Labor Day Reflections | DCR Workforce Blog

Labor Day Reflections

LaborDayToday we celebrate Labor Day.  This holiday does not mark the end of summer (the meteorological end comes on September 21st).  It is not the annual parental celebration of the return of children to school, although there may indeed be many who are happy to see their kids back into their academic routine. Labor Day is the celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers.

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on September 5, 1882, in New York City, and established in 1894 as a national holiday.  What many may not recall is that Labor Day was enacted, in part, to calm the political unrest that followed the Country’s most serious and violent labor disputes.  This unsettled period marked the rise of organized labor, and spawned many of the laws that today govern working conditions and worker rights in the United States.  It also defined the working environment norm that is based on an overwhelming majority of permanent employees working a 40-hour week.

Things have changed over the past 120 years!  Just as the shift from an agrarian to an industrial economy caused us to redefine what it means to work in America, recent economic and technological trends are driving another redefinition.  Most industry analysts estimate the number of positions held by contingent workers (i.e., contractors, consultants, freelancers) to be between one-fourth to one-third of today’s total workforce and predict that the number could be as high as one-half by 2020.

Old questions need to be re-examined.

  • Do our employment laws protect the rights of all workers, or only those who hold permanent positions?  Which laws need to be amended to reflect an awareness of today’s realities?
  • Government legislation regarding employee classification primarily examines the employer-employee relationship from the perspective of tax revenues.  Will the Affordable Care Act increase focus on this issue as workers strive to qualify for health insurance while employers attempt to control or reduce their health care expenditures?  An official from the DOL recently stated that, when the dust settles, the ACA will at most result in a 2% increase in the number of workers classified as temporary. Is that estimate realistic?
  • Is the growth in contingent workers voluntary or involuntary?  Will those entering the workforce today experience a career of lifetime engagement rather than lifetime employment?  If so, what long term implications will that have for pensions and social security for these workers?
  • As the cost of living continues to rise, can one pursue the American dream following a temp worker career path?
  • In a contingent workforce model, who is responsible for ensuring that workers have the skills, experience, and knowledge of the company needed to effectively make a contribution?  What institutional knowledge is lost in the continued turnover of worker personnel?  What is the right mix of perm to temp workers to achieve optimal efficiency?

At the end of the nineteenth century, many of these questions were answered through worker strikes and violent clashes between employers, government and organized labor.  Today, efforts must be undertaken to proactively address these issues.

Please share with us your views on steps that should be taken to prepare politically, economically and socially for this workforce trend.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.