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Honoring Workers on Labor Day

  • Published
  • 4 September 2023
  • Category
  • General

WorkCare’s mission is to protect and promote employee health. Our commitment to occupational health, workplace safety and personal wellness is especially poignant on Labor Day.

Labor Day is associated with a three-day weekend and the rite of passage from summer to fall, but its origins are traced to workers’ rights and the labor union movement of the late 19th century. Regardless of one’s political views or opinions of organized labor, the holiday is a time to reflect on how work impacts quality of life, and to recognize the achievements of the American workforce.

A public opinion poll released by Gallup on Aug. 30 shows that 67 percent of Americans approve of labor unions because of a “strong belief in the benefits they offer workers, businesses and the economy.” Along political party lines, 88 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of Republicans surveyed said they approve of unions.

U.S. Treasury Reports on Unions

It’s worth noting on this Labor Day that the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Economic Policy last week released Labor Unions and the Middle Class, a first-of-its-kind report on ways labor unions may impact the U.S. economy and “improve the well-being of middle-class workers.”

In a related press release, the Treasury Department reports that “unions play an important role in addressing long-standing challenges faced by the middle class, including stagnant wages, high housing costs and reduced intergenerational mobility. In doing so, unions contribute to a more robust and resilient economy.” A companion article on Labor Unions and the U.S. Economy notes that unionization has the potential to close wage gaps, broaden health care benefits coverage, and promote workforce diversity and equality.

The economic policy report includes this historical perspective:

In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) provided federal protections to most private-sector workers seeking to improve working conditions by forming or joining unions. Union membership spiked following passage of the NLRA, from 11 percent of the non-agricultural labor force in 1934 to 28 percent in 1939. Unionization rates continued to rise through the 1940s and then leveled off through the mid-1950s at around a third of U.S. workers.

Since the 1950s, union membership has steadily declined. In 2022, the private sector unionization rate was lower than it was in 1935 due to several factors, including changes in the legal framework protecting workers’ rights. Now, a growth trend appears to be occurring: In 2022, union election petitions bounced back from COVID-19 pandemic levels to their highest level since 2015.

What’s on the Agenda?

According to the Treasury press release, the Biden Administration’s agenda includes prioritizing passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and the Public Sector Freedom to Negotiate Act. Other actions include, but are not limited to:

  • Signing Executive Order 14063, which requires the use of project labor agreements on federal construction projects of $35 million or more.
  • Signing Executive Order 14003 to promote the rights of federal employees to collectively bargain.
  • A rule to raise construction industry wage standards by updating regulations to require payment of locally prevailing wages and fringe benefits to workers.
  • Requiring employers to abide by apprenticeship requirements to claim the full value of clean energy tax incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act.

With the national election on the horizon, labor relations are expected to remain a topic for debate.

WorkCare wishes you a thoughtful and restful Labor Day!