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Labor Report

Labor Day 2018: A Tradition With Strong Pennsylvania Roots

It’s been 124 years since Labor Day became a national holiday and the commemoration has grown to represent many different things to different people.
For some, the first Monday in September means another day off from work, a three-day weekend, the grand finale of summer and a welcome opportunity to spend more quality time with family and friends. For others, it’s a chance to travel or party like a pop star.

But despite the potential modern-day distractions, the primary focus of Labor Day continues to reflect the original intent of the 19th century labor leaders who envisioned it and pushed for its formal adoption as a day when the nation pauses in tribute to the contributions and achievements of its workforce.

As a cradle of the early American labor movement, Pennsylvania played an important role in the creation of Labor Day. The precise origin of the concept remains a matter of conjecture, but evidence points toward Peter J. McGuire as the person who came up with the idea. In 1881, McGuire co-founded the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. Later that year at Turner Hall on the present-day site of Pittsburgh’s Mellon Center, McGuire helped form the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, the forerunner organization to the American Federation of Labor.

The AFL-CIO shares the following account of subsequent events surrounding the creation of Labor Day: “At an 1882 meeting of the New York Central Labor Union, (McGuire) introduced a resolution calling for workers to lead a ‘festive parade through the streets of the city’ on the first Monday of September. More than 30,000 marchers participated in the event. In 1883, thousands again lined the parade route, and the New York group decided to urge other central labor bodies around the country to sponsor simultaneous celebrations the following year.”

Municipalities and states throughout the country formally adopted the commemoration in the years leading up to 1894, when Congress and President Grover Cleveland enacted legislation to create a new national holiday.
This Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 3, communities throughout Pennsylvania will gather for parades and other public events to demonstrate their support for workers and the labor movement. The PA AFL-CIO offers this list of events happening across the Commonwealth.

For those who prefer to gather at home, the AFL-CIO provides a “Raise the Steaks the Ethical Way” listing of union-made foods and beverages.
If concerts, open-air theater, art-and-crafts shows or sporting events are more your style, here are some things to do around the Burgh, Central PA and Philly this weekend.

For Sale: Former Carbon County Prison Where Seven Miners Executed

One of the most significant historical sites in the Pennsylvania and American labor movements is up for sale. While news coverage of the listing of The Old Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe has focused largely on the former Carbon County prison’s appeal to paranormal enthusiasts and the macabre, the site has a poignant lesson to tell as the venue where seven purported Molly Maguires were hanged in the late 1870s.

The Scranton Times-Tribune reports that owners Tom and Betty Lou McBride, both in their 80s, are asking $749,000 for the property, which they have operated as a museum since shortly after purchasing the site in 1995. It previously served as Carbon County Prison from 1871 until that year.

The three-story stone structure has about 12,800 square feet of floor space and features 41 cells, a shower, a laundry and warden’s quarters with four bedrooms, two baths, kitchen and dining room. The Inquirer notes prominently that the lot also includes “gallows, nooses, handcuffs, the everlasting handprint of a hanged coal miner, and possibly some ghosts who have good reason to be ticked off.”
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A Pennsylvania Historical Marker was posted there in 2006.

Ghost tours aside, the Old Jail is a tangible reminder of the ordeals endured by Pennsylvania coal miners and immigrant laborers in general as they struggled to assimilate into a foreign, largely inhospitable society and fought for decent compensation and working conditions from their oppressive employers. also notes the dubious circumstances under which 20 union organizers were executed in Pennsylvania’s anthracite region during the era:

“Were the Mollies terrorists, working-class heroes, or something in between? To this day, the guilt of the twenty Mollies executed between 1877 and 1879 is hard to discover. Nearly all of the evidence that led to their convictions was provided by James McParland, a Pinkerton detective who infiltrated them. What is not in doubt, however, is the dangerous precedent in the history of Pennsylvania law enforcement that the convictions and execution of these Irish coal miners initiated. … In the decades that followed, railroads, coal companies, and steel companies continued to use Pinkerton agents, deputized under Coal and Iron Police commissions, to enforce their will upon workers and their families.”

California Lawmakers Seek to Restrict Forced Arbitration Clauses

When California became the latest state to pass legislation aimed at limiting the powers of companies to force employees and prospective employees to sign mandatory arbitration clauses, published this article detailing how forced arbitration benefits businesses at the expense of employees, and chronicling how the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled in favor of employers on the issue.

More than half of non-union American workers in the private sector are subject to forced arbitration, according to the Economic Policy Institute. That means they have waived their right to settle employment-related disputes such as wage theft and sexual harassment at trial or collectively. Instead, workers can only seek remedies individually before a privately hired arbitrator. Workers often sign arbitration agreements only under the stated or perceived threat of losing their jobs.

Academic research has shown that companies are more likely to prevail through arbitration than in court. And when workers prevail, arbitrators tend to award less money to plaintiffs compared to what courtroom juries award.

Further research has shown that companies that use the same arbitrators repeatedly tend to fare better in arbitration. Workers are nearly five times less likely to win their cases if the arbitrator has handled past disputes involving the same employer.
The presence of an arbitration clause also hinders a worker’s ability to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with an employer because the worker has less leverage without the prospect of going to trial.

In 2001’s Circuit City Stores Inc. vs. Adams and again this year in Epic Systems vs. Lewis, the U.S. Supreme Court found that arbitration clauses, even those mandated by a company as a condition of employment, are enforceable with rare exception under the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925.

This year, New York state and Washington state have each enacted legislation to restrict employers’ use of mandatory arbitration clauses, with focus on sexual harassment complaints. In Vermont, the lawmakers passed legislation to restrict certain requirements typically used by companies in consumer and employment arbitration clauses. But Republican Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the bill.

On Aug. 22, the California Senate passed AB 3080, a measure that would make it illegal for a company to fire a worker or revoke a job offer if the worker refuses to sign an arbitration clause. Arbitration clauses bearing workers’ signatures would remain enforceable under the law, a scenario that supporters hope will shield the legislation from legal challenges.

California Gov. Jerry Brown has until the end of September to sign the bill into law. In 2016, the legislature sent Brown a bill that would have outlawed the use of mandatory arbitration clauses statewide, but Brown declined to sign it into law, citing the bill’s conflicts with federal law and court precedents. The current bill would not ban clauses but would prohibit employers from forcing workers to sign them as a condition of employment.