Labor Day is the traditional end of summer holiday, filled with picnics, last trips to the beach and big retail sales. How ever you choose to celebrate this weekend, be sure to raise your glass at some point to all of us who labor, since that is what this holiday is all about. For all of the independent workers in the Gig Economy who may or may not have the day off cheers to you too, since this holiday at its core celebrates your career choice as well.
We owe this wonderful late summer holiday to the union movement in America. In the late 1800s various union movements, like the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor were jockeying for power in order to better the lot of the workers in America who were frequently subjected to tough conditions in the industrializing US economy. Although it is not clear who actually founded the holiday, one voice back in that day was quoted as saying, that the holiday was intended to honor all of those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”
The union movement grew back in the day, because of the need to create better working conditions for primarily industrial workers in factories and mines. Union efforts helped usher in minimum wage laws, working hour standards and working age regulations. It also created the collective bargaining structures by which workers had a greater negotiating voice with management. However, automation, the abundance of new types of job brought on by economic growth and better HR practices of companies all led to the decline in union membership in the private sector.
In a way, the trend toward independent work has enabled individuals to secure for themselves what unions did in the 1920s. Now a freelancer does set his own hours, which could be longer or shorter than a standard 8-hour day. She sets her fees, negotiating specific terms and it is up to her, whether to take on a certain type of work at a certain rate or not; she does her own collective bargaining.
Some people have suggested that independent workers should unionize to gain the benefits of union membership. This may be appropriate for some, but for many I think it defeats the purpose. So many independent workers say that they love the freedom of controlling their own schedule (65%) and the fact that they have no boss (74%). Another way to look at having no boss is that it means you have no rules. Union membership and contracts have rules. My guess is that many in the soloist population would not want to be tied down that way.
But, some would argue those gig workers are not getting paid for that day off on Monday. That may or may not be true, since many factor their own sort of PTO calculation into their fee structures. (…or they should…Check out my book, Thriving in the Gig Economy, for more info on this…) More specifically though, they have chosen this path– and about 65% of the 41 million independent workers have chosen to work this way. They have made the decision to have more control over their own labors. To me that is what Labor Day is all about.