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Whistle while you work (or at least hum a nice tune)

OUt of My Head

Posted: August 30, 2008 9:54 p.m.
Updated: November 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.

As a kid I often wondered, “If it’s called ‘Labor Day,’ how come everyone gets to be off work?”

It’s not like Mother’s or Father’s Day, when we show love and gratitude to the folks who brought us into this world and continue to house and feed us.

Nor is it like Veterans’ Day or Memorial Day, when, beyond all the hot dogs, hamburgers and flag waving, we’re expected to pay homage to our country’s brave military, past and present.

So what are we really celebrating here besides an end-of-summer reason to party?

It’s about work.

But what’s so special about that?

A bit of history
Always held on the first Monday in September, Labor Day was a late 1800s creation of the labor movement. It was planned in accordance with the Central Labor Union and dedicated to the social and economic achievements of those hard-toiling, progress- (and survival-) minded American workers. Known as the “workingman’s holiday,” Labor Day was created as a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

These were tough, industrious folks, the working backbone of our nation — people who plumbed our buildings, filled our factories, and created our infrastructure. They busted their backs to support their families, build their American dream, and if they were really successful, sent money back to the Old Country for helping relatives left behind.

Without a unionized voice, many were exploited, overworked and underpaid. I know that to some folks, the mere mention of the word “union” instantaneously evokes a negative reaction — similar to hearing nails on a blackboard, or seeing photographs of Karl Marx and his marching Socialist band.

But to me, a proud former member of two unions (first, Service Employees International, then, United Nurses Association), I believe that unions will always play a valuable role in society.

Given the timeless propensity for certain individuals to take scandalous advantage of underlings while ensuring their own profits, what laborer wouldn’t want such protection?

Speaking of labor ...
When it comes to labor, a.k.a., work, something that troubles me is the fact that so many workers seem to be unhappy or unfulfilled in their jobs, and they have the detached attitudes and poor performance to show it.

Many people seem so indifferent about their work. Making customers happy is not high among their goals. However, taking timely coffee breaks, talking on cell phones, gazing out the store window, and receiving a weekly paycheck are.

These are the employees who give out the wrong information and don’t care enough to determine what’s right. They disconnect you after you’ve been waiting on the phone for many minutes, and even insult you if you suggest their service is inadequate.

They’re the ones who flatly look at you when you ask for assistance then say, “I dunno. I don’t work in that department.” From clocking-in to lunch time to 5 p.m., it’s all one big WAIT.

Is this laziness? A sense of entitlement? Apathy? Did no one ever talk to them about service, a work ethic, and devotion to something more rewarding than Abercrombie and Fitch?  Do they not realize that work is what we have to do throughout our adult lives, so we’d better do it well and adjust our attitudes?

Thank you
Once upon a time in the workplace, people who genuinely wanted to be of service were the norm. Not that they don’t exist today; I know they are plenty of people out there who make quality and customer satisfaction their top priority. To those I say today, thank you!

Thank you, for more than satisfactorily performing what’s described in your job description, and making my day a little easier.  

Thank you for caring enough to make sure I got what I asked for at the market, for not pressing the disconnect button when you were supposed to transfer me, for taking your job seriously enough to know that customer service is supposed to be the rule.

Now, getting back to unions and what gives them a bad rap in many people’s minds. Some of our country’s seemingly less-than-stellar employees happen to be union members.

Owing to their union umbrella, there are a number of hoops their bosses must jump through to penalize or fire them. While that situation is a frustrating one, it does not diminish the need for unions. Nor does it lessen the obligation for managers to conscionably treat all of their workers with respect and dignity.

This Labor Day, we should be grateful that we even have jobs in this economy. We should obsess less on how work impacts our daily lives and more about how we impact others by our collective actions.

A smile, the knowledge you’ve done something well, the satisfaction of knowing you have treated another human being the same way you want to be treated — they make for intrinsic rewards that far transcend job benefits. To me, these are truest fruits of our labor.

It’s not about how you make a living, but how you live your life.

Diana Sevanian is a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own opinion and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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