If there’s a theme to Labor Day 2023, it may simply be that there’s no theme to be found. Few years have presented us with such a varied and complex menagerie of issues, all headed our way at the same time. Labor disagreements and a re-energized labor movement took center stage; our colleague Roy Bahat speaks to why business should think differently about unions with Fast Company below. But strikes are merely the surface manifestation of more nuanced questions, boiling over after years of irresolution. See Xavier de Souza Briggs, Adrian Haro, and Shelly Steward’s take on problems in the gig economy, for example; or Sheila Maguire and Dee Wallace’s blog on the crisis of job quality among workforce staff themselves. Each piece of commentary spotlights a unique facet of the labor debate, diverse and turbulent as it is these days.
Rather than dwell on problems, however, let’s talk about the ways this complexity manifests in the solutions available to us. Matt Helmer and our W.K. Kellogg Foundation colleague Jeanne Wardford hold forth the promise of employee ownership as a win-win for workers and business owners; and it’s a bipartisan idea to boot. And the Gates Foundation’s Kimberly Brown describes how small businesses can lead from the bottom up on job quality. After years of complacency, a critical mass is now recognizing that we need to do things differently, and we’re encouraged by these and other innovations filling the void.
But none of this matters if we fail to appreciate the aspects of work that matter most to the people who are actually doing it. In the final entry on our list, I ask you to consider how our conventional measures of economic “health” — the ones we focus on most, such as the employment rate — diverge from those metrics that truly make work good, such as a living wage, decent benefits, opportunities to get ahead, and genuine holidays for the working class. Consider the simple fact that most low-wage workers don’t, in fact, have Labor Day off, and one realizes just how far we have yet to go.
So on behalf of our team, I wish you a joyful holiday, and I invite you to join us as we endeavor to build a better economy for all workers and families. Rest, reflect, and recharge for the work ahead.
This Labor Day, Make More Employees Owners: A Bipartisan Idea to Support Workers and Communities
Amid labor shortages, job quality concerns, and supply chain challenges, a time-tested strategy is back on the radar among policymakers, business leaders, workers, and investors. Employee ownership, an idea with strong bipartisan support, provides an opportunity to grow successful businesses while improving workers’ lives. Writing in The Hill, EOP Associate Director Matt Helmer and W.K. Kellogg Foundation Program Officer Jeanne Wardford argue that the best way to recognize the contributions of workers this Labor Day is by “giving more of them a stake in ownership so they can earn a greater return on the fruits of their labor and have more freedom and agency over their work and economic future.”
Why We Need a Blueprint for Good Gig Work
A growing share of US workers are seeking out forms of work that offer them some level of agency over their time at work. In this op-ed in Fast Company, The Workers Lab’s Adrian Haro, the Brookings Institution’s Xavier de Souza Briggs, and the Aspen Institute’s Shelly Steward — director of EOP’s Future of Work Initiative — share how they plan to use the findings of the Gig Worker Learning Project to establish a blueprint for good gig work in partnership with gig workers themselves.
The Cobbler’s Children Have No Shoes: Why Workforce Professionals Need Their Own Good Jobs Strategy
Writing on the Aspen Institute blog, EOP Senior Fellows Sheila Maguire and Dee Wallace — who oversee the Institute’s Workforce Leadership Academies — explore the role of the workforce development field in ensuring adequate job quality for all workers, including within its own ranks. We learn that while workforce professionals strive to enhance job quality for others, they often struggle with low-quality jobs themselves.
The Powerful Role Small and Medium-Sized Businesses Can Play in Advancing Us All Toward an Equitable Economy
Writing for the blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Senior Program Officer Kimberly Brown discusses the vital role of small businesses in employment, underscoring their potential to enhance job quality for millions of workers. One approach she highlights is EOP’s own Shared Success project, which advances the principles of job quality and equity to small businesses around the country via the community development financial institutions that serve them.
Building a Better Relationship Between Business and Labor
For the first time in decades, union membership is growing in the US, as workers across industries demand better pay, benefits, and working conditions after years of stagnation or decline. Many business leaders have attempted to ignore or suppress these efforts, but the most insightful ones have sought to understand it, channel it, and use it to forge a more productive relationship with their employees. Leading this charge is corporate veteran Roy Bahat — head of the venture firm Bloomberg Beta and chair of the Aspen Business Roundtable on Organized Labor — whose work was recently profiled in Fast Company.
Making Labor Day Count for Workers
Finally, sharing my own thoughts on LinkedIn, I invite readers to notice that millions of workers do not get to enjoy the Labor Day holiday, or any other paid holiday, and to consider why the experience of working people and assessments of job quality are not central to our understanding of the health of the labor market.