Why is that exactly?
Fortunately, we have the freedom to change jobs in our democracy.
With unemployment now at just over 3.6% nationally, it could not be a better time for workers to pursue what would make them happier at work, including better working conditions. And of course, better pay. It wasn’t always like this.
Back in the day
During the gilded age when Carnegie, JP Morgan and, Vanderbilt, and the other great Industrialists, only the rich had any shine. Gold and silver. The only shine working people had was their sweat. It shines, yes, but it’s not the same.
Long before Teddy Roosevelt, the Republican ‘trust buster’, and his cousin Franklin Delano, working people did plenty of sweating, getting killed and maimed on the job, and hoping to make enough to pay for their own funeral and a tombstone. It was slavery. Empires were built on workers who owned no more than slaves, except for debt. The glory of the gilded age shining at its best.
Unions were a hard sell even then, but over the next 50 years they negotiated contracts between the union workers and the company. Oh yes, a contract. Something that binds all parties to an agreement that was reached, which came about by the blood spilled in the streets. And not the blood of the Pinkerton Guards or the police forces working on the behalf of the Industrialists.
Your job is a contract
After the dominance of unions subsided over the last 50–70 years, non-union workers forgot that they individually had an unwritten contract between themselves and their employer. It’s not binding on either party. It’s a lot like renting an apartment month-to-month, where the renter can move to another apartment at any time ― or the landlord can give notice and find another tenant.
I certainly moved from job to another throughout my life long before it was fashionable. While it required taking risks, I found that with risk came learning new skills which then led to a better job with each move. ‘It’s not for everybody’ I can hear you saying, though it could work for a lot more workers than they might think.
One reason for the reluctance of workers to change jobs is that employees often feel beholden to the employer for ‘giving’ them a job. Over the years, I’ve heard the question posed, ‘Should I ask my boss for a raise’? It’s not ‘I’m going to give my notice and then start looking for a different job if I don’t get a raise’.
As for employers, they may have to lay people off on occasion, and like employees can sever the terms of the contract at any time. I’m not ragging on employers here, most of whom feel a responsibility toward their employees — but not to the point of losing money. Business is based on adequate cash flow to make a business go, and sometimes that cash flow slows dramatically or simply goes away. Think buggy makers. Think Kodak film.
A new trend following the first two years of Covid
There’s no worse feeling that being trapped anywhere, especially at your job. Many more workers are making the choice now to move to a better job. I see this as a positive trend since the throes of the pandemic.
Employers are desperate to keep current employees and are much more open to negotiating than say just before the pandemic. This is an unusual window of opportunity. Maybe now is a chance to move into another type of work with better chances for long term advancement. Maybe it’s just a change that would do a world of good for one’s spirit.
More and more workers are also just saying no to the old fashioned, pre-pandemic work. If continuing to work means only to pay for a car that’s broke down and live in sub-standard housing, why keep working? I can certainly see why some people are looking into what living means, and what kind of job they should have. It’s certainly refreshing to see people putting themselves first rather than being a slave to work.
Some of the credit for these changes is due in part to the Millennials, who have brought attention to the importance of balance in our lives.
Many employers complain in the news that they can’t find people who want to work. Maybe employers should ask themselves why people don’t want to work for them. Subsistence wages. Poor working conditions. Lack of any real advancement, say more than becoming a night shift crew chief?
And worse that just getting by, it’s essentially a formula for not saving any money, even for short term emergencies. Much less for retirement. Social Security is simply supplemental income and certainly better than no money coming in at all in retirement. Surprising and not so surprising, employees are organizing again, especially in the service industries. Amazon is not immune. Even Starbucks, which has some of the better wages and benefits compared to similar businesses, is not immune to workers voting to join a union.
While these are all good trends for workers, it means that most of their gains will be passed along to us consumers in terms of prices and special ‘service’ fees. These advances do come with an economic cost. And for those who believe workers need a better shake, they should ‘walk the talk’ and not complain about higher prices.
Seeing so many workers throwing off the yoke of slavery is a good sign in my mind. It’s about time. Throwing off this yoke will mean higher incomes and higher amounts of savings. That’s good for workers, and good for our democracy. It needs everyone pulling together with productive enthusiasm. Feelings of being left out leads only to trouble for our sacred democracy.