Finding business angles in the Labor Day story

by August 30, 2010

By Flickr user Pacerboy4

The national holiday which celebrates the American worker is a natural news peg for business writers, especially with the ailing jobs market a top-of-mind topic amid our stumbling economic recovery.

And as the unofficial end to summer, the first Monday in September is a milestone for the travel industry, for purveyors of back-to-school goods, movie theaters, temp firms and more.

For non-seasonal businesses, the weeks after Labor Day mark the start of a sort of phantom new fiscal year, when matters postponed “because half the staff is on vacation” are taken up and a faster tempo dominates offices, labs and other workplaces.  Will this uptick translate into faster hiring decisions, more orders placed, more bids submitted and more product churned out at the major employers in your region?

Here’s the U.S. Department of Labor’s history of Labor Day sheet, fyi, which notes that “It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.)

And here’s a new Census Bureau fact sheet that’s a bonanza of story ideas complete with links to pertinent government statistics.  The factoids range from the number of independent contractors (are your area firms sending out more 1099s and fewer W-2s this coming January?) to information about wages, hot jobs and “extreme commutes.”

One story well worth exploring is the number of workers holding down two or more jobs – which according to this Bureau of Labor Statistics report is actually lower than in the mid-1990s, despite our high percentage of underemployed workers today.  The BLS report includes a state-by-state breakdown and map – but it’s based on 2008 data, so you might want to attempt to update it by quizzing your state’s workforce commission, local economists, staffing firms and others.

Unions are a traditional focus of Labor Day stories, whether the focus be declining membership and clout or the unions’ influence on the coming mid-term elections.  These stories may be routine but rest assured they’re of major interest to many readers, especially if any contracts are coming expiring soon or if any unions have made concessions that affect wages for new hires or other protection.  It’s also a good time to bolster your relationship with union sources, who often are a conduit to developments you otherwise wouldn’t hear about at the companies you cover.

The National Labor Relations Board posts a weekly summary of actions on its website; it’s fascinating reading and there’s enough fodder here that you might find a local issue worth writing about, from problems with a  heavy equipment makers’ prescription plan to union-election difficulties to wrongful termination grievances.

Another angle:  Find some small, quirky or obscure labor unions in your area; they might lead to interesting career stories, occupational profiles or just a piece about the ins and outs of forming and running a small guild or labor union.  There are many directories online but I found this one at Unions.org to be the most useful; typed in my ZIP code and got more than 700 viable hits, including such interesting possibilities as theatrical and stage employees unions, needle trades, musicians, boilermakers and more.

Meanwhile, Labor Day weekend is the final important travel milestone of the summer.  Lobbying groups for hoteliers and other tourism-dependent industries are urging state legislatures to mandate post-Labor Day school start dates, as noted in this Arizona Daily Star piece. Elsewhere, like here in Michigan, such legislation already has passed.

Does it help the travel industry?  This 2008 report from Tennessee posits about a $200 million spending boost and nearly 3,000 jobs would be generated by a post-Labor Day school start.  Read the report; it’ll help you generate questions for your tourism industry officials and consumers.  Aside from hotels, restaurants and attractions, query casinos, locally headquartered or hubbed airlines, bus lines, charter coach companies, cab companies and more about their end-of-summer trade.  Don’t forget behind-the-scenes companies like food suppliers.