Labor Day usually marks the end of summer and a return to the busy demands of life. Since its adoption by Congress in 1894, it has been a time for families to celebrate a break from their busy work lives, attend parades, barbecue and relax together.
Congress adopting Labor Day in 1894 is hardly coincidental.
Labor and political parties have an interesting relationship in the United States. While other countries have political parties focused entirely on labor practices, the relationship between labor and political parties in the United States is far more complex.
The two-party system we see today took root long before any major labor disputes arose on a large scale in the United States, and political discourse in the mid-nineteenth century hardly ever focused solely on labor.
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Historian Fredrick Jackson Turner theorized in 1893 as part of his “Frontier Thesis” that many large-scale labor disputes didn’t arise as long as families were able to pick up and move west. If a worker were unhappy with his job, wages or work conditions, he would simply relocate or seek out a plot of his own land.
Turner’s theory associates the rise of labor laws and industry regulation with the end of the American Frontier. The beginning of many laws, labor groups and even the establishment of the Labor Day holiday seem to hover closely around the year 1890 – when the U.S. Census officially declared the American Frontier closed.
Political parties started taking a stronger interest in labor laws and regulation of production around nearly the same time. The early 20th Century saw dozens of important advancements including the “Fair Labor Standards of Act of 1938” (FLSA), which was a federal statute that, among other worker protections, introduced the 40-hour workweek.
As regulations, government and bureaucracy grew through the 20th century, however, our infrastructure began to crumble and jobs for development projects began to disappear.
It’s not uncommon today for projects to sit in limbo awaiting hundreds of permits, reviews, studies and votes.
In California today, we have some of the most stringent and suffocating regulations in the nation. Even in San Luis Obispo County, we regularly have dozens of development projects and infrastructure opportunities that could employ hundreds, but are burdened and often killed before they even begin.
According to a 2013 article in the The Tribune, the San Luis Obispo City Planning Department had received 131 building and permit applications by mid-2013 and anticipated the number would grow to as many as 262 applications by the end of the year. While it is likely they were a mixture of commercial and residential, it’s unlikely they were approved quickly and without costly and burdensome red tape.
Recently, a 700-home Avila Ranch housing project proposed in south San Luis Obispo continues to face roadblocks and environmental concerns despite the city’s admitted desperate need for more housing. The land has been designated for residential use for at least several years.
Nearly two-thirds of the proposed 700 units would be reserved for working-class families. Issues surrounding the project seem to be environmental concerns, traffic congestion and inconsistencies with the local airport safety plan. The project’s initial development plan appears to have addressed these concerns, but the project remains on hold while a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is compiled. The Final EIR isn’t expected until at least next summer.
While these studies are understandable and important to mitigate impact while construction is happening, the timeline for completion is absurd. This is a project that could provide jobs and affordable housing to working families, but has been tied up in red tape and bureaucracy since its inception.
Once projects are approved, the battle isn’t over. Fines, fees and overregulation often burden developments and infrastructure project throughout construction. Even private, minor residential projects can be subject to costly and unnecessary fines and fees.
Recently a San Luis Obispo City resident noted in The Tribune the difficulties he had with the city when they requested plan changes to a residential project, then rescinded and subsequently reinstated a 2012 building permit – all of these causing numerous expenses and delays on a project ongoing since 2012.
While this instance was only minor, the budgets for some larger projects are not limitless as many might assume. Minor fines cost money and delays in construction can have a ripple effect on the surrounding community and small businesses.
When a developer must pay fines and fees instead of pay a worker, our people suffer.
Many pro-regulation supporters might cite our seemingly low unemployment rate as a reason for slow development in our county. San Luis Obispo County’s 4.9 percent unemployment rate is very misleading. The jobs touted for keeping unemployment so low are actually part-time jobs, meaning that many in our community are under-employed and struggling to make ends meet.
Major projects, housing developments and maintenance of our roads, bridges and infrastructure are vital to our community. Not only do they keep us safe and provide us places to live, they also provide working family jobs. Yet year after year they become harder to bring to fruition.
This Labor Day, take a moment to reflect on the jobs that keep our community and families thriving. We must hold our elected officials accountable to us and stop the suffocating regulations. And as projects arise that can bring head-of-household jobs and truly help our community, we must not be afraid to stand up and fight for them to stay alive.