The U.S. Workplace. Not Bah Humbug!

Workers in the United States have much to be grateful for when compared with the rest of the world.

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Marty Nemko
Marty Nemko
If you've been following this Bah Humbug series, you'll note that this Scrooge has been quite curmudgeonly and getting worse.

But perhaps because Christmas is nigh, this Scrooge, like Dickens's, has found a bit of Christmas spirit in his heart as he gazes upon the American workplace.

It's easy to find fault with the American workplace, notably that ever more jobs are being reduced to part-time/temp/crappy pay/no benefits. Indeed, Financial Sense reports that family income in real dollars is down to its lowest level since 1995.

But the U.S. workplace also offers much to be grateful for, especially compared with the rest of the world.

Most American workplaces have heat, even air-conditioning. We take for granted the availability of reliable technology: from electricity to phone to Internet. All but the smallest workplaces have usually followed rules of conduct plus procedures to deal with grievances.

Most American employers subsidize health care for their workers with or without ObamaCare. And there's worker's compensation, Social Security, Medicare, sick days, vacation days, the Family and Medical Leave Act (paid leave in California and New Jersey) the Americans with Disabilities Act, plus rights against wrongful termination, sexual harassment, etc.

Even though American wages are declining, the average per capita income of $38,000 is still well above the worldwide average of $18,000. And few of you would trade your salary with that of the average Bangladeshi. An NPR report notes that Pope Francis called wages in Bangladesh akin to "slave labor." What are those wages? About $50 a month.

Speaking of Bangladesh, in April, 400 people died when a building in Savar that housed garment factories collapsed. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that in just the last few months of 2012, faulty wiring, short circuits, etc., caused 17 conflagrations in clothing factories, including one in which 111 people died. A 2006 study, "Global estimates of occupational accidents," found that the U.S. worker accident rate was one-fifth that of Bangladesh's and less than half the rate in China and India.

Inadvertent worker injury is one thing, deliberate injury is another. In a separate article, Bloomberg Businessweek reports rampant beatings of illegal immigrant workers in Saudi Arabia, including with machetes. Some Americans aren't fans of illegal immigration to the U.S., but there aren't reports of macheteing.

While union membership is declining in the United States, it's not because police are shooting at striking members. That, however, did occur last year in South Africa. In the U.S., unions continue to extract impressive salaries and benefit deals for, for example, blue-collar workers (AFL-CIO), basic service providers (SEIU), government employees (for example, the National Federation of Federal Employees) and teachers (AFT). Particularly impressive, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average salary for an elementary school teacher on Long Island, N.Y. is $82,050 plus summers and lots of other vacation time off, full benefits and job security for life after just two years. Cross the country and in low-cost-of-living Fresno, Calif., it's $70,710.

Let us not forget about Latin America. While farm workers here may make low salaries, they are paid regularly and rarely are forced to live in corrugated metal shacks. That's not the case just south of the U.S. border, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.

So as we approach Christmas and its core value of gratitude, even this Scrooge suggests we might offer a little good cheer to the American employer. Think about who's really been naughty and nice. And with that, may you have a merry whatever you choose to celebrate.

Editor's note: Next Monday, Marty offers his Scroogish career and workplace predictions for 2014.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach." His latest books are How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. He writes weekly for as well as for More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on