As the Terrible 2000s come to a close, it’s fair to say that this has not been a great decade for American workers and workplaces. Consider some of the evidence:
- Bookend meltdowns — We opened the decade with the dot-com bubble bursting, and we closed it with a catastrophic economic meltdown. The forces behind greed were once again immune to the lessons of history, and millions are paying the price as a result.
- Labor — The labor movement, our primary voice for the everyday worker, continues to struggle. Union membership is largely a public sector phenomenon. Well under 10 percent of private sector workers enjoy the protections of a collective bargaining agreement.
- Wages — The wage gap between rich and poor has widened, and the middle class continues to diminish. Of course, we deny that this has anything to do with the state of the labor movement.
- Integrity — Even apart from the Great Recession, we saw scandals, corruption, exorbitant executive pay, and pension excesses crossing over the private, public, and non-profit sectors. What a lousy decade for leadership.
- Dignity and safety — Too many employers continue to fuel or ignore discrimination, harassment, bullying, and worker safety violations.
- Toil — Too many workers are toiling at double and triple shifts, because one job is not sufficient to provide a living wage.
- Retirement prospects — As the population ages, a large proportion of middle aged and older workers are wholly unprepared to finance their retirements. This was the case well before the markets crashed in 2008.
- Generations — Older workers are staying in or returning to the labor force because they must. Younger workers are experiencing difficulty entering it.
- 9/11 — In 9/11, we saw the some of the most horrific acts of workplace violence in our lifetimes. In the aftermath of 9/11, we failed to take care of the rescue and recovery workers who put their lives and health in jeopardy. In the wars that followed 9/11, we then failed to give adequate care to veterans suffering from the physical and psychological mayhem of combat.
- Health care — As the decade comes to a close, the richest nation on earth is long overdue on delivering quality, affordable health care to all who live here.
I apologize for the negativity, but I do not believe in ignoring the bad stuff. Only by understanding it can we move forward. I’ll put forth the outline for a more forward looking agenda next week!