Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Merit Badge of the Week: American Labor

"American Labor" refers to the working people of our country. We often hear that America has the finest and most productive workforce in the world.

They even have their own holiday: Labor Day.

Our workforce is important enough to warrant a seat with the President of the United States. The Department of Labor is an important Cabinet position.

This falls squarely in the "duty to self" category--labor is how we take care of ourselves, our families and our communities.

You will hear and read many points of view regarding labor, management and the role of labor unions in America. People can be very passionate about this subject.

1,060 American Labor merit badges were awarded in 2007, out of 1.89 million. (BSA Fact Sheet)

In the American Labor merit badge, you will learn about worker's issues and concerns; visit a labor organization; explore and explain the functions of a labor union; review the history of organized labor; investigate the impact of globalization in the US and the world; argue both the management and employee sides of an issue; understand the goals of all parties in a business--clients, owners, employees; and finally, become aware of the career opportunities in labor relations.

The latest American Labor merit badge requirements from the BSA:

1. Using resources available to you, learn about working people and work-related concerns. List and briefly describe or give examples of at least EIGHT concerns of American workers. These may include, but are not limited to, working conditions, workplace safety, hours, wages, seniority, job security, equal-opportunity employment and discrimination, guest workers, automation and technologies that replace workers, unemployment, layoffs, outsourcing, and employee benefits such as health care, child care, profit sharing, and retirement benefits.

2. With your counselor's and parent's approval and permission, visit the office or attend a meeting of a local union, a central labor council, or an employee organization, or contact one of these organizations via the Internet. Then do EACH of the following:
A) Find out what the organization does.
B) Share the list of issues and concerns you made for requirement 1. Ask the people you communicate with which issues are of greatest interest or concern to them and why.
C) Draw a diagram showing how the organization is structured, from the local to the national level, if applicable.

3. Explain to your counselor what labor unions are, what they do, and what services they provide to members. In your discussion, show that you understand the concepts of labor, management, collective bargaining, negotiation, union shops, open (nonunion) shops, grievance procedures, mediation, arbitration, work stoppages, strikes, and lockouts.

4. Explain what is meant by the adversarial model of labor-management relations, compared with a cooperative-bargaining style.

5. Do ONE of the following:
A) Develop a time line of significant events in the history of the American labor movement from the 1770s to the present.
B) Prepare an exhibit, a scrapbook, or a computer presentation, such as a slide show, illustrating three major achievements of the American labor movement and how those achievements affect American workers.
C) With your counselor's and parent's approval and permission, watch a movie that addresses organized labor in the United States. Afterward, discuss the movie with your counselor and explain what you learned.
D) Read a biography (with your counselor's approval) of someone who has made a contribution to the American labor movement. Explain what contribution this person has made to the American labor movement.

6. Explain the term globalization. Discuss with your counselor some effects of globalization on the workforce in the United States. Explain how this global workforce fits into the economic system of this country.

7. Choose a labor issue of widespread interest to American workers--an issue in the news currently or known to you from your work on this merit badge. Before your counselor, or in writing, argue both sides of the issue, first taking management's side, then presenting labor's or the employee's point of view. In your presentation, summarize the basic rights and responsibilities of employers and employees, including union members and nonunion members.

8. Discuss with your counselor the different goals that may motivate the owners of a business, its stockholders, its customers, its employees, the employees' representatives, the community, and public officials. Explain why agreements and compromises are made and how they affect each group in achieving its goals.

9. Learn about opportunities in the field of labor relations. Choose one career in which you are interested and discuss with your counselor the major responsibilities of that position and the qualifications, education, and training such a position requires.

Resource List:

Always start with Introduction to Merit Badges for the steps to a successful merit badge.
Worksheet on American Labor from This is a great tool to organize your work, projects and thoughts.
Origins of Labor Day.
The US Department of Labor brings you YouthRules!, a gateway to state laws, hours teens can work, and more.
US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a website--your rights and responsibilities.
Wikipedia: Labor Unions in the United States
Labor issues from the AFL-CIO--there is a lot of material here, linked to more data.
The AFL-CIO also has a clickable map for state and local union contact information.
Globalization from the point of view of: the International Monetary Fund, the International Forum on Globalization, and useful links at
Labor Movies: Definitely heed the "approval" requirement in 5C! This list is extensive, and includes widely known works in the field such as Norma Rae and Grapes of Wrath.
Collective Bargaining--quite a lot from (especially the Business Encyclopedia entry)
Related BSA merit badges: American Business and Entrepreneurship

Do you have a resource for the American Labor merit badge? Please let me know via email or the comments below.

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