We spent most of Monday with friends, chillin’ and grillin’ while our kids played. It was relaxing, exactly how Labor Day should be.
I hope you enjoyed Monday, because here’s the hangover: My early prediction is that no matter who wins the presidency, by the end of the next presidency, Labor Day will cease to be a nationally recognized holiday.
I also think that no matter what happens with the economy (let’s say it continues to recover slowly), working Americans are going to continue to get the finely crafted, made-in-the-U.S.A. shaft.
By most labor measurements, we work more hours with fewer benefits, fewer holidays, less job security and more malaise than any industrialized country in the world. Simultaneously, productivity hovers near all-time highs.
In exchange, wages have either remained flat or declined for decades.
But times are tough all over, right? Wrong. Corporate profits, after tax, increased 1.1 percent from last quarter and are up 3.3 percent from a year ago, according to data from the Federal Reserve. Except for a nasty trend ravine in 2008, corporate profits have risen steadily since the early 1990s. Several have busted records in the past couple of years.
The key thing to remember is that when businesspeople and politicians talk about doing more with less, they’re only paying lip service to innovation and efficiency. What they’re really doing is Freudian slipping: They want more income with less expenditure.
And in most organizations (corporate, nonprofit or academic), the largest expenditure is people.
So when an organization thinks it can achieve the same or more income with less expenditure, it seems like a win-win.
Behold J.C. Penney. CEO Ron Johnson has announced his intention to eliminate cash registers, checkout counters and cashiers by 2014. The retail giant’s plan is to replace them with technology, such as Wi-Fi networks, mobile checkout, RFID tracking systems for merchandise and self-checkout options, reports www.dailyfinance.com.
Neat, you say. I can buy slacks fast and be on my way. Occasionally, I have similar thoughts, until I give the Jewel-Osco self-checkouts yet another try, breathe wrong somehow and end up spending more time and feeling more frustration than if I had interacted with a human.
Who will save us? Labor unions?
It looks bleak. Reeling from body blows suffered in high-profile election and pension preservation defeats, labor unions (which brought us better workplace safety, health benefits, child labor laws, vacations, paid holidays and a reasonable workweek) are struggling to convince even their allies – Democrats – they remain viable.
That’s a politically strange turn of events, but President Barack Obama has angered unionized labor on many occasions, including the choice of Charlotte, N.C., for the national convention. (North Carolina is a right-to-work state with the lowest union penetration of the 50 states, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.) And Republicans? Their view of labor seems clear.
As Reuters reported Sunday, “As the United States pauses for a national holiday honoring the union movement, there is a growing sense that labor’s ability to deliver politically is fading just as it faces what could be its most important election in 80 years.”
One of my best friends is a larger-than-life, drawling, angry Texan who served in Vietnam. Like Will Rogers, Marcus is famous for his wit. What he says is usually funny first, prescient later. We were drinking beer one time and the subject of work came up.
“These are bad times for people who work for a living,” he said.
• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.