Working For Workers On Labor Day And Beyond

Terrance Heath

If you’re like millions of Americans, Labor Day was an actual holiday. While you enjoyed a day off,  Labor Day was just another workday for many of the low-wage workers who went on strike for livable wages in over 60 cities last week.

According to a survey from Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs and Beyond.Com, 39 percent of employers maintain business as usual on Labor Day, and required at least some of their employees to be on the job. Some workers can’t take the day off, due to the very nature of their jobs — health care workers, utility workers, law enforcement officers, air traffic controllers, etc. However, many of the people at work on Labor Day were low-wage workers who didn’t get a paid day off, and couldn’t afford an unpaid day off.

The workers who grilled your burger and cleaned up after you didn’t get paid anything extra for working on a holiday, either. The law doesn’t require employers to pay time-and-a-half or anything extra for requiring employers to work on Labor Day or any other holiday.

Thus, they are among the nearly one in four Americans who get no paid holidays or paid vacations. Wealthier workers usually get both paid vacations and paid holidays. Among low-wage workers, less than half get paid holidays or paid vacations. If they want to get paid, they have to work, and they will get their usual pay.

Who are the workers toiling in an industry that requires many of them to clock in, for the same lousy pay, on Labor Day? Look at the faces of the workers who gone on strike and joined the movement for livable wages.

As Sally Kohn noted at The Daily Beast, most of them are people of color, and the majority are women. People of color make up about 32 percent of the total workforce, but 42 percent of the minimum wage workforce. In the fast food industry, two-thirds of the workers are women, and a quarter of them are raising children while making 60 percent less than their male co-workers.

No wonder 13 percent of food industry workers — nearly twice the rate of workers in other industries — rely on food stamps to feed their families. Fast food workers earn less in a year than, the fast food industry has enjoys record profits and record growth, while CEOs pocket multimillion dollar bonuses. Conservatives are fond of saying “Those do not work shall not eat,” and the truth is that sometimes those who work still can’t eat; even those who have to work on holidays.

That’s why workers have taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers to demand livable wages. Their message, set to music in this video inspired by and film during last week’s historic strikes, is clear.

Last week, fast food workers were joined by retail workers in their demands for livable wages and the right to unionize. Today, WalMart workers are planning their biggest action since Black Friday.

In 15 cities, WalMart workers and their supporters plan protests in support of 20 workers who were fired after participating in a June strike. Today’s actions are a consequence of WalMart’s failure to meet the campaign’s Labor Day deadline to raise its wages to at least $25,000 per year and rehire the 20 workers.

The message for WalMart is as the same as the message for the fast food industry, and other low-wage employers. The movement for livable wages doesn’t take a day off either, and it isn’t about to go away. In fact, it’s growing.

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