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Labor Day for All

Four important questions for corporate leaders to ask on this year's Labor Day.

September 7, 2020

At a Glance

Four important questions for corporate leaders to ask on this year’s Labor Day.

Laura Roberts Senior Director

Today marks the 126th Labor Day in the United States, a federal holiday meant to recognize the value workers provide our economy and society by mandating time off from the job.

Like many holidays and celebrations that have taken place since March, Labor Day 2020 looks different. There are fewer picnics, barbecues, or long weekend trips. Not everything is different, though. Today, millions of frontline workers (many of whom are now labeled “essential”) have to go to work—just as they have every year on this day, and just as they have during the entire COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the pandemic began, JFF has been squarely focused on defining the experience of these workers, and challenging ourselves, our partners, and our leaders across sectors to improve that experience. For us, that has meant launching initiatives like Recover Stronger, which focuses on rallying the corporate community to invest more intentionally and equitably in the wellbeing of their employees.

For our partners like Jobcase, it has meant elevating worker voices to reflect on what is most important to them, and challenging assumptions about how their needs can and should be addressed. For others like Opportunity at Work, it has meant drawing attention to who these essential workers actually are (two thirds are without a college degree) and the huge value they generate for our economy.

While these efforts have been meaningful in the short term, they’re not sufficient for the long term change we want and need to see. It will take more efforts like these from more leaders and organizations who are committed to resetting the scales that determine how most Americans experience work. And those efforts will need to continue to take place during one of the most challenging social and economic moments in our country’s history.

That said, challenging moments like these tend to provide opportunity, particularly for those with power to wield it differently. Over the past weeks and months, I’ve been heartened to see corporate champions emerging to speak up for their workers, recognizing them as the engines of their businesses. From Microsoft’s commitment to a permanent, expanded benefits package for its employees, to Walmart’s rapid hiring of over 235,000 workers who experienced layoffs in adjacent industries, to Autodesk’s recent distribution of stock grants to all its employees to ensure they share in the company’s profits. It is my sincere hope that these examples, as well as others, reflect a commitment to that long haul effort for change.

If you are a corporate leader (or frankly, any white collar professional), I’d encourage you to reflect on the following questions this Labor Day:

  1. Who in your company is working on Labor Day? Why is that?
  2. Do all your colleagues (contract workers included) get the space and support to take time off when they need it?
  3. What are you most proud of in terms of how your company supports you and your colleagues?
  4. What could your company do better? How can you, as an individual leader, support that change?

Reflecting on important questions like these is a solid start on the path to understanding both the power and privilege that come with being a corporate leader, as one of the few who have the security and space to not work on days like Labor Day. Only through honest reflection and hard, day-to-day work can we make that a shared reality for the thousands of workers who clocked in on this national holiday. Next year, let’s aim to make the day a true Labor Day for all.

For more information on how JFF is helping corporate leaders prioritize their workers in the wake of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter movement, check out our Recover Stronger Initiative.

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