Five New Story Angles For Labor Day

by August 31, 2015
DOT steel workers

Washinton State Steelworkers build the rebar frame of a Seattle highway. Photo via Washington State Dept. of Transportation on Flickr

Leading up to Labor Day, chances are we’ll see lots of coverage of barbecues, back to school and blowout sales. But don’t forget that Labor Day is about those who work.

According to University of Chicago scholar Chad Broughton, Labor Day began in 1882 as a protest by workers in New York City. Organized labor rallied for workplace protections such as the eight-hour workday and an end to child labor.

Here are story ideas you can dive into for Labor Day:

1. The Department of Labor might drastically expand who is covered by overtime regulation this fall.

Any employee earning more than $23,660 annually and whose duties fall under the “white-collar exemption” is not covered by overtime pay protections. The Department of Labor is proposing to more than double that salary threshold to $50,440.

If it changes the regulation, any employee who earns less than $50,440 would be automatically be eligible for “time and a half” for any hours over 40 they work.

The change will affect payroll for companies of all sizes. Up to 5 million workers (bank tellers, retail department managers and restaurant managers, for instance) may be eligible to start receiving overtime pay, according to the Department of Labor.

The department is collecting comments from workers, businesses and associations until Sept. 4. It is set to review this input before issuing a final decision about the proposal.

For story ideas, look into how changes to overtime regulations might affect workers in your community. Also, inquire how the ruling might affect local small businesses. Interview economists about the potential impact on the greater regional economy.

2. Is paternity leave the next big update to workplace standards?

The U.S. is the only industrialized nation without a paid parental leave law. Only 11 percent of workers are covered by any paid family leave policies, according to a 2014 report from the White House. Advocates are calling for better state and federal parental leave policies, which would require private employers to provide paid leave. Some companies (and the U.S. armed forces) are leading the way for paternity leave. In July, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps tripled paid maternity leave for servicewomen from six weeks to 18 weeks. Army and Air Force officials are reportedly reviewing their policies as well. Netflix made news in August for changing their policy to provide up to a year of paid time off.

Follow state and local debates around proposed legislation of paid parental leave policies. Or, profile the needs of working women, men and families.

3. Track local labor and employment trends using the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The BLS is a resource for data-driven stories about employment, worker productivity, and pay and benefits. For instance, the BLS releases unemployment numbers monthly. This month, that report is scheduled to come out on the Friday before Labor Day.

BLS provides tools such as “Economy at Glance” which breaks down the statistics it collects by region, state and also locality. This means you can see non-farm employment data from the last six months in Tulsa or find a report about the compensation changes in Los Angeles.

Getting started reporting on data can be daunting. The Reynolds Center recorded a two-part webinar on Data Journalism that will help you dive right in.

4. Profile workers on Labor Day.

Many retail operations are open throughout the weekend with massive sales. In recent years, reporters have covered the implications of the sales on companies’ bottom lines. Here’s one such story from Forbes last fall.

With the growing importance of these holiday weekend sales events, many retail-sector workers will be working on Labor Day.

Which incentives are employers providing workers stuck on the sales floor over the holiday weekend? How do workers respond to their schedules? How do they celebrate around their Labor Day weekend work schedules?

Conversely, Labor Day often marks the end of seasonal operations and businesses that are driven by summer tourism. Many seasonal employees will be out of work on or after Labor Day. Interview employees from public parks and pools, beaches and seasonal theme parks about their work and what’s next for them.

5. Feature local or regional Department of Labor offices and highlight their services.

Each state’s Department of Labor offices provide services directly to workers and to those who are unemployed. Residents can visit local or state offices for unemployment services, workplace complaints and information about their rights.

There are also regional offices in cities across the country with special programming and trainings. Feature Department of Labor programming, services or events so readers know about the resources and services in your community.