Was 2021 the year of the worker?


Have you ever had a job you hated so much that you fantasized about quitting in the middle of your day or shift?

I know I have. I have left jobs before, of course, but never just, “That’s it … I quit!” I suppose I am just a little too cautious. Some places I have worked have deserved it. But thankfully the last time I worked at a place that bad was 25 years ago.

We all have had terrible jobs that we were forced to keep because we needed money to live. We have all had jobs we actually enjoyed too, but felt we deserved more than our employer was giving us. We felt at the mercy of our paymasters, and they took full advantage of it.

We see this all the time. How many people do you know who work long, hard hours but aren’t really compensated that well for that work? I know a few, sadly. And it seems to me that the life/work balance my parents had has shifted. More work, less life.

Well, that started to change last year in what many have referred to as the “Great Resignation.” Last year saw a huge number of people leaving their jobs. Some for other jobs, but for many they simply left the job market.

Many people assumed it was simply “lazy” millennials leaving jobs so they could get unemployment. That was not the case. Turns out that many older workers, a bit older than me, took early retirement or simply left the job market.

The pandemic led to many changes in the workforce. More people were working from home, essential workers were putting in many hours and people lost their jobs when businesses closed. Eventually, many just got tired of the work environment, pay or unreasonable demands from employers and simply quit.

The biggest losers in the resignation trend included restaurants, hotels, retail and transportation. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant can tell you it is fast-paced difficult work at times. And retail can also mean many hours dealing with rude people for not a lot of pay. During the pandemic, some workers complained about customers refusing to follow store rules and mask up. They felt it was a threat to their health so they quit. I have read many stories about that happening.

But it really comes down to pay. This is something we have been arguing about in this country for ages. How much is enough? How much is too much? As the CEOs of the world have seen their pay grow by huge leaps and bounds – while their tax burden has been eased significantly – many have complained about front line workers even getting a living wage.

People say that minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage. That could be true, but the days of teens filling many minimum wage jobs is gone. Now adults are filling those jobs – and often have more than one to support a family.

But in many areas wages are increasing. And that is thanks to labor unions, which saw significant gains last year. In fact, a fairly recent Gallop poll has shown labor unions are now more popular than ever. Americas workers seem to be getting tired of putting in crazy hours for little pay and, sometimes, no benefits.

They are saying enough is enough.

Now, I have never been a member of a union, but I am thankful they exist. They have done great things for all workers. Strong unions can help all of us.

Look, I understand that higher wages can mean increased prices. But we have seen increased prices even with no wage increases. Material costs go up, insurance costs, heating, cooling, rent – you name it. When you run a business, costs go up.

When those costs go up, businesses at times have to adjust prices. We all understand that to be the case, but it only seems to bother some people when it comes to wages.

Will the resignations continue? Time will tell, but I think things will level out. I do think that workers now have a bit more power than they did before, and they are – and should – taking advantage of that.

Now if we could just get everyone to pay their fair share of taxes…