“[T]he working-class can’t thrive on low unemployment rates alone. For the median job-seeker in Trump’s America, the odds may be good, but the good jobs are an oddity,” wrote Eric Levitz, associate editor of the Daily Intelligencer in his December 6, 2019 article, Jobs, Jobs Everywhere, But Most of Them Kind of Suck.
At the end of 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reported that the unemployment rate was 3.2 percent, the lowest it has been in decades. But despite the low unemployment numbers, workers aren’t prospering, far from it.
The truth is, most of the surge in hiring has been to fill low-wage positions. The Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization, wrote in its November 2019 report, Meet the low-wage workforce, that “even as the U.S. economy hums along at a favorable pace, there is a vast segment of workers today earning low enough to leave their livelihood and families extremely vulnerable.”
The report states that more than 53 million people, or 44 percent of all workers ages 18-to-64 in the United States, are low hourly wage earners. Their median earnings are $10.22 per hour, about $18,000 per year.
The report shows that 64 percent of low-wage workers are in their prime working years of 25-to-64. And more than half work full-time year-round.
Calling our current economic state, a “barbell” economy, a Washington Post December 5, 2019, article by Heather Long points out that among the “10 jobs expected to add the most employees in the next decade, six pay less than $27,000 a year. Jobs are growing at the high and the low end.”
In her article, Long writes about the lack of news coverage on the more than 2.1 million (disproportionately female) administrative and office-support jobs that have been shed since 2000.
We have all heard countless tales of the offshoring of manufacturing jobs, but very little has been said of the loss of those administrative and office-support roles. Traditionally, those jobs have been a route to life-long economic security for non-college-educated women.
The Washington Post reports that “employment in administrative support positions has fallen to 1986 levels, and the Labor Department predicts that secretaries and administrative assistants will see the largest job losses of any occupation in the coming decade.”
Where we once had what the Federal Reserve calls “opportunity employment” — employment accessible to workers without a Bachelor’s degree that typically paid above the national annual median wage — we are seeing more and more of those jobs being shed and most of them aren’t being replaced. There are very few opportunities for adults entering the workforce who don’t have the education or training to get ahead.
Another statistic not taken into account in the DOL’s report on unemployment is the number of involuntary part-time workers. Rob Valletta, a vice president in the Economic Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco told Business Insider in January that there are “about 1.4 million additional individuals who are stuck in part-time jobs. These numbers imply that the level of involuntary part-time work is about 40 percent higher than it would normally be expected at this point in the economic expansion.”
In examining the part-time and gig economy phenomenon, Business Insider editor Jim Edwards writes, “the part-time ‘gig economy’ has broken a fundamental link in capitalism that was good for workers. Pay rates no longer move upward as unemployment moves downward because companies like Uber, Amazon, Just Eat, and Deliveroo switch their demand for labor on and off, on a minute-by-minute basis.”
“Having a job is no longer a guaranteed way of getting ahead. Instead, work may keep you poor. You cannot get rich working for Uber. You cannot get rich working for Deliveroo.”
By Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05), House Majority Leader
Over the past three years, we’ve watched the Trump Administration take a hatchet to decades of advancements in workers’ rights. From the denial of overtime pay to gutting the Department of Labor, from helping employers undermine unions to targeting federal employees and contractors, this President has pursued a vicious anti-worker agenda since day-one in office. However, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Republican presidents and Congresses have been working to erode workers’ rights for more than a generation. That’s why I will soon be bringing to the House Floor major legislation to restore and expand protections for American workers who wish to organize and bargain collectively.
H.R. 2474, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, was introduced by Chairman Bobby Scott of the Education and Labor Committee and now has broad support among House Democrats. This legislation will make significant and positive changes that will empower workers to unionize and help unions more effectively advocate for their members. That’s why I’m proud to support it and bring it to the Floor for a vote.
First, the PRO Act bans employers from forcing workers to participate in anti-union activities, a common tactic used to undermine organizing. Furthermore, this bill would end the practice of management using workers’ classification to affect union eligibility and deny workers the pay and benefits they are due. The PRO Act also prevents employers from hiring permanent replacements for striking workers, empowering unions in negotiations on their members’ behalf.
Additionally, the PRO Act restores the mission of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which has been subverted by President Trump to enact anti-labor policies. Along with permitting the NLRB to engage in economic analysis for the first time – in order to ensure that its assessments are supported by its own findings and not outside groups’ partisan agendas – the PRO Act reverses the Trump NLRB’s recent decision that harmed workers employed jointly by more than one employer. These steps will once again make the NLRB an advocate for workers and not an opponent.
I’ve been proud to support organized labor throughout my career in public service. That’s because I continue to believe strongly in the necessity of strong unions if we are to have a strong economy that helps working families get ahead. Representing more than 62,000 federal employees in Maryland’s Fifth District, I work especially closely with AFGE, NTEU, and other unions representing federal workers. I’m very proud of our work last year to win twelve weeks of paid parental leave for all federal employees for the first time in our history. That’s just the beginning, and I’m going to keep pushing for full paid family and medical leave benefits for all workers. The Democratic-led House Majority has also passed key legislation to raise wages and expand opportunity, and we will continue to deliver when it comes to the priorities of working men and women.
If we are going to succeed in growing our economy and maintaining it as the most competitive in the world – if we are going to keep the American Dream alive for workers and their families – we must have strong unions that can stand up for their members. That’s why the PRO Act is so critical and why the House must consider it. I look forward to bringing it to the Floor as Majority Leader and to casting my vote in favor of its passage. Together, we can ensure that the march for workers’ rights moves ever forward, not backward.
The intent of Labor Day, as envisioned by our forefathers, has, of course, eroded over the years.
Most see it as an opportunity to have a last trip to the beach or backyard barbeque, but in reality, the state of labor and capital today make it more important than ever to embrace the meaning of Labor Day.
Created in the late 19th century as a way to repair ties with American workers after the deadly Pullman Railway strike, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday. The decades following saw massive parades and celebrations across the country honoring American workers. It wasn’t seen as the last weekend of summer, but instead as an opportunity to show appreciation for those who toiled and built a prosperous nation.
But now, in the 21st Century, we see fewer and smaller parades and celebrations honoring workers. Instead, we see massive retail sales and low-wage workers being exploited, working long-hours for a minimum wage that, for most, doesn’t pay enough to sustain themselves, let alone a family. We see our government attack the rights of federal employees, and the highest courts in the land strike down past laws that ensured public employees’ right to union representation. These attacks by anti-union politicians and employers are meant only to strangle and starve the very mechanisms in place to speak for workers: labor unions.
So, between now and next Labor Day, let us join together to work towards electing pro-worker politicians. Let us join together to organize the unorganized. Let us join together to fight for our brothers and sisters for fair working conditions, safe workplaces, wages and benefits that lift all workers.
This Labor Day, let’s vow to work together because “Together we rise.”
The attack on federal workers continued in May when President Trump signed multiple executive orders limiting official time, making it easier to fire federal employees, and lengthening probationary periods for new employees. Each of these edicts are designed to weaken unions, federal employee compensation and civil service protections.
These, along with other moves by the Trump Administration, including imposing a contract on a union against its will, are bound to affect federal employees for the worse.
His first directive was to drastically cut “official time,” which he would like to rename as “taxpayer-funded union time.” Official time is the time allowed to union officials to represent all members of a bargaining union, whether they are a union member or not, in matters of interest to the workforce.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest federal employee union, called the orders, “a direct assault on the legal rights and protections that Congress has specifically guaranteed to the two million public-sector employees across the country who work for the federal government.”
AFGE filed a lawsuit asking that the Executive Order 13837 — slashing paid union time — be struck down by a federal court.
Executive Order 13836, directs federal agencies to renegotiate their union contracts to increase management authority to “reward high performers, hold low-performers accountable, or flexibly respond to operational needs.” It also states that collective bargaining should not take more than a year.
Claiming that it takes six months to a year to remove a tenured federal employee for poor performance, and as many as eight months to exhaust any appeals, a White House spokesperson said the EO would “streamline the process.” However, union representatives say it would politicize the hiring and firing of federal employees.
Finally, Executive Order 13839 would change the longstanding federal worker job security protections currently in place. Instead, workers would be subject to what amounts to an “at-will” environment. Managers would no longer be required to use “progressive discipline” and will not be held to a consistent standard of how discipline is handled. The EO shortens the timeframe for employees subject to Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs)—which provide employees a chance to improve their job performance following a poor evaluation or reprimand—to 30 days, government-wide. It currently runs between 60 and 120 days and changes the seniority rights provision replacing it with a “manager-evaluated performance ratings system. Again, union representatives believe that this order would allow managers to promote and fire at will, rather than for cause.
The National Treasury Employees Union president, Tony Reardon said that these executive orders indicate an administration threatened by workers with rights. “The truth is that these orders will disrupt workplaces of every agency, add red tape and impede quality work that taxpayers expect and deserve.” ■