Work till you drop

When the smoke cleared May 1, 1886, 11 people had died in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. More than 100 were injured, and more than 100 were placed under arrest by Chicago police. What had begun as a peaceful rally for the establishment of an eight-hour workday had ended in tragedy as an unknown person threw a bomb at the police as they sought to disperse the meeting.

Congressman Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is probably not familiar with this story, or with the countless others that involve workers fighting and dying for the eight-hour workday, as he recently introduced legislation that would end overtime pay and allow workers to instead substitute overtime pay for paid time off.

What’s so bad about that?

Cantor’s bill allows this paid time off as a substitute “if such use does not unduly disrupt the employers’ operations,” meaning that you very likely won’t ever see a minute of that paid time off because your employer would be able to tell you when you would be able to use that deferred compensation.

Am I saying that you probably wouldn’t ever see the promised time off, that your boss would go out of his or her way to avoid giving you it? Absolutely.

Not only is unpaid overtime compensation a chronic problem in the US (lawsuits seeking lost wages increased 32 percent from 2009 to 2011), but Washington seems intent on making it easier for your boss to do as he or she pleases.

In a 219-209 vote, the House voted on April 12 to make it nigh impossible for the National Labor Relations Board, the body tasked with enforcing labor law and providing workers with an outlet for redress of grievances, to operate.

President Barack Obama will no doubt veto this measure and the measure introduced by Congressman Cantor as well. That’s assuming these measures even make it that far, which is doubtful with the Senate in Democratic hands. But it is important that these things be shown the light of day, because there won’t always be someone opposed to them in the White House and a majority opposed to them in the Senate.

One day, there could be a President and a Senate majority that favor ending overtime pay and that favor hamstringing the NLRB.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the day to come where I’ll be at the mercy of my boss because the institutions that protect us as employees have been repealed or made impotent.

Next Wednesday will mark the 127th anniversary of the Haymarket Square massacre. Is this an anniversary that should be marked by the end of the eight-hour day?

Our forebearers were shot, stabbed, beaten and yes, killed because they dared to ask “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what we will.”

We would be nothing but cowards if we allowed their deaths to be in vain.

Column by Devin Griggs, opinion editor. Devin serves as president of the Murray State College Democrats.