Itís Labor Day and Iím Working

By Jeff Martin

Of all the national holidays that we celebrate throughout the calendar year, none raises the hackles on my neck like Labor Day.

I shouldnít feel this way, though. Hereís a holiday for the working class hero, after all. In most cases, the hero gets a day off. He wakes up Monday morning, slips on the slippers and sleeps all day. Or catches up on chores around the house, spends time with his kids, flips burgers, tips a few cans back.

So why do I feel a sense of dread, a ho-hum attitude? True, I have to work this weekend, but thatís not the real reason I feel dread about an upcoming holiday that is, in essence, meant to celebrate the worker.

I feel a sense of dread because the older I get, the more I realize that the working man, the spokes in the giant wheel, is having to climb a steeper hill every year. I fear for my childrenís futures ó and mine, I should add.

Case in point: A recent analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, and cited in the Huffington Post, shows significant weak wage growth between 2000 and 2007. As a result, 60 percent of working Americans are earning less now than 13 years ago. More than 35 million Americans live below the poverty line, according to EPI figures, a figure that only mystifies me more when learning that productivity has grown by 25 percent.

So what gives?

I think I know the answer. At one of my most recent jobs (I wonít say where), layoffs were pretty regular. Those who remained got more and more work piled on their desks, and, afraid of the pink slip, we sucked it up and produced more and more, compensating for the diminishing work force.

So, with a diminishing work force at the company but with the same, possibly even an increase, in output, the owners quite possibly did very well for themselves. Of course, I could never confirm that; I doubt the owners, nor the shareholders, would have been happy to turn over that information.

Workers at fast-food chains, including McDonalds, have recently begun demanding higher wages. I recently spoke to a coworker of mine at my job and, through the grapevine, learned that workers at a Salamanca fast-food restaurant have asked for higher wages. I called the corporate office for the company to see if that was true, but I havenít heard back yet. I suspect I wonít.

In most cases, workers are demanding a raise to $15 an hour from their current average pay of $9 an hour. It may seem like a hefty amount, but I suspect that fast-food companies could assume the burden.

There are many arguments against raising the minimum wage at service industry jobs, including outsourcing, which would be impossible since selling the product must be on site, or the argument regarding raising of prices to compensate for having to increase wages, which is ridiculous because there is fierce competition among fast-food companies.

Then there was the figure that blew my mind, that raised the hackles on my neck and prompted me to write this article in the first place.

According to EPI, the overall wealth of the Walton family now exceeds the wealth of the bottom 40 percent of American families combined. Yes, you read that right, readers: combined. And compensation for CEOs is increasing annually by an average of $2.5 million while overall sales rose, on average, by 3.6 percent.

So what do we do? Stage walkouts? Strikes? Refuse to go to work?

There are no easy answers for this problem. In the meantime, maybe we should just be grateful we have jobs and do what we can to survive. There are several events going on in Western New York this weekend that could help us take our minds off matters.

Me? I donít have much planned; I have to work.


(If you have a comment or response to Jeff’s column, please feel free to send a letter to the editor at The views of the writer do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ellicottville Times.