Sausage and Eggs for Breakfast


Meat packing, Chicago [photo credit: wikipedia:

You enjoy many rights in the workplace given to you by people’s blood, sweat, and tears. Now’s an interesting time to discuss this subject, because in a difficult economy we often give back many rights in order to keep jobs. Still, you need to know what your rights are in any employment situation you might encounter. This is critical. You, as an informed worker will then be in a position to choose to exercise your rights. Not every worker does, but there comes a time where you might choose to–your health, safety, or safety of others might be at stake. I’ve worked for a good long time. I’ve seen many people choose silence for economic security. I’ve seen others leave their jobs just to make a statement and fix things that needed reform. It’s a courageous thing to do.

Enjoy this three-minute excerpt from Upton Sinclair’s 1906 exposé, “The Jungle.” Go ahead, pull out a snack and beverage if you’ve brought it. Maybe some sausage and eggs… (Here’s the full text of the book along with the Spark Notes. There are no Thug Notes for this book). This book made it all the way up to the ears of President Teddy (“Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick” ) Roosevelt. At first, he dismissed it as Socialist nonsense, but sent labor commish Charles Neill to investigate. They found the claims to be true. Perhaps they cared for the workers or maybe they were revolted because they had sausage and eggs for breakfast, but soon enough the Federal Meat Inspection Act  and the Pure Food and Drug Act (sorry guys, no more laudinum, heroin, and opium in your cough syrup or soda) in 1906, Congress, (who must’ve been awake that day) passed some of the most epic legislation of the Progressive Era.

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911 resulted in 146 deaths, but it raised awareness for safety in factories resulting in some of the improvements workers–maybe you–enjoy today. Rhode Island’s own Zachariah Allen was a leader in safety. As a textile mill owner, no one wanted to see fires less than him. He innovated many safety features, such as the fire door, sat on the town council when Providence got its first fire truck. Eventually, he helped found Providence Mutual Fire Insurance Company. He was angry that his rates were so high after all that safety innovation (rates should reflect risks) and went on to found his own companies that took risk and safety into account. Sadly, he went bankrupt on the Panic of 1857. Nice guys finish last.

After World War II, the US began to see a whole different direction in worker’s rights as the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act tied workers’ hands, making striking illegal, leading to one of the largest strikes in US history, the 95 day Longshoreman’s Strike of 1948.

Critical Thoughts and Questions:

1. After looking through these links and assets, what rights do you enjoy now that weren’t there at the onset of American labor history?

2. Show how these key events, movements, and situations in American history defined how we consider labor law today.

3. “Companies must make profits. Workers accept jobs freely.” or “Government must be able to regulate industries and protect workers.” Which is true? Find examples from history and present day.




You work. You pay taxes. Then…You Work Some More.

You spend your entire life waiting to be an adult, and when that moment comes, you determine life stinks. You’ve got bills to pay, and entry-level jobs may involve burgers and fries. There are many good jobs, too.

If you plan on working for a living rather than sitting on a couch watching Netflix, labor law is a great area to dig into. You’ll want to become familiar with some of the government agencies and regulations that keep you safe and help you to know your rights.

The US Department of Labor regulates all things that have to do with hiring, firing, and working. These laws come to you courtesy of 100 years of US history, from the industrial period to present. Activists, labor unions, and grassroots movements have fought for things like the 40 hour workweek, time and a half wages for overtime and certain conditions, and other key employee rights. The Department of Labor protects employers, too.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration falls under the Dept of Labor.  OSHA is responsible for reducing industrial and workplace accidents throughout the nation.

Critical questions: 

Which regulations and laws protect you as an employee? How? Are there any that hinder you?

How do you navigate the system if you encounter a labor situation that needs resolution? Which laws apply, and how do get through the red tape.

Where do you see employees making changes to labor laws in the news today?

What are some unique situations where labor law might apply to special groups such as teens, older people, or people of different races, religions, or ethnicities?

Hand Over Your Money…It’s College Time


I’m sorry. I don’t like to shout at you. It’s not very polite. One trend I’m seeing in our economics classes is of the people who intend to go to college 80% of you have no idea where or why. It’s like someone said you had to do something after high school but you were never sure what. The first week of class was dedicated to setting SMART goals.

College is one of the most expensive purchases you will make. Yes, that’s right. Purchases. Investments. Emptying of your wallet, depending on your perspective.

The jury’s out on this one, folks. Many economists are conflicted. Some say you should go to college right away because you will have increased earning potential. Others say the thousand plus percent increase in the cost of college over the last decade cancels out that benefit, and entrepreneurship is the way–find a mentor, network, and research to get into your field.

I’m going to stand in the middle on this one. For some of you, college is a must. I don’t want my neurosurgeon apprenticing and googling the answers. Sorry. But then again, there are, in fact, some degrees that are worth more than others. Take a look at this graph. This shows there are many more people than jobs for mathematics and computer science degrees. Sadly, it shows my field as the one with very few jobs and a surplus of degrees.

What does this mean?

1. Research your colleges. In order to do this, you should have a spreadsheet. I made one for you. You can cut and paste this into a working spreadsheet in your google drive, this one’s read-only. Feel free to add or subtract columns for things you value, like clubs or athletics.

2. Know the deadlines. They come up quick. You should be reviewing your spreadsheet for deadlines.

3. Narrow down colleges to a “yes,no,maybe” column. If possible, visit colleges on the likely list.

4. Look at the $$$$ column. Pay attention to scholarships and deadlines for scholarships. There are a ton of scholarships in areas you might not think about–corporate, ethnic, religious, gender, or experience-based scholarships. This requires research, application time, and hard work. It’s a part time job.

5. Fill out your FAFSA. This is the form that goes to colleges telling how much financial need your family has. Do this immediately after your family files their taxes. Some aid is first-come-first served. Being early helps here.

6. Don’t decide based on one factor. You have to be able to pay for the college once all the aid comes in. Sure, I’d like to own a Ferrari, but it doesn’t make sense. I’m broke, and my neighborhood gets snow. Potholes alone rule out the Ferrari. college is not an emotion based decision. IT’S AN ECONOMIC ONE. Sorry. I’m screaming again.

7. Think outside the box. I can’t recommend the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps program enough. The military, if you qualify, will pay for your degree(s) and give you a commission as an officer. In an economy where many qualified people are in debt and underemployed, it’s a reassuring thing to get out of college loan free with a guaranteed job. Again, you’ll need to attend to every detail in the application process, which is coming up quick.

Know Your Rights

What are your rights as a consumer? We often look at consumer protections in terms of things like the lemon law or product safety, but they go deeper than that.

You will come upon a situation where you need redress. You’ll need to be able to know how to pursue a complaint professionally.  

1. Which agency do I use?

2. What do I really want as far as indemnification (being put back in the position I was in before the situation occurred)?

3. What’s the correct–and kindest–way to get this resolved?

Think of as many situations you know where a product was unsafe, not what you expect, a company didn’t do the right thing, or you found you got the short end of the stick. Sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but often it’s the smooth operator who gets the job done. 

Research as many government protection agencies as you can, and what they currently handle as far as protecting consumers. Remember, this is what your tax dollars pay for. We’ll discuss their role in society… and oh yeah, taxes, too. You got to pay The Man if you expect to have protections under the government. 


Resource: Chapter 1 outline from the official economics book has lists of consumer protection agencies, but these change constantly. Know that you must research to see what divisions and agencies will be handling your complaint. 


What’s the Definition of Freedom?

What is your definition of freedom? Freedom of speech? Thought? Privacy? 

Freedom to make a living? 

In order to discuss the law, we need to identify what freedoms you think it should give you. We can trace this all the way back to American constitutional history, where the Founding Fathers nailed down documents that gave you the ideas you now have about freedom. Let’s put this in context, by taking a quick look at the Constitution of the United States.

Critical questions: 

1. What were the original freedoms you see in the Constitution?

2. Who were they for?

3. Were they applied equally?

4. Were they ever intended to be applied equally?

5. When did each oppressed group get it’s freedom? 

6. What are specific freedoms listed in the Constitution?

7. Are there any freedoms you enjoy and take for granted that you can’t find in that document?

8. Are we missing any specific mentions of freedom as you see it? 

Challenge: Find one egregious (really, really big) violation of freedom. This can be an article, video, or simply a mention of a situation in the world today. Mention it in the comments. 






Youth & the Law: a.k.a. “How Not to Get (insert word here)”

Generic Protest

The law is a sticky subject. It’s flexible, versatile, and applies to different subjects in different ways. We interpret the law differently depending on different situations. A good lawyer can get a guilty person out of trouble, and a bad attorney could allow Jesus to be sent to jail.

We have conservative judges, liberal judges, and moderate judges. Our cultural shifts change the way we interact with and see the law.

This class will be about how we interact with the law. We’ll interpret, discuss, debate, and research areas of the law that apply to us. Then, we’ll look at constructive ways to make the law work better for us. When it doesn’t, we’ll ask why. Asking why doesn’t change society for the better. We’ll learn appropriate ways to take action using the law.

Remember this: Gandhi was a lawyer.

I don’t know if there was any point in saying that, but it’s something to think about.

By the way, doing the right thing using the law is generally not the easy path. That’s something worth noting. It’s generally the hard road, requiring courage, determination, intestinal fortitude. You can sit and study the law all you want, but it’s hard to stand up to injustice.

I’m not saying you have to. You don’t have to go to Ferguson. You don’t have to crusade for equality. You don’t even have to write an article about things that may need change in your community. But you do have to ask the questions. If you do, you may ask not ask yourself “Why,” but you may ask yourself “Why do I allow this to happen?”

That’s what this course is all about.


[Photo Credit: Dr. Heckle. ]