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Material of Interest to People on the Left 

 PORTSIDE LABOR 

 AMERICAN WORKERS NEED BETTER JOB PROTECTIONS  
[https://portside.org/node/16188] 

 

 Moshe Z. Marvit and Shaun Richman 
 December 28, 2017
New York Times
[https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/opinion/american-workers-job-protections.html]


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 _ Just cause — a legal right to your job — should be an essential
part of any package of reforms to restore workplace dignity and
fairness. _ 

 Lauren Simkin Berke // New York Times, 

 

Maybe we should thank Joe Ricketts for closing his Gothamist and
DNAinfo websites in petty retaliation for the writers’ vote for a
union. Or maybe the NBC News executives who turned a blind eye to Matt
Lauer’s harassment of female colleagues until the #MeToo movement
empowered enough of them to make their complaints too official to
ignore. Or the federal contractor that fired a bicycle-riding
employee
[https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/06/us/middle-finger-trump.html?_r=0&mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=257381C287167E084211E9A50037E26E&gwt=pay] who
flipped off the president’s motorcade, a gesture captured in a photo
that went viral.

These bosses revealed that a workers’ rights system that is applied
unequally to only some workplaces and only some employees is no way to
ensure that everyone’s rights are respected. Workers may have the
right to do their jobs free from sexual harassment and assault, but it
has become increasingly clear that employers violate those rights by
exploiting the power disparity in the workplace.

Similarly, workers may have a right to organize a union and
collectively bargain, but in reality workers are often fired for
organizing, and the laws against such practices — like all
protections against unfair terminations — place the burden on
employees to prove illegitimate intent.

Bosses hold all the power in the at-will employment system that most
American workers are subject to, under which they can be fired for
“good cause, bad cause or no cause
[http://caselaw.findlaw.com/tx-supreme-court/1664769.html#footnote_7].”
Employees who speak up risk everything — their jobs, their
reputations, their livelihoods — while facing the unfair legal
burden of having to prove their boss’s intentions. Until workers
have the freedom from unfair firing, too many workplace rights will
remain unfulfilled.

The alternative to at-will employment is “just cause,” which is
the principle that an employee can be fired only for a legitimate,
serious, work-performance reason.

The “just cause” system is typically part of union contracts.
However, today only about 6 percent of private-sector employees
[https://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm] are covered by a
union contract. And there is a concerted effort to strip public-sector
employees of many of their traditional rights and protections.

Republicans constantly argue that to compete, American corporations
need to be treated like their European counterparts when it comes to
corporate taxes — Europe has a very low average tax rate. Workers
deserve a similar push to receive the job protections that their
European counterparts enjoy.

A just-cause rule would give workers greater freedom to say no to
requests that have nothing to do with their jobs, like “Can you pick
up my dry cleaning?” or “Come up to my hotel room.” It would
provide workers more power to resist unfair schedule changes, like an
attempt to cancel a preapproved vacation. It would allow workers to
resist mandatory overtime presented as voluntary. It would firmly
place the burden on an employer to show that the reason it fired an
employee had nothing to do with, say, the sick day she took to care
for her child or the memo she wrote to complain about a powerful
co-worker making sexual advances (three-quarters of women who have
filed sexual harassment claims at work experience
retaliation, according to one report
[https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/12/low-wage-workers-sexual-harassment/549158/]).

The idea for a just-cause law is not novel. It is the norm in most
democracies around the world, and our law reviews are filled with
arguments in favor of it. Years ago, for example, Montana passed a
wrongful discharge law that offers significant, though not complete,
protections for many employees.

We are at a time in this country when just cause may be a necessity.
Employers have become increasingly adept at violating workers’
rights with impunity. And the judiciary, which is responsible for
determining employers’ intent in discrimination cases, is
increasingly filled with “originalists” like the new Supreme Court
justice Neil Gorsuch, who are inclined to side with employers and to
believe that workers have no right to break a rule even if their lives
depend on it.

Senate Democrats have indicated a willingness to propose bold
solutions for restoring a balance of power between workers and
corporations as a part of their “Better Deal.” Their labor bill
would ban “right to work” provisions, which permit workers who are
represented by a union to pay nothing for that representation; restore
workers’ right to engage in solidarity activism; and expand the
National Labor Relations Act to cover public-sector as well as
private-sector workers and create financial penalties to bosses who
willfully break the law.

If the bill had passed 40 years ago, it might have prevented our
current age of vast inequality. The prevalence of outsourcing,
subcontracting and other union-avoidance business strategies make it
pretty clear that employers would continue to evade and sabotage any
system of labor rights that is tied to an individual employer, rather
than one that applies to all employers.

We need a law that protects and empowers workers to speak out to ask
for raises, to combat sexual harassment, to complain about unsafe
working conditions and, yes, to join unions.

Just cause — a legal right to your job — should be an essential
part of any package of reforms to restore workplace dignity and
fairness.

_[Moshe Z. Marvit is a fellow at the Century Foundation specializing
in labor and employment law and policy. Shaun Richman, a union
organizing director, is the author of the Century Foundation report
“Labor’s Bill of Rights.”]_

Thanks to authors for sending this to Portside.

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