TIME Civil Rights

Here’s Why We Celebrate Labor Day

Labor Day Parade in New York, in 1995.
Labor Day Parade in New York, in 1995. Susan Watts—NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

Here's what you need to know about one of America's most important holidays.

The first Monday of September means that white clothes are out, sales are in, summer holidays are over and classes begin. For many of us (but far from all of us), it’s a welcome day off of work or school, ahead of what is likely to be a busier month than the last.

But the Labor Day holiday has a storied past, one of violence and celebration, that’s embedded deep in the history of the American labor movement. And while it has spread around the world in different forms, Labor Day has distinctly American roots.

Here’s a quick primer on the meaning and history of the holiday.

When did Labor Day begin?

The modern holiday is widely traced back to an organized parade in New York City in 1882. Union leaders had called for what they had labelled a “monster labor festival” on Tuesday, Sept. 5, according to Linda Stinson, a former historian for the Department of Labor (the idea for a general labor festival may have originated in Canada, which today also celebrates “Labour Day” on the first Monday in September). Initially that morning, few people showed up, and organizers worried that workers had been reluctant to surrender a day’s pay to join the rally. But soon the crowds began flowing in from across the city, and by the end of the day some 10,000 people had marched in the parade and joined festivities afterward in what the press dubbed “a day of the people.”

When did it become an official holiday?

The practice of holding annual festivities to celebrate workers spread across the country, but Labor Day didn’t become a national holiday for more than a decade. Oregon became the first state to declare it a holiday in 1887, and states like New York, Massachusetts and Colorado soon followed suit. Under President Grover Cleveland, and amid growing awareness of the labor movement, the first Monday in September became a national holiday in 1896.

Why is it on the first Monday in September anyway?

Labor union leaders had pushed for a September date for the New York demonstration, which coincided with a conference in the city of the Knights of Labor, one of the largest and most influential of the unions. The first two New York City Labor Days took place on the 5th of September, but in 1884, the third annual New York City Labor Day holiday was scheduled for the first Monday in September, and that date stuck.

The September rally would soon clash with International Worker’s Day on May 1, which arose out of what is known as the Haymarket Affair. On May 4, 1886, protesters in Chicago gathered to demand an 8-hour workday. Toward the end of the day, a peaceful demonstration devolved into violence when a bomb was hurled toward the police, killing one officer instantly and injuring others. The police responded by firing into the crowd, killing a still undetermined number of people. The incident enraged labor activists but also fueled fears in America that the labor movement had become radicalized, prompting a crackdown on labors groups: the bomb thrower was never identified, but four people were hanged for their alleged involvement.

In the wake of the Haymarket Affair, Union leaders and socialists declared May 1 as International Workers’ Day, and the day was and continues to be unofficially observed in the U.S. It’s also that date that most other countries officially or unofficially observe as a holiday in honor of workers. But when President Grover Cleveland moved to create a national labor holiday, he chose to avoid the thorny history of that May date.

So what’s the difference between Labor Day and May Day (International Workers’ Day) in the U.S.?

Jonathan Cutler, associate professor of sociology at Wesleyan, described Labor Day as a “government alternative” to May Day in an informative interview with NPR about the Haymarket Affair. May Day may have helped promote the creation of a national holiday, but Labor Day is associated with a different significance. “May Day has always been linked to the demand for less work and more pay; Labor Day celebrates the ‘dignity’ of work,” Cutler said in the interview.

We have Monday off, but does the labor community still actually celebrate the holiday?

Yep. To this day there is still a major parade in New York City (and other cities across the country, large and small), and the #UnionStrong will probably make a big showing on Twitter. It’s true that union membership has been declining for years, but many of the challenges that faced workers more than a century ago are still being overcome today, whether by the growing movement for higher wages in the fast food industry or by overworked tech and finance employees calling for better hours.

“If there is anyone who needs to attend to the spirit of Haymarket, it is the American white-collar professional who works 10 hour days, including many weekends, and who has fewer paid vacation days than other white-collar professionals around the world,” Cutler said in the interview with NPR.

So, are white clothes really out?

Yes and no.

MONEY Workplace

What Labor’s Win at Market Basket Means for Your Job Security

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Elise Amendola/AP

The victory at a New England grocery chain might seem like a fluke. But economic trends show that workers may be finally getting some leverage.

You don’t often hear about it, but every day, in countless workplaces, people make difficult choices to do the right thing by standing up for co-workers—often at great risk to their careers. These workers are the true heroes of this and any other Labor Day. Which is why what happened recently at Market Basket is so unusual: labor won a major victory, and it got a lot of press.

For those who don’t live in the Northeast, Market Basket is a family-owned New England grocery chain. A bitter family feud led to the ouster of the revered CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas. Market Basket’s workers backed his reinstatement with protests and rallies, which ratcheted up after the company threatened to fire some of them. Public opinion was heavily in the workers’ favor. Today the majority owners of the company announced their decision to sell their shares to Demoulas, who not only gets his job back but control of the company to boot.

It’s not everyday that you see relatively low-paid supermarket workers demonstrating on behalf of their CEO. But what’s really unusual here is the display of an all-too-rare commodity in an American workplace: trust between workers and management.

The Great Recession should have been dramatic evidence to those who manage and staff the nation’s workplaces that we’re all in this together. But, of course, it wasn’t. Employers cut payrolls and benefits—remember defined benefit pensions?—some of which perhaps was unavoidable. They also outsourced jobs and even entire operations to lower-cost markets, creating armies of freelancers who work without full salaries or even a 401(k) plan. Yet many companies, if not most, continued to provide upper-management lavish pay packages and perks that further distanced them from the people whose labor was essential to their long-term success.

Some people feel workers will never recover the ground they’ve lost. But there are encouraging signs that labor may be gaining some leverage.

Like an economist who has correctly predicted nine of the past two recessions, I have repeatedly stressed that the U.S. economy is running out of workers. Even though many Baby Boomers are continuing to work past traditional retirement age, the numbers of boomers who have retired exceeds the flow of new entrants into the labor force.

Up till now labor shortages were masked by steep employment declines during the recession. But the recovery has slowly reduced unemployment. The Congressional Budget Office just forecast improved economic growth rates over the next few years. And the Wall Street Journal, among others, recently reported that shortages of unskilled labor are forcing up wage rates in some parts of the economy. And other indicators show that the job picture is brightening for those looking for work.

No question, this recovery remains very disappointing. We haven’t recovered enough lost jobs. Real wage gains remain elusive. There are few if any signs that the economic gap between rich and poor is narrowing. But even abysmal growth will, over time, lead to spot labor shortages. And with immigration reform stalled, boosting the nation’s labor supply with more newcomers is not going to happen anytime soon, which will give workers more bargaining power.

Employers may already be responding. Gallup reports that 58% of workers—both full- and part-time—are “completely satisfied” with their job security. That’s a new high, which exceeds levels just before the recession and even the levels during the dot-com euphoria of the late ’90s. Gallup also found that 71% of workers were completely satisfied with their relations with co-workers, 63% with the flexibility of their working hours, and even 60% with their boss or immediate supervisor.

Confident employees are more likely to push back against their bosses and to seek other jobs if current employers fail to meet their needs. If today’s attitudes do translate into more employee assertiveness, we can expect to see not only higher wages and improved retirement benefits, but also increased demands for restructuring jobs and job responsibilities. This would mean jobs with more flexibility, jobs that use technology to allow teams to work together from different locales, and jobs that measure outputs and judge workers on results, not the number of hours they worked or time spent at meetings in the office.

Achieving such results will stretch both managers and employees. And it will require major efforts to rebuild trust. For now, I will just wish you a happy Labor Day, with a special shout-out to the folks at Market Basket.

Philip Moeller is an expert on retirement, aging, and health. He is an award-winning business journalist and a research fellow at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. Reach him at moeller.philip@gmail.com or @PhilMoeller on Twitter.

TIME Workplace & Careers

Yes, There Is Diversity in Silicon Valley — if You Know Where to Look

Google Celebrates 15th Anniversary As Company Reaches $290 Billion Market Value
Pedestrians walk past Google Inc. signage displayed in front of the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 27, 2013. David Paul Morris—Bloomberg / Getty Images

Study finds many black and Latino workers toil in the tech scene's "invisible" workforce of cooks, cleaners and guards

A new report on the diversity of Silicon Valley’s workforce has found a preponderance of black and Latino workers relegated to the bottom rungs of the pay ladder.

Working Partnerships USA released a report on Tuesday that drew attention to an “invisible” legion of contracted workers who cook, clean and guard corporate campuses throughout the Valley.

While black and Latino workers comprise less than 5% of the workforce at prominent companies such as Twitter, Facebook, eBay and Google, their representation balloons to 41% among security guards and 75% among groundskeepers, according to employment data released by the companies and Santa Clara county.

Members of this contracted workforce make an average hourly wage of $11 to $14 an hour, or less than a fifth of the average software developer, the study found.

“These ‘invisible’ workers do not share in the success of the industry which they daily labor to keep running,” the study’s authors wrote. “As contracted workers, their employer of record is not Google or Apple, but a middleman, making them ineligible for most of the benefits and amenities offered on the campuses where they work.”

A growing number of tech companies have voluntarily released employment statistics as part of an effort to address gaps in diversity. “As CEO, I’m not satisfied with the numbers on this page,” Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in a statement accompanying Apple’s release. ‘We’ve been working hard for quite some time to improve them.”

TIME Labor

Franchisors Fear Labor’s Big Mac Win

Fast Food Workers Across U.S. Rally For Increased Wages, Unionization
Fast food workers and activists demonstrate outside McDonald's downtown flagship restaurant on May 15, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Lawyers on both sides are digging in for a big battle

One of the strategies that has made McDonald’s a global fast food power over the decades is the corporation’s rigorous enforcement of standards. McDonald’s dictates everything from signage, to staffing levels, to food quality, to the temperature of the coffee. There’s no way franchisees can have it their way, as one competitor may have put it.

That enforced consistency, so critical to McDonald’s success, has been turned against the company by the National Labor Relations Board, whose general counsel ruled Tuesday that because McDonald’s pulls most of the strings, it has to be considered a co-employer of franchise workers. That decision came despite the company’s stance that franchisees are the employers and thus McDonald’s shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions.

The NLRB’s ruling applies to 181 cases filed since November 2012 by workers who said their rights were violated—e.g., they were fired—for participating in protests over wages. The NLRB tossed 68 of the cases, while 64 others are pending investigation. But the agency found 43 cases to have merit. More than 90% of the McDonald’s 14,000 restaurants are owned by franchisees, according to the company.

The ruling was a victory for organized labor-backed groups, such as Fast Food Forward, as well as other activists who have been running a national campaign to raise fast food wages to $15 an hour. The ruling means that if the NLRB board accepts any of these cases, McDonald’s, and not just its franchisees, will be hauled before an administrative law judge if the cases aren’t resolved through negotiation.

More importantly, the ruling’s broader legal reach has the restaurant and hospitality industries in an uproar — the decision has sent legal experts on the left and right to their perspective corners to gird for a fight that’s expected to eventually reach the Supreme Court.

“This decision to allow unfair labor practice complaints to allege that McDonald’s is a joint employer with its franchisees is wrong,” said Heather Smedstad, senior vice president of human resources at McDonald’s USA, in a statement. “McDonald’s will contest this allegation in the appropriate forum. McDonald’s also believes that this decision changes the rules for thousands of small businesses, and goes against decades of established law regarding the franchise model in the United States.

The ruling is an attempt to resolve a sticky point in labor law about who qualifies as an employer. It’s generally viewed that if a company outsources its work to another firm, that firm becomes the employer, says Richard Hurd, professor of industrial and labor Relations at Cornell University. That can lead to situations where contract employees work side by side with employees of the parent company.

“Unions have been trying to make the case for quite some time that it’s not that straightforward,” Hurd says.

According to Mark Barenberg, professor of labor law at Columbia University, in a quote supplied by Fast Food Forward, the ruling “has the potential to upend the fast-food industry’s decades-long strategy of ‘out-sourcing’ legal responsibility to franchisees when it comes to securing workers’ rights.”

What’s really got the franchising industry worried, though, is that the ruling will open a Pandora’s Box of liability exposure. If brand owners are deemed joint employers in a broader context, it will make them litigation targets for issues such as wages and hours, slips and falls, and sexual harassment, says David Sherwyn, professor of hospitality human resources at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. The potential liability is enormous, because litigators always sue the deepest pockets. Franchising companies in the food and hotel industries have spent years figuring out what constitutes control and what doesn’t to give themselves a legal distance from their owners: they can tell franchisees how they must decorate their hotels, for instance, but they won’t dictate employment practices.

“Franchise lawyers have figured out where the line is, and the line is all about control,” says Sherwyn. “Let’s call it the 40 yard line. The lawyers are living on the 38 yard line and I think the [NLRB] general counsel thinks they should be living on the 32.”

The industry wants McDonald’s to hold that line.

Even if the ruling stands up to legal challenges, however, don’t expect it to set off a big organizing campaign by labor unions in the fast food industry, says Hurd.

“This is not a huge step; it doesn’t say the unions can run an organizing campaign against McDonald’s nationally,” Hurd says. “The logistics would be impossible.”

That’s because labor would still have to organize store by store or franchise across a big enough swath of units. But it could allow a union such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) the leverage to discuss broad terms of, say, wage and hours policy that a franchisor, whether it’s McDonald’s or La Quinta Inns, could impose on its franchisees. And barring that, it provides the SEIU, which backs Fast Food Forward, its own forward momentum to continue to press for wage increases knowing that the giant McDonald’s Corp., and not just its diverse franchisees, now has a dog in this hunt.

TIME China

Another SOS Note From China Has Been Found In a Piece of Store-Bought Merchandise

Chinese visitors watch inmates sewing clothes at a prison in Neihuang county, Anyang city, central Chinas Henan province, 25 June 2013. Imageinchina—AP

"We work 15 hours per day and the food we eat wouldn’t even be given to dogs or pigs," reads the note, found in the pocket of a pair of pants bought in Northern Ireland

What purports to be a cry for help from Chinese prison inmates has been found inside a pair of trousers bought from a popular U.K. retailer.

Karen Wisinska, a Northern Ireland mother-of-two, says she bought the trousers from the Primark fashion chain in 2011 but never wore them. When clearing out her wardrobe recently, she found the note, written in Chinese, in the back pocket of the pants and had it translated.

“SOS! SOS! SOS!,” it began. “We are prisoners in the Xiang Nan Prison of the Hubei Province in China. Our job inside the prison is to produce fashion clothes for export. We work 15 hours per day and the food we eat wouldn’t even be given to dogs or pigs. We work as hard as oxen in the field.”

Primark has cast doubts on the authenticity of the note. A Primark spokesperson told the Belfast Telegraph that several inspections of the manufacturer had been carried out since the trousers were made. “To be clear, no prison or other forced labor of any kind was found during these inspections,” he said.

However, the discovery of the note — authentic or not — has brought into focus once again the issue of forced labor, which has long been used as a punishment in China, mainly at reform-through-labor camps known as lao gai. These detention centers hold people who have never faced trial, such as political activists, or followers of spiritual movements such as Falun Gong.

The U.S. keeps a list of goods produced by forced labor in China, including Christmas decorations, shoes and toys, and discoveries like Wisinska’s have been made before.

In June 2013, a mother-of-two in Oregon told the New York Times about a note she found inside a package of Halloween decorations bought at Kmart. The same month, a New Zealander who spent time at a prison in Dongguan told the Australian Financial Review that he and his fellow inmates had been making disposable headphones for Qantas, British Airways and Emirates. In December, an American college professor was released from a detention center in Guangzhou, where he was forced to make Christmas lights and plastic component parts.

In November, China said it had closed down all the country’s lao gai, but even if this were true, forced labor is carried out in conventional prisons and much of what is produced ends up in the West.

“Whether or not the products are produced for the West, it’s certain that a lot of them would end up there because of the way supply chains work,” Maya Wang, a China researcher with Human Rights Watch, told TIME.

She points out that China hasn’t signed the International Labor Organization’s convention on forced labor, so the practice is still legal in the country. “Without a strong legal framework, it’s really easy to evade responsibility,” she says.

Meanwhile, in response to Wisinska’s discovery, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland program director Patrick Corrigan said “It’s very difficult to know whether it’s genuine, but the fear has to be that this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

TIME Aviation

It Sounds So Last Century, but Cabin Crew Are Still Hassled by Sex Pests

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Getty Images

From Coffee, Tea or Me? to The Swinging Stewardesses to the Singapore Girl. For years, books, movies and marketing campaigns have sold us the story that flight attendants are sexy girls who serve, not working men and women. Years of organizing and activism has helped alter this perception and has dramatically improved working conditions in many parts of the world. But decades after Continental promised to “move our tails for you,” there are those who still feel free to return an attendant’s smile with a wink and a leer — or even a casual grope.

Thankfully, legislation is slowly changing that. Last week, Hong Kong became the latest jurisdiction to take action on the issue after officials proposed an amendment to the territory’s sexual-harassment laws that would make sexual harassment of service providers illegal, even if it happens outside the territory. Under the Sex Discrimination (Amendment) Bill 2014, airborne sex pests would face civil action in Hong Kong courts. “Some people think they can run away from their actions — well, maybe they can’t run away anymore,” says Dora Lai, who heads the flight attendants’ union for local flag carrier Cathay Pacific. It’s a far cry from the 1970s, when the airline used to market itself with a nudge-nudge play on its code: “Try CX. You’ll like it.”

Though all this may sound like an improbable 1960s throwback, in-flight harassment is an enduring, industry-wide problem. Global stats are hard to come by because such behavior often goes unreported, or may be logged as an in-flight “incident.” But veteran flight attendants with international experience say it is a semiregular occurrence and an unfortunate fact of the job. The new rules in Hong Kong, for instance, follow a survey by Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunity Commission, which found that 27% of Hong Kong flight attendants reported being sexually harassed in the past year.

Statutory protection is a step in the right direction, but is still limited in scope. In drafting their proposal, Hong Kong officials looked to existing laws in Canada, New Zealand and Australia — a small slice of the travel pie. Some markets still lack harassment laws, many the will to enforce them. And it is notoriously tough to pursue claims against someone who may live and work elsewhere.

Part of the problem is that in-flight offenders are emboldened by a perception that they will not be called out. Airlines are certainly not the only place where this happens — creeps and criminals are universal — but there is something about flying that seems to bring it out, says Kathleen M. Barry, author of Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants. “There has always been that sense that there is something distinctive about being on an airplane, it is a space apart, away from your family, removed from normal constraints of a service relationship.”

Airline marketing has not helped. In 1974’s Sex Objects in the Sky: A Personal Account of the Stewardess Rebellion, Paula Kane observed a link between the rise of sexy ad campaigns (“Fly me”), salacious depictions of stewardesses and real-life, one-the-job harassment. Her businessmen customers felt entitled to a “pinch or a pat.” Some still do.

Today, few would venture to grab a bank teller’s breast, or to casually show a shop assistant or receptionist part of their anatomy without expecting consequences. But both still happen in-flight, cabin crew say. One Chinese employee for a German airline told me in an email how the mere act of pouring a beverage — a humdrum part of the job — prompted one passenger to joke about ejaculating on her. (Fearing repercussions at work, she asked to withhold her name.)

Flight attendants have led the charge to change the industry. Bolstered by the civil rights movement and feminist activism, workers at U.S.-based airlines successfully campaigned for an end to things like age and weight limits and the requirement that stewardesses stay single. They also fought for better pay and benefits. In doing so, they helped changed the perception that working on an aircraft is somehow not real work at all.

Current conditions vary widely across regions and carriers. The International Transport Workers’ Federation last year called out the United Arab Emirates and Qatar for “flagrant abuses” of aviation-workers’ rights (including restrictions on marriage and pregnancy). Hong Kong–headquartered Cathay Pacific has a strong and vocal union, but flight attendants in mainland China cannot organize. Major Chinese airlines still have height and age requirements. At a 2011 recruitment pageant, prospective hires had to walk a runway in swimsuits and were evaluated on the shape of their legs.

Of course, it is not really about what recruits wear, or how they look, but about power. Flight attendants could wear potato sacks and still get hassled. Stopping would-be offenders means showing passengers and staff alike that abuse will not be tolerated, says Heather Poole, an industry veteran and the author of the bestseller Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet. “There’s a reason foreign carriers like to keep their flight attendants young,” she says. In her experience, young people, who often have less job security, may be hesitant to speak up.

When, as a rookie, she was groped by a passenger in first class, she fled to the galley and did not report it. “I had just started flying, and I didn’t want to lose my job by causing a problem with an important passenger,” she recalled in an email. “I still don’t [know] who I’d go to for something like that. The union? Human resources? A 1-800 number?”

For Hong Kong–based crew, at least, the new rules may provide some help. And at least the issue is being discussed. But tackling the problem globally will require all jurisdictions, and airlines, to step up. Not to mention passengers. “I’d suggest that any person with a propensity to act out in this manner consider traveling as if their mother is sitting next to them,” Poole says. “An 18-year-old new hire may handle a situation differently than a flight attendant with 10 years’ seniority and a black belt in Taekwondo.”

Creeps: consider yourself warned.

TIME World Cup

Sao Paulo Subway Workers Declare Open-Ended Strike, Days From World Cup

Unionized subway workers in Sao Paulo Wednesday declared an open-ended strike starting Thursday, with just a week to go before the World Cup opens in Brazil.

Union leaders rejected an offer of an 8.7% pay raise from the state government, which operates the city’s subway system. They had earlier agreed to reduce their salary demand from a hike of almost 35% to 16.5%. Subway workers in Brazil make a starting salary of about $582 a month (meanwhile, the BBC reports that Sao Paolo is in the top 20 most expensive cities to live in, worldwide).

Civil unrest, from public demonstrations to strikes, has wreaked havoc across Brazil in recent weeks. Many protestors object to the country spending so much money on hosting the games in the face of widespread poverty, arguing that resources would be better allocated to help those in need.

The Sao Paulo subway strike will likely cause substantial chaos in the largest city in Brazil, where more than four million of the approximately 10 million-strong population use the subway system, The Wall Street Journal reports. The city is set to host six World Cup matches.

Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo said recently he’s “appalled” at the state of preparations for the tournament in Brazil.

TIME Japan

Japan Is Desperate to Rescue Its Economy from an Early Grave

General Images of Economy Ahead Of Nationwide Quarterly Land Price Data Release
Pedestrians cross an intersection in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. Kiyoshi Ota—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Any less than 100 million people would spell doom for the nation's economy, officials warned, while neglecting one glaringly easy fix

Japan’s battle against gray hairs took an unusual turn this week when the Ministry of Commerce set the very lowest acceptable bound for its aging population: 100 million people. Beyond this point, there lays a “crisis.”

Or so warned Akio Mimura, head of Japan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Mimura urged the government to make 100 million the official population target, backed by policies that would promote childrearing. “If we don’t do anything, an extremely difficult future will be waiting for us,” Mimura said.

His concerns are well founded. Japan has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, with each woman bearing an average of 1.4 children. At that rate, demographers project a plunge from 127 million people today to 87 million by 2060, sapping the workforce of its vital young workers and putting an enormous strain on state finances.

The shrinkage has already begun. In 2013, Japan’s population declined by a record-breaking 244,000 people.

All of which has led to some rather creative policy proposals from the Chamber of Commerce, such as retaining 70-year-old’s in the workforce, doubling government expenditures on childcare and encouraging men to ask working women out on a date.

But once again, policymakers dodged the quickest fix, namely to import workers from abroad. The island nation has an outstandingly small number of immigrants. They form less than 2% of the population, compared with a wealthy country average of 11%. Japan could triple the number of foreigners and still not approach the norm among wealthy nations.

Migrants
Source: UN Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Of course there’s a reason for policymakers’ skittishness around the issue. Immigration reform consistently takes a beating at the polls. One recent survey by Asahi Shimbun newspaper asked respondents if they would accept more immigrants to preserve “economic vitality.” Even with the positive spin, 65% opposed.

Japan Immigration Bureau’s motto is, “internationalization in compliance with the rules.” A simple rule rewrite could alleviate Japan’s demographic fix. It certainly would be easier than prodding the nation’s families to have another 13 million babies. But judging from this week’s presentation from the Chamber of Commerce, it remains politically stillborn.

 

TIME Labor

Fast-Food Strike Progress Measured in Pennies, Not Dollars

Protests at fast-food restaurants in 150 cities across the U.S. and dozens of foreign countries have earned plenty of media attention, but the impact is yet to be felt by most low-wage workers, whose paychecks still don’t amount to a living wage

Fast-food workers once again walked out on their jobs Thursday in the latest effort to boost their base pay to $15 per hour, what they call a living wage, and earn the right to form a union.

A movement that began at a New York City McDonald’s in November 2012 has ballooned to include 150 U.S. cities and dozens of foreign countries, according to Fast Food Forward, the coordinating group for the protests. The strikes have effectively generated headlines nationwide each time they’ve been organized, and placed the real-life struggles of low-wage workers in front of millions of eyes. However, the measurable results of the campaign remain small for most workers.

In terms of persuading restaurant corporations to increase their wages, progress has been glacial at best. Kendall Fells, organizing director of Fast Food Forward, was able to point to about a half-dozen instances over the past year when a fast-food chain offered raises to employees. A McDonald’s in Detroit gave all workers a 10¢ raise after a December walkout. A Dunkin’ Donuts in Hartford, Conn., offered 50¢ raises to some workers. A single worker at a Detroit Wendy’s got a $1 raise last May, the largest figure that Fells cited. There have been other minor victories at individual locations, like a Burger King in Windsor Locks, Conn., where a worker won paid sick days, or a McDonald’s in New York City that lobbied for a new air conditioner after one worker fainted last summer.

The workers who have received these small concessions are not satisfied. Daisha Mims, a 24-year-old mother who works at a Memphis McDonald’s got a 25¢ raise after joining a one-day strike last August. She got a 10¢ raise earlier this year and says she recently received a check for $210 in back pay for being forced to work off the clock and without breaks. Mims believes she deserves more, though. “It’s helping me a little bit. I was able to afford a little bit bigger place to stay,” she says. “I still feel as though I need a second job.”

On the whole, the corporations the workers are railing against are not willingly boosting wages on a large scale. They all point to their franchisee model as a reason they can’t do much about workers’ pay. “It’s important to know approximately 80% of our global restaurants are independently owned and operated by small-business owners, who are independent employers that comply with local and federal laws,” McDonald’s spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem said in an emailed statement. “Wages are set by local market conditions, job requirements and the employee’s tenure and performance.” Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Wendy’s and KFC owner Yum! Brands each issued similar statements.

Still, there are signs that the pressure of the protests is beginning to resonate in both corporate headquarters and state and city legislatures. In its annual financial report earlier this year, McDonald’s acknowledged for the first time that a long-term trend toward higher wages “may intensify with increasing public focus on matters of income inequality,” a clear nod to the strikes. Thirteen states increased their minimum wages at the start of the year by an average of 28¢, according to the National Employment Law Project. Seattle, one of the cities where the protests first erupted early last year, is planning to become the first major U.S. city with a $15-per-hour minimum wage. And President Barack Obama has directly referenced the plight of fast-food workers in his ongoing campaign to raise the federal minimum wage. “The fast-food workers have effectively been able to change the power dynamic in the industry,” says Fells. “You see the minimum wage being raised everywhere across the country.”

Labor experts have likened the one-day strikes to the organizing efforts used by everyday workers before unions came to power in the 20th century. Without the ability to unionize, fast-food workers are instead trying to get public opinion on their side. With the financial backing of the Service Employees International Union and an aggressive communications strategy devised by PR firm Berlin Rosen, fast-food employees have effectively gained awareness. The effort to gain significant raises, though, is still a work in progress. “It seems to have affected the national discourse more effectively than I thought it would,” Jeff Cowie, a professor of labor history at Cornell University, told TIME during the last set of large strikes in December. “People might be scoffing on Fox News about a $15 hourly wage for fast-food workers, but they’re talking about it.”

TIME Companies

JetBlue Pilots Vote to Unionize

After previously rejecting bids to unionize, the airline's pilots voted in favor of joining the Air Line Pilots Association, "so that we have the ability to improve our professional careers," co-chairs of JetBlue's organizing committee said

JetBlue Airways pilots overwhelmingly voted in favor of joining the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the union announced on Tuesday.

The majority of JetBlue’s roughly 2,600 pilots took part in the vote, and 71% voted in favor of joining the ALPA. The move comes after JetBlue pilots previously voted against unionization in 2009 and 2011, the New York Times reports.

The pilots are the first employees to unionize at JetBlue, which was founded in 1998. The ALPA is the world’s largest pilot union and represents nearly 50,000 pilots in the U.S. and Canada.

“Today, JetBlue pilots have voted for ALPA representation so that we have the ability to improve our professional careers,” captains Rocky Durham and Gustavo Rivera, co-chairs of the JetBlue Organizing Committee, said in a statement. “As committed as we are to our objectives, we also want to work with management to ensure we continue to contribute positively to JetBlue’s success. We believe in JetBlue and look forward to helping make this company one of the best in the industry.”

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