The Friday Poem ‘Labor Day’ by Joseph Millar

Part of the year I live in a ‘swing state’ where the economy has not yet recovered, and politicians fill the airwaves with promises of transformational ‘greatness’. The Friday Poem this week is from Pennsylvania native, former telephone repairman, commercial fisherman, and poet Joseph Millar. ‘Labor Day’ captures the quiet of a national holiday, first celebrated in New York on September 5, 1882.

“The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.”

Labor Day

Even the bosses are sleeping late
in the dusty light of September.

The parking lot’s empty and no one cares.
No one unloads a ladder, steps on the gas

or starts up the big machines in the shop,
sanding and grinding, cutting and binding.

No one lays a flat bead of flux over a metal seam
or lowers the steel forks from a tailgate.

Shadows gather inside the sleeve
of the empty thermos beside the sink,

the bells go still by the channel buoy,
the wind lies down in the west,

the tuna boats rest on their tie-up lines
turning a little, this way and that.

Joseph Millar  from ‘Blue Rust’ Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2012

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The week@work – new overtime rules, sharing the wealth of the ‘gig economy’ and college grads’ skills gap

This week@work President Obama announced changes in labor rules that will extend overtime benefits to 4.2 million Americans, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren advocated for the rights of ‘gig economy’ workers and a new report indicates a continuing deficiency in recent grads’ communications skills.

Christine Mai-Duc reported on the revisions to overtime regulations that will go into effect on December 1.

“The proposed changes would more than double the salary threshold for overtime eligibility to $970 a week in 2016. That means employees earning a yearly salary of $50,440 or less automatically would be eligible for overtime pay.

Currently, the threshold is $455 a week, meaning a salaried worker making more than $23,660 a year does not automatically qualify for overtime pay under federal standards.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez told reporters that too many managers are falling behind and getting caught in the “middle-class squeeze.”

Proponents of the change say the salary threshold, designed to exempt highly paid white-collar workers, hasn’t seen meaningful change for more than 40 years. In 1975, more than 60% of salaried workers were eligible for overtime. Today, less than 8% of full-time salaried workers are covered by those regulations, according to the White House Domestic Policy Council.

“In effect, we have seen inflation repeal the regulations that went into effect decades ago,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor economist and professor at UC Berkeley.”

The man at the head of the Department of Labor, Secretary Thomas Perez, shared his approach to worker advocacy in an interview with David Gelles for The New York Times.

 

“It’s a day job intended to help other people with day jobs. He wants companies to take better care of their employees, even if it costs them in the short term. It’s not a message many C.E.O.s want to hear, but Mr. Perez believes it is his duty to spread the word.

Mr. Perez’s courting of chief executives also stems from a recognition that his department alone can’t fix the problems bedeviling American workers. Thorny issues like wage stagnation, stingy vacation time, shoddy manufacturing and environmental degradation are so complex, so entrenched, that no one government agency can tackle them (not to mention the diminished influence of organized labor).

He is talking about “conscious capitalism” and “inclusive capitalism.” He is singling out “high road” employers. He is promoting B Corps, companies that adhere to lofty social and environmental standards. In doing so, he hopes he can persuade less enlightened corporations to change.

The employers who do best are employers who reject these false choices,” Mr. Perez said. “It’s not a zero-sum world where you either take care of your workers or you take care of your shareholders. You can do good and do well, too.

We’re building a movement,” he said. “It’s undeniably a work in progress, but there’s a fundamental desire to see capitalism to do something different.”

On Thursday, Senator Elizabeth Warren addressed the annual conference of Washington D.C. think tank, New America. Her remarks, ‘Strengthening the Basic Bargain for Workers in the Modern Economy’, detailed the reality of the changing workplace and proposed steps to create an income safety net and ensure portability of benefits for all workers.

Warren takes part in the Washington Ideas Forum in Washington

“The problems facing gig workers are much like the problems facing millions of other workers. An outdated employee benefits model makes it all but impossible for temporary workers, contract workers, part-time workers and workers in industries like retail or construction who switch jobs frequently to build any economic security.

Just as this country did a hundred years ago, it’s time to rethink the basic bargain between workers and companies. As greater wealth is generated by new technology, how can we ensure that the workers who support this economy can share in that wealth?

I believe we start with one simple principle: all workers–no matter when they work, where they work, who they work for, whether they pick tomatoes or build rocket ships–all workers should have some basic protections and be able to build some economic security for themselves and their families. No worker should fall through the cracks.”

Lydia Dishman summarized a report released last week by compensations specialists, Payscale, citing a ‘skills gap’ between managers and employers. And, wait for it…there’s a generational twist.

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Some of the skills hiring managers find lacking or absent are unexpected. Critical thinking, problem solving, attention to detail, and writing proficiency top the list of skills managers find missing from job seekers’ personal tool kits. On the flip side, managers didn’t find graduates wanting for know-how in search engine optimization marketing, foreign languages, and coding.

Overall, hiring managers found soft skills such as communication, leadership, ownership, and teamwork were missing in this new crop of workers.

“Graduates need strong communication and problem-solving skills if they want to interview well and succeed in the workplace, because effective writing, speaking, and critical thinking enables you to accomplish business goals and get ahead,” Dan Schawbel, research director at Future Workplace, said in a statement. “No working day will be complete without writing an email or tackling a new challenge, so the sooner you develop these skills, the more employable you will become,” Schawbel adds.

It’s important to note here that age matters in this report. Fifty-five percent of managers who are millennials themselves believed graduates are prepared to enter the workforce versus 47% of gen Xers and 48% of boomers.”