In these times of severe economic downturn, workers are struggling more than they have for decades. Wages are woefully inadequate for families to achieve even a minimum standard of economic security and stability. Indeed, over the past 10 years, the wages of the highest-paid workers, relative to the wages of those at the middle or bottom of the scale, grew steadily. Many workers have to work beyond the regular “40 hour work week,” often holding several jobs to make ends meet.
Too often workers are illegally denied pay for overtime hours, meal periods and rest breaks. Others are cheated out of their wages altogether by their unscrupulous employers, a phenomenon known as “wage theft.” Millions of working families are without health insurance and therefore must go without needed health care. Guaranteed pension benefits are a thing of the past as employers seek ever more creative ways to escape their pension obligations. In 2006, more than 4.1 million workers were injured and 5,703 workers were killed due to job hazards. Catastrophes at coal mines, factories, and construction sites occur with too much regularity. A record number of discrimination charges were filed by workers with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2008. All but two federal employees blowing the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse have lost their cases before the Merit Systems Protection Board since 2000, and only two out of 204 have won their cases before the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals since 1994. Millions of private sector employees – including those working for financial firms bailed out with taxpayer dollars – have no guaranteed protections when they expose wrong-doing.
With the notable exception of health care, federal laws have been enacted over the years to address the problems described above. The Fair Labor Standards Act guarantees a minimum wage and overtime pay while at the same time providing a disincentive for employers to require employees to work excessively long hours. Various federal statutes passed by Congress during the past forty years prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, and disability. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 imposes minimum government standards for employer-provided pensions. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspects and regulates workplaces for unsafe working conditions. Sadly, these and other worker protection laws are not working as Congress – and America’s workers – expected them to. Instead, workplace conditions continue to deteriorate and workers are robbed of their right to seek redress for violations of the law through the civil justice system by the growing employer practice of binding forced arbitration.
The Employee Rights Advocacy Institute For Law & Policy develops and promotes public policies that advance employee rights, monitors and comments on pending employment legislation, recommends needed legislative reforms, develops liaisons with and provides technical support to organizations assisting employees and advancing employee rights, and publishes periodical publications on individual employee rights.