Labor Day Message


Each Labor Day in the modern era, we have barbecues and give lip service to American workers, without really thinking about the sacrifices that they actually made just a couple of generations ago to ensure a decent and prosperous future for their children and grandchildren. This Labor Day weekend, let's actually remember everything that the labor movement has done to protect employee health and safety over the past century. Remember, for example, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire over 100 years ago and its aftermath. 

In March 1911, a fire swept through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Greenwich Village, New York City, killing 146 employees. Most were young women who had come to the U.S. from Europe in search of a better life. This horrific fire, fueled by locked doors and inadequate fire escapes, proved to be a national wake-up call regarding workplace safety standards, and helped end the indignities and exploitation that many employees of that period were forced to endure.  

After the fire, the Ladies Garment Workers Union (LGWU) led protests for improved safety conditions, higher wages, shorter hours and extra pay for overtime. Protests like these paved the way for the successes of the modern-day labor movement, such as the 40-hour work week, overtime benefits, sick leave, health benefits, child labor laws, and workplace safety standards that all of us take for granted today. 

Ironically, as we celebrate Labor Day this weekend, NTEU Chapter 293 is continuing to fight for workplace health and safety programs here at the SEC--currently in the form of COVID-19 protections, including employee choice on return to work during the pandemic and administrative leave flexibility for employees with dependents. 

The administrative leave program was set up by the union and former SEC Chair Jay Clayton during the Trump administration. It is intended primarily to assist young parents who are required to care for dependents while they work remotely during the global pandemic emergency. It is important to note the context for this agreement. A fact that is not widely known is that, due to the closure of the SEC's offices across the country back in 2020, the union could have demanded that such parents be placed on 100% weather and safety leave for as long as they had their dependent children at home during the pandemic--which is what the CBA requires in the event of an office closure for safety reasons (such as a blizzard or hurricane). Indeed, under the CBA, parents are not supposed to be caring for dependents while they work remotely. The union compromised on this issue with Chair Clayton, understanding that when the parties negotiated the CBA, nobody anticipated a global pandemic lasting for many months with dependent children stuck at home for substantial periods of time. 

Today, Chair Gensler is on the verge of canceling this pandemic safety protocol, even though, on any given day, hundreds of SEC employees and their families benefit from it while it only impacts about 3%-4% of total staff time. While SEC offices remain effectively closed and many parents still have to care for their dependents, he is unilaterally terminating this scheduling flexibility that has been a lifeline for them over the past year.

This week, as the Delta variant continues its swift spread across America, and children under age 12 continue to be ineligible for vaccination, these parents in our extended SEC family are facing daycare and school closures, quarantines and aftercare enrollment restrictions, with no alternative childcare arrangements available to them. Chair Gensler's decision to terminate this workplace flexibility on September 7, 2021, the day that SEC employees all return to work after Labor Day weekend in the midst of the latest pandemic surge, completely ignores the health and safety reality that these employees face as the fall begins. We continue to hope that Chair Gensler will reconsider this callous and tone deaf decision, and we are seeking an immediate hearing on the issue by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Thanks, have a good weekend.