Terrance Heath

Working for Workers on Labor Day & Beyond

Filed By Terrance Heath | September 09, 2013 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: fast food, Labor Day, labor movement, low-income women, union members

fast-food-strike.jpgIf you’re like millions of Americans, for whom Labor Day is an actual holiday, you enjoyed a day away from work on Monday. While you  travelled, barbecued, sunbathed, or just stayed at home and watched television, Labor Day was just another workday for many of the low-wage workers who went on strike for livable wages in over 60 cities last week. 

For nearly 40 percent of Americans, Labor Day was just another day on the job. According to a new survey from Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs and Beyond.Com, 39 percent of employers maintain business as usual on Labor Day, and thus required some of their employees to report to work. Some workers, by the very nature of their jobs — health care workers, utility workers, law enforcement officers, air traffic controllers, etc. — can’t take the day off. 

But a greater portion of the people at work on Labor Day are the low-wage workers who don’t get a paid day off, and can’t afford an unpaid day off. If you went out to eat on Labor Day, as my family did, or went took advantage of any number of Labor Day sales, you came face to face with these workers. They are the people who took your order, bussed your table, or rang up your purchase.

The workers who grilled your burger and cleaned up after you didn’t get paid anything extra for working on a holiday, either. The law doesn’t require employers to pay time-and-a-half or anything extra for requiring employers to work on Labor Day or any other holiday. Thus, they are among the nearly one in four Americans who have no paid holidays or paid vacations. Wealthier workers usually get both paid vacations and paid holidays. Among low-wage workers, less than half get paid holidays or paid vacations. If they want to get paid, they have to work, and they will get their usual pay.

Who are the workers toiling in an industry that requires many of them to clock in on Labor Day?  Look at the faces of the workers who went on strike last for livable wages last week. 

As Sally Kohn pointed out at the Daily Beast, most of them are people of color, and the majority of women. African Americans make up about 32 percent of the total workforce, but 42 percent of the minimum wage workforce. In the fast food industry, two-thirds of the workers are women, and a quarter of them are raising children while making 60 percent less than their male co-workers.

It’s no wonder 13 percent of food industry workers — nearly twice the rate of workers in other industries — rely on food stamps to feed their families. Fast food workers earn less in a year than, the fast food industry has enjoys record profits and record growth, while CEOs pocket multi-million dollar bonuses. Conservatives are fond of saying “Those do not work shall not eat,” and 

That’s why workers have taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers to demand livable wages. Their message, set to music in a video inspired by and film during last week’s historic strikes, is clear.

Last month, fast food workers were joined by retail workers in their demands for livable wages and the right to unionize. The message for WalMart is the same as the message for the fast food industry and other low-wage employers.

The movement for livable wages and the right to unionize isn’t about to go away. In fact, it’s spreading.

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