News & Commentary

September 5, 2016

Adi Kamdar

Adi Kamdar is a student at Harvard Law School.

Happy Labor Day! While many of us are celebrating (or mourning?) the end of summer and the start of the school year, we cannot forget today’s main purpose: to honor American labor movements. But how did it all start? The answer is grounded in a history of violent union busting, bloody revolts, and plenty of cynicism, as The Week documents. Sarah Jaffe in the Los Angeles Times uses this history to draw parallels between Labor Day’s origins in state-sponsored violence and the Black Lives Matters movement today.

Labor Day also happens to be a nice opportunity for the media and politicians to talk extensively about workers. Jon Schwarz at The Intercept argues that unions are critical to a thriving middle class—an argument echoed by Jared Bernstein in the Washington Post. President Obama has a thing or two to say about the importance of unions too, and Labor Secretary Tom Perez is using today to continue a conversation about improving workers’ lives. NPR is using today to cover the state of women in the workforce, boiled down to three main points: underrepresented in politics, growing numbers of graduates and business leaders, still paid less. And though today is a holiday to honor workers, USA Today takes a look at how Americans these days are taking less time off—41% of employers have employees working today, and just under half of Americans did not take a single day of vacation in 2015.

Union members are still a powerful voting bloc, and both presidential candidates find themselves participating in union events in Cleveland, Ohio, today in order to help secure the workers’ vote. Former president Bill Clinton will march in Detroit’s annual Labor Day parade, a common stop for Democratic stars, according to the Detroit Free Press.

According to a report that was supposed to be released today by CUNY’s Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, New York City is fighting the declining numbers of unionized workers, as noted by the New York Times. While “fewer than one in nine workers is a union member, a share that has decreased slowly and steadily for more than 15 years,” over a quarter of New York City workers are unionized—a number that has risen in the last three years. “The report’s authors attribute the countertrend in New York to the rebound of traditionally unionized industries weakened by the recession, including construction and the hotel business.”

In the gig-economy world, a new study explores when Uber drivers decide to stop working for the day, as covered by the New York Times. Most drivers learn to have an income target for the day in mind and stop driving when they are near it. A explores how ride-sharing apps have opened the door for female drivers in Philadelphia while the number of women cabbies remains low. 24 of the city’s 3,370 taxi drivers are women, while 35% of Lyft drivers in the Philadelphia region are women. The article explores both the upsides and the downsides female drivers face.

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