Labor Day in the time of COVID

Maxing out the threshold

labormovementOn this Labor Day, we see how the coronavirus has pointed out flaws in how we operate a number of systems. Of course, unemployment skyrocketed in the early days of the pandemic. “Millions of people lost their job-based health insurance. While many are people are theoretically eligible for other forms of health insurance coverage, it’s not always that simple.

“This two-minute video lays out the options: Medicaid, job-based coverage from a spouse or parent, ACA marketplace coverage, COBRA, and short-term insurance plans.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) plans may be able to elect continuous insurance coverage upon a “qualifying event,” such as losing a job or having hours reduced so that you’re no longer covered. That’s the upside. On the other hand, COBRA plans, in my experience, have been mighty expensive, especially when underemployed or unemployed.

The current regime’s constant attacks on “Obamacare” may have people believe the ACA is no longer an option. But it’s still there.Some folks thought the pandemic would aid the call for “Medicare for all,” or for all who want it. Perhaps, in a few months, it will.


Having talked with a number of people who are working from home, I note some love it. They avoid much of the office politics, for example. On the other hand, others are having difficulty establishing a working day that is never over. This 2014 post in The Guardian, long before COVID-19, notes that “phones and emails enable bosses to pester staff at all hours. As a result, one-third of us feel unhappy about the time we devote to work and 40% of us are neglecting other parts of our lives because of work demands – which is likely to increase mental health problems.”

Our household fell into recognizing the separation of job and leisure when my wife was working from home in the spring. “Think you had a problem checking your work emails late at night? Without figuring out structure and boundaries it’s so easy to merge your work life and home life. Avoid that by putting a routine in place and physically separating work from home.

“For example, don’t plan to work from the couch. Instead, designate a space to work that’s away from living spaces and the kitchen. A desk in a bedroom, backroom, or spare room is perfect, preferably somewhere you can close the door if you share your living space with others. That works both ways because when your working day is over, you can shut the door on your job and ‘go home.'”

A lot of businesses are now also asking how to monitor employee internet activity so you need to get some good software if you need to do that.

You don’t feel well

Pre-COVID, a 2014 survey by the National Survey Foundation (NSF) concluded that 4 out of 10 Americans say they come to work sick simply because they don’t have much choice. Approximately 10% of those surveyed said they go to work sick. If you’re physically going to the job, that’s a terrible idea.

Undocumented immigrants, according to this CBS News report are particularly vulnerable. Generally excluded from the stimulus plans, many of these folks work, even when ill.

What if you are working at home and you feel as though someone ran you over with a truck? Obviously, you’re not going to infect your co-workers. Still, if you would have stayed home with your symptoms, you should take a sick day, if it’s available. “Plowing through” could just make one sicker.

“We NEED you!”

I’ve had enough conversations with unhappy employees to recognize a really disheartening phenomenon. There is a body of workers who actually have sick and/or vacation days accrued. However, they are discouraged, actively, or subtlely, from ever taking them. And often there’s a threshold, beyond which one can actually LOSE paid time off.

I remember feeling like the “indispensable employee” back in my FantaCo days. My boss insisted, correctly, that I should take time off. I decided to take eight successive Wednesdays off. The new comics came on Thursday, so this made sense. I read, went to the movies, cleaned my apartment, paid bills, and still had the weekends for fun.

We’re aware of how the Europeans take off more time than Americans. Yet, “almost as much productivity can happen, but within a defined set of hours… It’s setting an expectation; people don’t feel like they have to be checking email.”

An Abe Lincoln quote

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration.

Labor Day: unions; corporate greed

eating a salad isn’t going to fix the systemic problems at your workplace’s Labor Day, my first not working in a very long time. Among other things, I was thinking about unions. To the best of my recollection, I have never belonged to one. Yet I have been a big fan of them.

“The early labor movement was… inspired by more than the immediate job interest of its craft members. It harbored a conception of the just society, deriving from… the republican ideals of the American Revolution, which fostered social equality, celebrated honest labor, and relied on an independent, virtuous citizenship.”

Organized labor unions have “fought for better wages, reasonable hours and safer working conditions. The labor movement led efforts to stop child labor, give health benefits and provide aid to workers who were injured or retired.”

One of the conclusions I’ve come to as a former business librarian is that when ownership/management treats workers equitably, the need/desire for unions declines significantly. I have been aware of employees who were offered membership in a union but declined because the benefits seemed fair.

On the other hand, I have some knowledge of the formation of two unions. Both are in Albany, created in the past quarter-century, and both were as a result of the churlishness of management.

In other labor news, I’ve read that the immigration crackdown is targeting labor protections. “Undocumented immigrants are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, but the administration has quietly eroded protections within a federal program for immigrants who come forward to report labor trafficking, sexual harassment and other forms of abuse. The administration is also attempting to crush a union representing immigration judges.”

Truthout says The Answer to Burn Out at Work Isn’t “Self-Care” — It’s Unionizing. “It’s true that healthy food, exercise, and sleep are important ways to deal with stress, and we could all use more of each. But eating a salad isn’t going to fix the systemic problems at your workplace.”

1 in 4 Americans works for a federal contractor. The regime is proposing to drop protections for LGBTQ employees. “Their latest proposed regulation out of the Department of Labor” adds “unprecedented religious exemptions to a long-standing executive order prohibiting discrimination against the employees of federal contractors that includes protections added by President Obama for sexual orientation and gender identity.” His successor promised to keep this order “intact,” but he’s gone back on his word.

Top executives are now earning 278 times more than the average American worker, up from a ratio of 58-to-1 in 1989. A new study, released by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows CEO pay has grown more than 1,000% since 1978.

Pay for average workers, though, grew just 12% in the same time period. America’s chief executive officers were paid $17.2 million on average in 2018. Corporate greed is eviscerating the working class.

We work hard for the money

What that effectively did was encourage CEOs to keep more money in their businesses — to invest in new technology — to pay their workers more — to hire new workers and expand their companies.

A friend of mine sent me the text of Whatever Happened to the Leisure Society? – by Thom Hartmann.

In a 1966 article, TIME Magazine looked ahead toward the future, and what the rise of automation would mean for average Americans. It concluded:

“By 2000, the machines will be producing so much that everyone in the U.S. will, in effect, be independently wealthy. With Government benefits, even nonworking families will have, by one estimate, an annual income of $30,000-$40,000.”

Now, that was in 1966 dollars, it would be over $120,000 a year now…

So by the year 2000, TIME predicted in 1966, we would enter what was referred to as “The Leisure Society.” The only problems facing America would be, just how the heck everyone would use all that extra leisure time! What kind of things would people get into when a nation has lots of money and lots of free time on their hands? And as we know today, we WISH that was our biggest problem.

Turns out, predictions about the leisure society were dead wrong. Productivity DID increase significantly during the 1960s. This actually starts from 1947 up to 2000, mostly thanks to automation and better technology.

Unfortunately, productivity increased, but wages didn’t. And neither did leisure time.

In 1966, when the TIME article was written, the top income tax rate was 70%.

And what that effectively did was encourage CEOs to keep more money in their businesses — to invest in new technology — to pay their workers more — to hire new workers and expand their companies.

After all, what’s the point of sucking millions and millions of dollars out of your business if it’s going to be taxed at 70%?

Thinking that way — if suddenly businesses became WAY more profitable and efficient thanks to automation — then that money would flow throughout the business, raising everyone’s standard of living, and increasing everyone’s leisure time.

But when Reagan dropped that top tax rate down to 28%, and everything changed…

Now, as businesses became more profitable, there was far more incentive for the CEOs and senior executives to pull those profits out of the company and pocket them, because suddenly they were paying an incredibly low tax rate. And that’s exactly what they did.

All those new profits thanks to automation that were SUPPOSED to go to everyone, giving us all higher paychecks and more time off, went just to the top 1%, to just about 345,000 millionaires.

Everyone else’s wealth has pretty much stagnated since the Reagan tax cuts, except for the top 1%.


My first seven jobs

No, I never worked in a coal mine.

coalmineThe meme My First Seven Jobs has been showing up on social media a lot in the last couple months. I had avoided it until I read an article about what your first seven jobs say about you, and then the exercise intrigued me. And hey, I need a Labor Day weekend post.

I am a little bit fuzzy on what constitutes a job. When your father drags you on some task, for which you are not being paid, I’m not counting that. Continue reading “My first seven jobs”

On raising the minimum wage

If other people are getting less screwed over than they had been, it should be a cause for celebration, not disdain.

minimum_wage_1018The junior senator from my state of New York, Kirsten Gillibrand (D) noted that she will co-sponsor a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. That’s something I support, for a lot of reasons; Robert Reich delineates some of them.

More better, as they say, is Jaquandor’s Keeping Ahead of the Smiths: Random Thoughts on the Minimum Wage from late July 2015, which he describes as a “collection of thoughts.”
Continue reading “On raising the minimum wage”