At a time when so many Americans are struggling just to earn a decent living and find adequate employment, it may seem counterintuitive to indict the work people are doing as one of the biggest problems facing the country. But when you take a look at what our work is turning us into and what it’s actually accomplishing, it becomes clear that our priorities are all out of whack.
In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about important labor issues like unequal wages for women and a lack of paid sick and maternity leave. He called on Congress to pass legislation raising the minimum wage and requiring employers to guarantee at least seven days of sick time a year to their employees.
He had to do this because, remarkably, nearly 40 percent of the American workers have no sick time at all, nor is there any requirement for their employers to provide any – a regressive distinction the United States shares with only two other countries, Papua New Guinea and Oman.
Hopefully these important issues will be brought to light as the 2016 presidential race heats up, especially with Bernie Sanders running. The anti-family nature of U.S. labor law should make it a logical target for any values-oriented crusader; but predictably, Republican politicians oppose reform. While hiding behind a defense of small businesses, the Republican agenda is really a handout to mega corporations.
Walmart, for instance, has been exposed for its discrimination against pregnant women, forcing them onto unpaid leave or firing them outright if they become unable to perform certain duties. In April 2014, activists and employees forced the company to modify its policy, allowing for a “reasonable accommodation” to be made for women with “a temporary disability caused by pregnancy.” This weak and ambiguous concession leaves women with healthy pregnancies in the lurch, even though they still may require modified job duties.
Congress could intervene and establish better protections for pregnant women, but it doesn’t. The 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act – the last such act passed on the federal level – is so feeble that a Walmart spokesperson in 2014 could truthfully say, “We’re proud of our new policy. It is best in class and goes well beyond federal and most state laws.” That reveals at least as much about federal and state laws as it does Walmart.
The Waltons are among the wealthiest people on the globe, yet their business won’t guarantee American workers the fundamental dignity of having a child without fear of repercussion. And so it goes with workers’ rights across sectors of the economy.
In any moral society, this would be considered a crime. And in more advanced societies, Walmart is forced to grant their workers more rights, like unionization. Here, we’re dominated by politicians who argue the only crime would be if the state got involved at all.
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