Relearning Labor Lessons

The first of May is a common workers' holiday, according to labor scholars, because it was once the most common day for strikes and other labor protests. PeopleSoft management, take note.

The first of May is a common workers holiday, according to labor scholars, because it was once the most common day for strikes and other labor protests. PeopleSoft management, take note.

In 1500s Europe, warm spring weather lowered living costs at the same time that new building projects were likely to get under way. Workers were tempted to assert themselves when their Aprils-end pay was in their pockets.

More recently, May 1 marked American labor activists call for institution of an 8-hour day in 1886. Ironically, workers at PeopleSoft found this May Day marked by their companys return to whats now considered an archaic 8-hour discipline, with tightened flextime rules and a reduction of telecommuting arrangements.

PeopleSoft spokesman Steve Swasey had the thankless chore of defending this retrograde maneuver. I couldnt begin to follow his logic when he said that flexible policies "work great when you have a couple of hundred employees" but that theyre not practical for a labor force of 8,000. "The company cannot be managed as a startup," Swasey said.

Well, I agree. A startup requires constant communication among a small group of people who arent doing anything else. By contrast, a going concern with thousands of workers can afford round-the-clock support to keep the e-mail moving, pay the bills and file the tax returns—while everyone else does the companys actual business besides also living real lives.

Information processing is the means by which most office workers add value. The technology has never been cheaper. An economic downturn is the time to accelerate policies that reduce hours lost in traffic and days lost to meeting family demands while giving workers time that they value at least as much as money.