12 Attacks On Workers’ Rights That Will Make You Kinda Mad

After the tea party “wave” election of 2010, corporations used their army of lobbyists to push legislation in states aimed to lower living standards and undermine workers’ rights. Here are some of their most outrageous attacks on working people.

1. Helping Employers Get Away With Wage Theft

When a special court in Miami-Dade County, Fla., started recovering wages for workers who’d been stiffed by their employers, corporate lobbies got the state legislature’s Judiciary Committee to approve a law shutting down the “wage theft” court and prohibiting localities from “addressing wage theft.” Heckuvajob, Florida legislators! Who needs a paycheck, anyway?

2. Repealing the Minimum Wage

New Hampshire repealed its state minimum wage law entirely in 2011. The leading proponent of the repeal claimed that maintaining the state law “sends exactly the wrong message to employers.” And the right message is “pay lower wages”?

3. Making It Easier to Use Child Labor (Seriously)

Newt Gingrich famously said child labor laws are “stupid” and called for replacing unionized school custodians with lower-paid student employees. In 2011, Idaho passed a law that allows 12-year-old children to be employed 10 hours a week cleaning and doing other manual labor in their schools. Proving once again that it’s always a good idea to ask, “What would Newt do?”

4. Stripping Workers of Their Overtime Rights

Maine passed legislation in 2011 stripping many truck drivers of their overtime protection, which is an essential brake against dangerously long hours on the road. The problem with Maine used to be: “Not enough sleepy drivers!” But that problem may now be solved.

5. Making Sure Jobless Workers Don’t Get Unemployment Benefits

Under a law passed in Florida in 2012, unemployed workers could be denied unemployment insurance benefits if they were terminated for violating management rules against, for example, dating fellow workers outside the workplace. Having zero income will make it even harder to go on those dates.

6. Allowing Management to Deny Meal Breaks

New Hampshire legislators voted in 2012 to repeal the law that says workers get a 30-minute unpaid meal break after five consecutive hours of work. When asked whether this might lead to employers denying meal breaks, the leading proponent of the repeal conceded: “There is always potential to misuse freedom.” Give me the liberty to starve my employees…or give me death!

7. Shortchanging Tipped Workers

Tipped workers are overwhelmingly female; nearly half are 30 years old or older; and the poverty rate for waiters and waitresses is 250% higher than for the workforce as a whole. Yet in 2012, corporate lobbies in Florida demanded a reduction in the minimum wage for tipped employees, from $4.65 to $2.13, because “it’s just going to be a matter of time before the back of this [restaurant] industry breaks. Minimum wage is killing them.” Oh, stop, you’re killing me.

8. Stopping Paid Sick Days

When 50,000 people in Orange County, Fla., signed a petition to put paid sick days on the ballot in 2012, corporate lobbies got the state legislature to ban counties like Orange from establishing a local right to paid sick leave. Would you like a sneeze with those fries? Fortunately, the weather in Florida is so nice that Floridians never get sick.

9. Blaming Workers for Deficits Caused by Tax Cuts

At the start of 2011, the state of Wisconsin enjoyed a projected budget surplus for the year of $121 million, but that was before then-new Gov. Scott Walker busted the state budget with $142 million in tax cuts. Walker then used the deficit as an excuse to enact union-busting legislation that, he admitted, would not save any money. Little known fact: Public employees are also to blame for the Milwaukee Brewers’ losing season.

10. Stopping Victims of Race and Sex Discrimination from Suing

Corporate lobbying groups successfully lobbied the Wisconsin legislature in 2012 to repeal the rights of victims of employment discrimination to sue for damages. Because most victims of illegal discrimination would rather have a frilly apology card.

11. Lowering Community Wage Standards

“Prevailing wage” laws ensure that publicly funded construction projects do not undermine wage standards in local communities, by requiring that the local prevailing wage be paid to all workers employed on the project. Between 2011 and 2012, the state legislatures of Louisiana, Arizona, Iowa, Wisconsin and Idaho passed laws banning localities in each state from adopting their own prevailing wage standards. Because public funds should be used to bring us down, not lift us up, right?

12. Outlawing Protections Against Repetitive Motion Injuries

The Michigan legislature passed a law in 2011 prohibiting state authorities from issuing any regulation to protect workers against repetitive motion injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Corporate lobbies say protecting workers at the state level would put the state at a competitive disadvantage. So they want to protect workers at the federal level, right? Naw, they’re against that, too.

These are just a few examples of the numerous legislative attacks on workers—both union and nonunion—that took place in 2011–2012, as documented in a new report by the Economic Policy Institute. Many of these attacks were coordinated by a corporate-funded lobbying organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

More recently, working families have been fighting back. To find out how, check out “10 Ways Working Families Are ‘Kicking Ass’ for the Middle Class.”

By Kelly Ross, AFL-CIO

Economic Policy Institute, “The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012” / Via epi.org

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