The first Monday in September looms just around the corner, and that means Labor Day in the United States.
Originally conceived as an annual celebration and honoring of the labor movement in this country, Labor Day now as often as not marks the beginning of a new school year and the unofficial end of summer.
A Decade in O&G
For me personally this year, Labor Day Weekend caps off my first week back after quarantine for my wife’s positive COVID test. And with that first week back, I find myself pensive about nearly a decade in the Oil & Gas industry.
One of the biggest lessons learned in nearly a decade of working life is that supply and demand dynamics have a dramatic effect on working conditions. This holds true for commodities like oil and gas, and what price they command on the market is tied to how much people are consuming relative the amount available to consume. But this also holds true for labor.
When I first moved back to Eastern Montana from Southern Ohio in 2012, the scenery and local culture were by no means the only changes. The labor markets could hardly have been more contrasting.
Southern Ohio in 2012 was still lopsided from the Great Recession of 2008, with more prospective workers looking for jobs than there were jobs available. This in turn drove down wages, benefits, and working conditions, with employers knowing they could pay less and treat their employees rougher and still have workers as their employees were told to “just be happy you have a job.”
Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota, by contrast, were home to the Williston Basin, better known as “The Bakken” for a shale play that was booming then. Every business great and small was hard up for workers. And this not only drew job-seekers from far and wide; it also drove up wages, benefits, and working conditions, as employers were loathe to needlessly upset or offend the employees they already had for fear they would leave for a better opportunity at some other company in the area.
After nearly a decade in the Oil & Gas industry, I have seen the market go up and down, and rampant speculation around the water coolers has persistently centered on how regulatory and tax environments, as well as broader economic factors at home and abroad related to supply and demand would effect the prospects of hard-working men and women and their families.
Big Government types are quick to offer solutions predicated on higher taxes and more regulatory oversight. But the truth is that the best thing for labor is competition between prospective employers. When employees have options to take their skills, experience, and services elsewhere, employers bring their A-game to the process.
Labor Day 2021, I think we do well to ponder such things deeply and make the most of the decisions we make and how we relate to our working lives accordingly, whichever side of the equation in which we find ourselves.
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