Labor Day

Today, Friday, is the unofficial beginning of Labor Day weekend in the United States. Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September and is commonly regarded as the last big weekend of the summer. In cooler parts of the US, it’s often the last weekend to use a mountain cabin or a boat.

More than a few people wherever PG has lived have either taken Friday off or disappeared after lunch on Friday in order to extend their weekend. As 5:00 pm approaches, most large office buildings in many major US cities are pretty much abandoned. City busses and commuter trains are almost empty. Traffic to wherever the favorite local weekend destinations are is heavy.

PG will devote most of this long weekend to paeans to working men and women. In particular, people who perform hard manual labor.

Unions began forming in the US in the 1880’s as a response to the Industrial Revolution. The American Federation of Labor, a loose coalition of local unions, was founded in 1886 and led by Samuel Gompers until his death in 1924.

Under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (also known as the Wagner Act) became law. This is a foundational statute of United States labor law that guarantees the right of private sector employees to organize into trade unions, engage in collective bargaining, and take collective action such as strikes.

This law replaced much weaker prior legislative guarantees of the rights of workers and was designed to correct the “inequality of bargaining power” between employers and employees by promoting collective bargaining between trade unions and employers. The law established the National Labor Relations Board to prosecute violations of labor law and to oversee the process by which employees decide whether to be represented by a labor organization. It also established various rules concerning collective bargaining and defined a series of banned unfair labor practices, including interference with the formation or organization of labor unions by employers. 

The 1947 Taft–Hartley Act amended the NLRA, and was passed in response to a series of massive post-war labor strikes in 1945 and 1946. Taft-Hartley weakened union power by establishing a series of mandatory labor practices for unions and granting states the power to pass right-to-work laws.

A right-to-work law gives workers the right to choose whether or not to join a labor union their workplace. It also gives workers the option to not pay union dues or other fees whether or not they are in the union. One of the rationales behind this legislation was that it protected the freedom of association or non-association of workers and their freedom to choose not to become subject to a labor union contract with their employer. Since labor unions are free to make political contributions to support candidates or causes, a right-to-work law also protects an employee from having to contribute to a political candidate or cause the employee opposes.

Right to work laws were passed by state legislatures throughout the American South, a North/South strip of states in the Midwest and also in several Mountain West states. Texas and Florida, two states which have enjoyed large increases in their populations during the last fifty years, are right-to-work states.

California has the highest number of unionized workers and New York has the second highest number. Hawaii has the highest percentage of unionized workers, almost 24% and New York has the second-highest percentage with 22%. North Carolina and South Carolina have the lowest percentage of unionized workers.

Public Sector Unions – unions comprised of federal, state and local government employees – have become much larger and more powerful in the United States within the last 50 years. At present, there are more public sector union members than there are private sector union members. Slightly less than 1/3 of federal employees are unionized. 35% of state workers are unionized as are 46% of local government workers.

As with private-sector unions, the rate of unionization of public sector workers varies greatly from state to state and from region to region.

Some people have strong opinions for and against unions. PG asks that commenters remain civil while discussing all topics over this Labor Day weekend.

2 thoughts on “Labor Day”

  1. Thank you for explaining the basic concept of the “right-to-work” law. Now I can understand why unions hate the law, which at its most basic hurts the unions in what they care about the most: the wallet. This, hurting the wallet, more than anything is why most union are trying to do an end around the Janus v AFSCME decision of a few years ago.

    Also, I found that public sector unions are an oxymoron, in that they really don’t do anything for the worker, beyond making sure they’re grossly overpaid, “represented” properly, and destroying state budgets. And yes, I’m a former state govt employee, so I had a bird’s eye view of those shenanigans for the past 27 years.

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