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May-01-2013 11:33printcomments

International Workers Day: A Reminder of U.S. Progress on Worker's Rights

This May 1st, let us all take a moment to consider the people whose work is undervalued...


(PORTLAND, OR) - May 1 is International Workers Day. It is a day to be reminded that “just and favorable” work conditions, “equal pay for equal work,” workplaces “free of discrimination,” and “protection against unemployment” are fundamental human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unfortunately, May 1st is a day to recognize the many ways the U.S fails to enact the human right to work. I offer here just a few of the many ways the U.S is falling short, recognizing the many other workers who toil in poor conditions for low pay that remain marginalized and often voiceless.

Just and fair work conditions are far from reality for many of the people who produce our food. Agricultural workers and those who labor in slaughterhouses, meat-packing, and related industries are often subject to horrifying work environments, as depicted in films like Food, Inc. These workers suffer injury, health conditions, and low salaries. Many times, they are victims of wage theft, whereby employers will mandate overtime but not pay for it, slice time off timesheets, or promise day wages that never come. Miami Dade County was the first to enact a Wage Theft Ordinance to offer at least a modicum of redress for those who are victimized, yet most other cities have nothing to protect workers who fall prey to their greedy employers.

Americans’ insatiable demand to consume fuels a global marketplace that is increasingly anti-worker. Bigger, better, faster more is what we want, and companies like Wal-Mart are all too happy to give it to us at the lowest price. But while the cost to the consumer remains low, the cost to the worker is as high as ever. Children’s fingers whirl as they make Disney products for American kids, knowing they will never make enough to own one. Women in Bangladesh and Jordan have just 3.3 minutes to sew those sexy panties we buy at Victoria’s Secret for $14. The worker makes 4 cents. Sweatshops are not just overseas, either. They can be found in many major cities. Yet we turn a blind eye, perhaps paying attention to atrocities like the recent fire in Bangladesh that killed more than 200 young women only as we drive back to the mall to buy more stuff we don’t need.

As has been well-documented, women still do not receive equal pay for equal work, fifty years after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act. The American Association of University Women’s (AAUW)2012 report showed that full-time, working women still make 82 percent of what their male peers earn. The re-introduced Paycheck Fairness Act, which President Obama supported when he ran for office in 2008, would close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act by requiring that employers show that pay disparities are actually related to job performance and requirements, not gender, strengthening support for victims of wage discrimination, and prohibiting retaliation against workers who disclose their wages to colleagues.

In 29 states, it is perfectly legal for an employer to fire someone for being gay, and in 34 states, employers may lawfully fire transgendered persons. There is currently no federal law that prohibits workplace discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered (LGBT) persons. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), modeled after Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, would create such a ban.

It would be impossible for Americans not to be aware of our nation’s shortcomings in regard to the human right to “protection against unemployment.” But what many do not know is that victims of domestic violence are ineligible for unemployment benefits. Studies show that victims miss an average of nearly eight million paid work days a year because abusers sabotage their transportation, prohibit them from leaving, or injure them so badly they cannot work. Victims often remain with abusers in life-threatening situations because they do not have adequate finances to get out.

This May 1st, let us all take a moment to consider the people whose work is undervalued, who suffer so that the rest of us can enjoy, and who are at-risk only because of their gender or sexual orientation.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Sociology Criminology, Barry University and writes for PeaceVoice

Special thanks to ...

Tom H. Hastings, Ed.D.
Director, PeaceVoice Program,
Oregon Peace Institute



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Anonymous May 2, 2013 12:04 pm (Pacific time)

Ralph being from California, how are those public unions doing? How many are losing their jobs? So as more taxes/fees are put on the taxpayer to cover the union thug programs, how much longer you thing California and other Marxist loser states are going to continue paying these union people. So compare with Wisconsin. Unions time has come to an end, and so why not take the cue Ralph. Move on down the food chain...

Ralph E. Stone May 2, 2013 7:14 am (Pacific time)

The increase in the number of right-to-work states (RTW) slows worker progress. RTW laws or right-to-work for less laws, prohibit unions from requiring a worker to pay dues, even when the worker is covered by a union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement. Thus, workers in RTW states have less incentive to join and pay dues to a union and as a result, unions have less clout vis-à-vis corporations. Controlling for the demographic and job characteristics of workers as well as state-level economic conditions and cost-of-living differences across states, The Compensation Penalty of "Right-To-Work" Laws (February 17, 2011 Economic Policy Institute Briefing Paper found that in 2009 wages were 3.2 percent lower in RTW states versus non-RTW – about $1,500 less annually for a full-time, year-round worker; the rate of employer-sponsored health insurance was 2.6 percentage points lower in RTW states compared with non-RTW states; the rate of employer-sponsored pensions was 4.8 percentage points lower in RTW states."

DJ: Obama knows what this is about. Last year he said: "You know, these so-called right-to-work laws, they don’t have to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics. What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.”

Going by the voters, the Republicans really are the stupid party. It's the Republican backers who know what they're doing.

gp May 1, 2013 5:03 pm (Pacific time)

mayday mayday mayday

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