hand, the editors share their predictable concerns about unemployment, but then commendably recognize that

America's rising income inequality — worse than at any time since the Gilded Age — is a problem that is more often talked about by politicians than acted upon. Beginning after World War II, American workers' wages rose in tandem with the country's economic performance, nearly doubling by the early 1970s. Since then, median hourly wages have gone up less than 11 percent. The winners instead have been the nation's top 1 percent, who between 1979 and 2007 saw their annual earnings grow 156 percent, according to the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute. In 1980, compensation for chief executives at some of the nation's largest companies was 42 times the pay of the average worker; now it's more than 300 times.

This imbalance came about through the withering of the social contract. Where once American workers were promised that in exchange for hard, loyal work they would receive a share of rising profits and job security, now they consider themselves lucky if their job hasn't been outsourced or their benefits cut to boost short-term stock performance. The recovery is exacerbating this race to the bottom. Of the jobs created, 58 percent have been low-wage, in fields such as retail sales and food preparation, while mid-wage jobs in construction, manufacturing and information account for 60 percent of job losses, according to a study by the National Employment Law Project. America's middle-class is eroding.

The editors then astound:
Republicans openly disparage unions and, unlike in years past, the party's platform no longer explicitly recognizes collective bargaining rights. Democrats are more worker-friendly but have failed to update the nation's antiquated labor laws.

For instance, the United States still stands as the only advanced country without guaranteed sick leave.

"Jobs are scarce; good ones scarcer".

Credit the The Palm Beach Post editors for shifting the discussion from unemployment to the disappearing middle class. They write that "there are fewer people in the middle class, which Pew defined as households making 67 percent to 200 percent of the national median. In 2011 dollars, that range is $39,418 to $118,255. In 1971, 61 percent of adults were in the middle class. Now, it’s 51 percent of all adults."

The editors continue, bemoaning the loss of ... prepare yourself ... "good union jobs":

The days when Labor Day was considered the start of the presidential campaign seem as long ago as the days when high school graduates could expect to support themselves and their growing families with a good union job at the local factory. The domestic auto industry — saved by the bipartisan bailout team of George W. Bush and Barack Obama — is a success that too many Republicans now deny. But it also has limited applicability to other industries, which too many Democrats fail to recognize.

For an election that supposedly is about the middle class, this one so far offers few helpful ideas to expand and strengthen it. Preserving the safety net as-is means that middle-class workers contribute more. Cutting taxes on the wealthy means middle class workers pay more. Chanting, “Jobs!” doesn’t create them. If either party really knows how, Labor Day would be a good time to start explaining it.

"Editorial: Forty years of Labor Days have changed American labor".

The Miami Herald editors are concerned about unemployment today, but do manage to touch on

the spirit of how Labor Day began — protecting workers from unsafe working conditions and unreasonably low pay — Florida needs to clean up its shoddy reputation for protecting workers’ rights. The state recently ranked dead last for wage-theft protection against corner-cutting employers. The welfare of employees, especially those laboring in the blue-collar sector, should never be compromised to save a few bucks.
Unfortunately, the editors neglect to mention that the method by which workers - both then and now - protect themselves from "unsafe working conditions and unreasonably low pay" is via concerted activity; you know: unionizing.

That is not to say that the editors don't mention "unions" in their editorial. They do, but only to slam them:

Public-sector unions, particularly those that represent our police, firefighters and teachers should continue to bargain for deserved — but not excessive — benefits.
"Labor Day blues".

The Sarasota Herald Tribune editorial board is all about unemployment: "Labor Day and beyond".

Nothing about Labor Day in the online editorial pages of The Tampa Tribune, Orlando Sentinel or Sun Sentinel, although the Sun Sentinel was kind enough to publish a guest piece by Mike Williams, president of the Florida AFL-CIO: "Choose leaders who help economy". It would have been nice to have read something in Florida's traditional media along the following lines:

"Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country," said Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor. "All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation."

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

"The Annual "Labor Day" Insult". The above passages appeared on the DOL website when the agency was run by former Heritage Foundation Distinguished Fellow Elaine L. Chao, who at the time was (and remains) married to United States Senator, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.