Workplace

‘A long line of workaholics': How Americans can fight for a 'healthy and balanced approach to work'

To the average European, the United States is a country of workaholics who have an unhealthy work/life balance. Americans generally work longer hours, have less paid vacation time and are more likely to work on weekends. And despite all those long hours, Americans don’t even have universal health care — although the Affordable Care Act of 2010, also known as Obamacare, has greatly reduced the number of Americans who lack any type of health insurance.

Journalist Ruben Navarrette, Jr. examines the conditions that U.S. workers have been facing in an op-ed published by the Daily Beast on Labor Day 2022. Navarrette identifies some problems, but he also notes some positive developments for U.S. workers.

“This Labor Day,” Navarrette writes, “there is a hell of a lot going on in the ‘work space.’ Thanks to a labor reform bill that was recently passed by the legislature and which is now headed to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom for his signature, fast-food workers in California could soon earn as much as $22 per hour. And given that Newsom is a prospective candidate for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination, the rest of the country can expect to hear much more about this salary boost over the next several months.”

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Navarrette continues, “A new Gallup poll finds public support for organized labor in the U.S. to be the highest it’s been in more than a half-century, 57 years to be exact. Seventy-one percent of Americans now approve of unions — the highest the polling firm has recorded since 1965. The current figure is so high, in fact, that it is closing in on the percentage of Americans who backed unions in the 1950s — when three out of four Americans approved of them.”

The journalist notes that in recent years, unions have been “popping up in the darndest places” and that employees of Amazon, Trader Joe’s, Starbucks and Apple have been “organizing or advocating to start unions.”

“Many Americans are in the ‘grudge’ phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, mindful of how badly many companies and corporations behaved two years ago when U.S. workers were at their most vulnerable,” Navarrette observes. “Millions of U.S. workers lost their jobs and health insurance, and they had to figure out how to provide childcare and avoid homelessness. Now that workers have the leverage in an ‘employee market,’ they’ve become hard-nosed negotiators. And we’re suffering a hangover from the so-called Great Resignation. In 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 47 million Americans quit their jobs.”

Navarrette points out that some members of Generation Z “aren’t actually ditching their job” but are “no longer putting in 110 percent,” which “means no more working weekends or holidays, or logging 80 hours per week.” The journalist adds that as a “workaholic” who comes from a “long line of workaholics” and had his first job when he was 13, he is “rooting for Generation Z” and hopes that Zoomers “succeed in readjusting Americans’ work-life balance.”

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“My paternal grandfather, Roman, the immigrant from Chihuahua, Mexico, used to show up to work a half-hour early and give his boss that extra 30 minutes of hard labor in the fields as a gift to say gracias to the employer — for giving him a way to feed his family,” Navarrette notes. “My maternal grandfather, Samuel, who moved his entire family from Texas to California on a rumor that farmers in the Golden State were paying one dollar more per hour, broke his hand once, but kept picking lettuce with his one good hand rather than lose his job.”

Navarrette continues, “And my grandmothers, Esperanza and Aurora, worked even harder than their husbands because — besides toiling side by side with them as equals in the fields — they also did most of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and other household chores. Respect, ladies! Respeto…. You see, my family — like many American families, and virtually all Latino families — worship at the altar of work…. It’s clear that maintaining a healthy and balanced approach to work is a good thing for Americans to strive for.”

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Fox News host praises disgraced CEO for mass firing of 900 employees: 'I loved this so much'

Vishal Garg, CEO of the online mortgage company Better.com, is now admitting that he handled things badly during a mass firing on Wednesday, December 1. That day, during a Zoom call, Garg brought around 900 employees together online and announced that all of them were being fired — a move he now admits has “embarrassed” the company. But Fox News’ Emily Compagno is not only defending Garg — she is outright praising him for the mass firing.

During a December 8 broadcast of “Outnumbered” — which features mostly or entirely female panels and is often described as a right-wing version of “The View” — Compagno insisted that Garg had nothing to apologize for. The attorney told others on the panel, which also included host Harris Faulkner and Lisa Kennedy Montgomery (the former MTV veejay known for hosting “Kennedy” on Fox Business), “I loved this, actually. I loved this so much…. So, for me, good riddance. And I feel bad that he’s now having to capitulate to the other execs at this company and apologize for it. Sorry guys, bye!”

Compagno, who is never shy about making over-the-top comments to drive ratings, added, “For all of them, they’re snowflakes. They’re probably Millennials and Zs. They need to learn work ethic.”

But even fellow members of the right-wing “Outnumbered” panel disagreed with Compagno’s strident defense of Garg, including host Harris Faulkner, libertarian/conservative Lisa Kennedy Montgomery (the former MTV veejay known for hosting “Kennedy” on Fox Business), “Fox and Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade (the panel’s lone male) and former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Words like “classless” and “embarrassment” were used by the other “Outnumbered” panelists.

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McEnany commented, “This guy, in court documents, it was alleged that he wanted to staple someone to the wall or door or whatever it was. I mean, this guy has some pretty big issues.”

Merrick Garland promises aggressive prosecutions for ‘unruly’ or abusive airline passengers: ‘A serious safety threat’

Airline unions have been calling for an increase in prosecutions of violent, unruly passengers, and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland agrees. Garland, according to the Associated Press, is promising aggressive federal prosecutions for passengers who become abusive with airline employees.

Airlines, AP reports, have seen "a large increase in the number of investigations into passenger behavior" — and many of these incidents involve people who don't want to comply with airlines' mask requirements.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, airlines have been asking passengers to please wear face masks on flights and to remove them only when they're eating or drinking — which is perfectly reasonable. But anti-maskers have been abusing flight attendants for enforcing that rule.

AP notes, "Airlines have reported more than 5000 incidents involving unruly passengers this year, with more than 3600 of those involving people who refused to wear face masks. Garland said, in a statement, that such passengers do more than harm employees."

The U.S. attorney general warned, "They prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel. Similarly, when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the close confines of a commercial aircraft, the conduct endangers everyone aboard."

AP notes that the Federal Aviation Administration has "referred 37 cases involving unruly airline passengers to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution since the number of disruptions on flights began to increase in January."

Steve Dickson, an FAA administrator, is quoted as saying, "The unacceptable disruptive behavior that we're seeing is a serious safety threat to flights, and we're committed to our partnership with the DOJ to combat it."

Super-spreader COVID workplaces: Amazon reveals the fatuousness of McConnell's corporate 'liability shield'

As a former Secretary of Labor, I often receive mail from workers with job complaints, who apparently believe I still have some authority. But the email I received a few days ago from a worker at Amazon's Whole Foods delivery warehouse in Industry City, Brooklyn, New York, was particularly distressing.

She said that six of her co-workers had tested positive for COVID since October 22, because "safe social distancing is not only being ignored but discouraged," adding that "when we express our discomfort to management, we are yelled at about filling orders faster, or told that we can take a leave of absence without pay."

She ended by noting "we work for a trillionaire."

Well, not quite. Jeff Bezos is worth $180 billion, making him the richest person in the world. And his corporation, Amazon, which also owns Whole Foods, is among the world's richest corporations.

Bezos has accumulated so much added wealth over the last nine months that he could give every Amazon employee $105,000 and still be as rich as he was before the pandemic.

So you'd think he'd be able to afford safer workplaces. Yet as of October, more than 20,000 U.S.-based Amazon employees had been infected by the virus. That estimate comes from Amazon, by the way. There's been no independent verification, nor has Amazon revealed how many of them have died.

Decades ago, employees in most large corporations could remedy unsafe working conditions by complaining to their union, which pressured their employer to fix the problems, or to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (founded in 1970), which levied fines.

Alternatively, they could embarrass their companies by going public with their complaints. As a last resort, they could sue.

None of these routes is readily available to Amazon warehouse workers – nor, for that matter, to warehouse workers at Walmart, or to most workers in other super-spreader COVID workplaces such as meatpacking plants and nursing homes.

Amazon's workers have no union to protect them. (Throughout its 25-year history, the corporation has aggressively fought union organizing.) Nor, for that matter, do 93.8 percent of America's private-sector workers. Fifty years ago, more than a third were unionized.

And OSHA? Since the start of the pandemic, it's been useless. Although receiving more than 10,000 complaints of unsafe conditions, it has issued just two citations.

Amazon employees who go public with their complaints are likely to lose their jobs. The corporation prohibits its workers from commenting publicly on any aspect of its business, without prior approval from executives. So far during the pandemic, it has fired at least two white-collar employees who publicly denounced conditions at its warehouses, as well as several warehouse workers who raised safety concerns to media outlets.

Amazon isn't alone. A survey conducted in May by the National Employment Law Project showed that 1 in 8 American workers "has perceived possible retaliatory actions by employers against workers in their company who have raised health and safety concerns" about COVID.

The final option is to sue the company, but lawsuits against employers over COVID have been rare because of difficulties proving that the employee contracted the virus at work. A Washington Post analysis found that since the pandemic began, just 234 personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits have been filed due to the virus.

All of which reveals the utter fatuousness of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's and his fellow Senate Republicans' demand that any new COVID relief package must include a corporate "liability shield" against COVID cases.

Even if such lawsuits were successful, corporations already have limited liability. That's what it means to be a corporation. In the unlikely event Amazon were sued and plaintiffs won, Jeff Bezos would remain comfortable.

The heinous resurgence of COVID makes clear that corporations need more – not fewer – incentives to protect their workers from the virus.

As millions of Americans lose whatever meager income they had, they should not have to choose between taking a risky job – such as in an Amazon warehouse – or putting food on their family's table.

Bezos, as well as every major employer in America, can easily afford to protect their workers. And as Mitch McConnell and his fellow Senate Republicans should know, the richest nation in the world can easily afford to provide every American adequate income support during this national emergency.

That they're not doing so is disgraceful.

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