Aljazeera America reports that Senator Bernie Sanders and progressive allies in the Senate and House are proposing a new measure to help working Americans. The Workplace Democracy Act would make it easier for employees to unionize. It would also require that employers negotiate with unions within 10 days of a request to negotiate. This measure is a good thing, but it’s more of a political statement than a realistic attempt to change law. Republicans control the House and Senate, and they are very pro-employer. That said, Democrats and Independents like Sanders need to present a new vision for how working people will be treated. This bill along with the Fight for $15 is part of that vision.
P.S. John Nichols of The Nation connects this issue to changes in the TPP and other international agreements that protect the right of workers to form unions.
One of the biggest problem facing low wage workers is their schedule. Many companies have turned to work models such as “on call” scheduling that gives employees little control over their time or their lives. Laura Clawson of Daily Kos reports that a group of Democratic senators and representatives have proposed “The Schedules That Work Act.” This bill would give workers at companies with 15 or more employees the right to request changes in their schedule, especially in cases related to health concerns or child/elder care. It would also give employers incentives not to use on call schedules or split shifts. Clawson is a realist. She notes that this bill means nothing as long as Republicans control the Senate and House.
This is a problem since many experts think the House will stay in Republican control into the next decade. What can workers do? First, they should consider schedule to be as important as salary. Next, if they have to take a low wage job or one with a bad schedule, they need to keep looking for a better job. Over the last 25 years, we’ve seen that employers have no loyalty to employees. Layoffs are part of doing business. Workers have to take the same attitude. If you’re in a bad job, keep looking for something better. When you find it, layoff your employer.
Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos reports on a big change in labor law that might impact millions of Americans. The Department of Labor is considering an increase to the threshold for overtime pay from $23,360 to $52,000, which means any worker, including salaried employees, making less than that amount would be legally entitled to overtime pay. Clawson notes that this is a change President Obama could make without legislative approval. She also says that the move would probably be opposed in the legislature and courts. Even so, changing the threshold would be a good way to help low wage workers, and it would be a fit punishment for employers who pay employees salary so they do not have to pay overtime. I hope President Obama and the DOL put working people first – raise the threshold.
- Employers should offer full time jobs whenever possible.
- Employers should offer predictable schedules that let workers plan their lives.
- Employers should encourage worker retention and job security after companies are sold.
I agree with these points and would add the following for all workers:
- Workers should have the right to form unions without facing intimidation from their employers
- The minimum wage should be raised according to changes in inflation.
- The use of non-compete clauses should be limited and regulated. No minimum wage worker should be restricted by a non-compete clause.
- Equal pay for equal work.
- Repeal Taft-Hartley and other anti-worker, “Right to Work” [for less] laws.
Working people need to demand some protection. They deserve a workers' bill of rights.
A client called me with good news last week. He had received a job offer to work as an assistant at a doctor’s office. His voice didn’t sound good, so I asked what was wrong. He told me that he didn’t want to sign an employment agreement. The language scared him. He sent a copy to me, and he had every reason to be afraid.
The business manager told my client it would be a full time position with benefits. The employment agreement said something very different. It stated that the employee would work when the business manager said work was available. If work was slow, he could be sent home or have a day cancelled. The employment agreement also contained a non-compete agreement that limited my client from working with a 15 mile radius of the doctor’s office for a period of 18 months. This clause would limit my client’s ability to find work close to his home. He asked the business manager if this language could be changed. She told him not to worry about it. She said that they just get this form signed to make the lawyers happy.
My client talked to a lawyer who warned him not to sign the agreement and keep looking for another job. I agreed with this advice. This kind of agreement is all one way. When there is work, the employer expects the employee to come in and do a good job. If there is no work, the employer saves the cost of paying employees. All the risk is borne by the employee. The non-compete is often used by such employers to keep employees from leaving.
Be careful. Only sign an employment agreement after you have read and understood it. If you have any doubts, ask your prospective employer to let you take the document and think about it for a day. Anyone who tries to force you to sign the document and take the job right away is clearly trying to trick and control you. Don’t be fooled. Take the time to know what you are signing.
When we’re terminated or laid off from a position, we often feel anger or shame. That’s natural. However, those feelings can lead us to do things we will later regret. If an employer offers any kind of incentive, read the document carefully and know what you are signing.
One of my clients works in a specialized industry where there are few employers and limited opportunities to work. When her employer let he go, he offered her a month’s salary and a month of paid healthcare. All he asked is that she sign a piece of paper. Luckily, she read the agreement, which included a non-compete clause that would have made it impossible for her to work for any company in metro Chicago. My client weighed her options and walked away from the offer.
If you are in this position, read the document carefully. If you don’t understand it, inform your employer that you want to have time to review it. If the employer pressures you to sign it immediately, there is probably something in that document that he does not want you to understand. Have the document reviewed by a lawyer who understands employment law. Don’t let yourself be bullied into signing something that can hurt your ability to get a job. Know what you are signing
I was on vacation and have been unable to post for a few days. I was going to skip today as well, but there is a great article in today’s Huffington Post. It describes how children are made to work throughout most of the world. The two main exceptions: Europe and North America (plus the lightly populated Australia). What do these areas have in common? Workers joined together in unions, often allying with religious reformers and advocates for children, to fight for laws that protected children from exploitations. The next time someone speaks against unions, remind them that there are many places in the world where there are no unions. Those are places where wages are very low and an adult can be working next to a child.
Ian Millhiser, Supreme Court writer for Think Progress, examines the case of Quinn v. Harris, which will have a major impact on worker’s rights. This case could affect the future of labor unions and possibly the legality of the minimum wage. Millhiser’s analysis is rich in detail and explanation that I don’t want to try to summarize. I urge you to read this article.
I will post commentary on the decision tomorrow.
According to Common Dreams, McDonald’s employees in California, Michigan, and New York are suing both corporate owned stores and franchisees for wage theft. The employees assert that their pay has been lost due to fraud that includes: doctoring time sheets, preventing employees from taking breaks, making them work off the clock and forcing them to pay for uniforms. The workers in these states are trying to come together in a class action suit that could cover over 30,000 employees. If large companies don’t want to pay their employees and don’t want to let them have union protection, the next step will be courts. What popular companies have to hope is that judgments in courts of law are not followed by a worse fate: conviction in the court of public opinion.
Today in over 100 cities workers at fast food restaurants walked off the job. It’s easy to call this a strike. We see people with signs walking a picket. We are used to seeing those images and don’t think enough about what it means when the people striking are not protected by a union. In most states, employers can fire employees for such action. These strikes show how desperate workers are getting in the U.S. Who can live on $8-$9 an hour, especially when they are scheduled to work less than 40 hours per week? The workers marching outside of fast food restaurants today are brave Americans, and they are giving us all a lesson in what it means to be a citizen.
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