2009-09-17 / Letters to the Editor

Labor battles continue today

Your Sept. 3 editorial, “Farewell to the summer that wasn’t,” ends with a reference to Labor Day beginning as a celebration when working classes were fighting for fair wages and rights in the workplace. You state that for the most part, those battles are behind us.

You are correct for most of us in unions or secure in our knowledge of labor laws. A Sept. 2 National Public Radio report on “Morning Edition” highlighted the fact that this is not true for 25 percent of the workers in the U.S. A study funded by the Ford Foundation, “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers: Violations of Employment and Labor Laws in American Cities,” authored by Annette Bernhardt et al, found that one out of four were paid less than the minimum wage and of these workers, 60 percent were underpaid by a dollar or more.

A common business practice for these employers was to ask for longer hours beyond a normal shift and omit to pay the employee either overtime or regular wages. Additionally, it was found that these workers were pressured not to seek workmen’s compensation for injuries on the job or were fired when they reported an injury to their employer. These violations of labor laws were concentrated in the garment, household, restaurant and retail industries. The reporter used a word I seldom hear when these violations are reported, “robbery.”

It is more accurate than sharp business practices or white collar crime. It is particularly relevant because the victims of these crimes are under stress in an underperforming economy and the least equipped to fight for their employment rights and dignity. For one quarter of our workers, the battle continues.
Kevin Carty

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