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Labor Day- Employees must be treated as full humans, and not as production units

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The real meaning of Labor Day has gotten watered down by its also representing the end of summer, the start of school, and store sales.

Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894, after often turbulent efforts by American workers to organize and improve their lot. By today, a slew of American manufacturing jobs have disappeared, as American companies manufacture abroad for lower wages and costs, laxer labor laws, and laxer environmental laws. How many shoppers snapping up low-priced products at Walmart stop to think of that expense that comes with their low-priced purchases?

Plenty of customer service jobs have gone overseas for lower wages and costs. Plenty of law firms outsource lawyer and paralegal work overseas for lower wages and costs. 

When businesses rent office space, how many of them stop to ask how well the building’s custodial staff is treated and paid? The same question applies to businesses when they contract out work to other companies.

When corporations seek to maximize profit — particularly publicly traded corporations, that are obligated to serve shareholders’ profit interests — how many of the corporations treat profit-oriented layoffs as casually as switching equipment sellers or  electricity companies to save money?

I am all for free enterprise. I also believe in pursuing free enterprise with compassion and enlightenment. Moreover, I believe in our speaking with our wallets. If we do not like that a clothing manufacturer is sub-contracting to clothing factories subjecting their workers to miserable working conditions, we can stop buying their products. If we know that a restaurant is exploiting undocumented workers with meager wages, we can stop eating at the restaurant.

In my role as a lawyer, I remember that judges and the courthouse staff are workers, jurors have their work as jurors and their regular jobs, and prosecutors and police are workers. Aside from jurors, all of them are cognizant of the effect of their work on their job security. Nevertheless, judges, prosecutors and police have an obligation to put their oaths of office ahead of their job security concerns.

Many people do not like their jobs. Some do not like their jobs because they will be a better fit for other jobs. Others are likely to be dissatisfied at any job.

In his book Working, writer Studs Terkel has written of the misery so many people face in their work. On the flip side are lessons from the Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness at Work, which I discuss here and here.

Daily, we are helped by working people. How often do we show them sufficient thanks and appreciation? Thanks, again, to my past and present staff, for helping my clients and me along the way.