MESSAGE FROM SECRETARY-TREASURER
Steven P. Vairma
Steve Vairma's Column:
Finally! It's time for workplace fairness
They don't wear masks or carry guns, but they steal and rob, just the same.
Who are they?
Unions have known for years that employers get a better shake with state enforcement officers than the workers.
Historically crimes against workers haven't been prosecuted. More often, the criminal justice system has intervened to protect employers. For example, a worker stealing from an employer will likely face charges, while an employer committing wage theft probably won't.
For naysayers who believe the tilt in favor of the boss will never change, we can only point out that for the first time in memory, labor's side may finally be getting an extra lift.
Nowadays, district attorneys and state attorneys general around the United States have increasingly begun to pursue, and in some cases prosecute, employer crimes against workers.
The DAs and AGs are apparently responding to widespread, entrenched, and often egregious violations of workplace laws. An increasing number of them have brought criminal prosecutions against law-breaking employers.
This is important as there are limited options for enforcing workers' rights because of underfunding of labor enforcement agencies - and employers increasing use of forced arbitration clauses, which prevent workers from filing lawsuits.
A new report from Economic Policy Institute and the Harvard Labor and Work Life Program lists dozens of case examples of prosecutions of employer crimes against workers in jurisdictions across the country, including California, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and more.
The rationale for bringing such cases criminally, the report says, is to increase deterrence of employer violations. The report includes recommendations for greater enforcement of this kind and offers tips to prosecutos and worker organizations wishing to get started. "State and local prosecutors nationwide increasingly see protecting workers as part of their mission," said Terri Gerstein of the Harvard Labor and Work Life Program and a senior fellow at EPI.
"Wage theft, worker misclassification, unemployment insurance tax evasion, and workplace dangers are widespread, with serious consequences for workers, communities, and local economies. More DAs and AGs should get involved in this work," Gerstein said.
She is absolutely right. The system has been beset by rank unfairness for decades and it's time to help workers with the lift.
If the bosses break the law, they should pay the price.
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