Janus Case: An Attack on All Workers

On Monday, February 26, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that will determine whether working Americans can join together to bargain for better pay, healthcare and retirement benefits, working conditions, and career opportunities.

At first glance, the legal action, Janus v. AFSCME, would weaken public-employee unions. But the billionaires, corporations, and foundations who are funding the case have a larger goal: weaken workers’ organizations in the private sector, as well as public service. It’s an effort to further rig the economy and every level of government in favor of the wealthy and well-connected.

If they win, you lose. In a study of Janus’ supporters, the Economic Policy Institute found some familiar folks, including the anti-worker National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and foundations funded by the far-right Koch brothers. These groups oppose raising the minimum wage, expanding health coverage, protecting health and safety at work, and providing paid family leave.

The one-two punch. These groups attack workers from every sector with a one-two punch. First, as in Wisconsin, they rollback public workers’ bargaining rights. Then they enact “right-to-work” (for less) laws, which makes it more difficult for private-sector workers to organize and bargain, costing workers an average of $6,109 a year in lost wages. In recent years, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and West Virginia have joined the so-called “right-to-work” states. However, it’s not all bad news; Ohio subsequently repealed “right-to-work,” and Missouri voters will have an opportunity to do the same this year.

Tearing down the ladder of opportunity. Weakening public employees will block a path to the middle class, especially for Americans who have been held back by discrimination. Almost 20 percent of African Americans work in federal, state, and local governments and in public education, and black women account for 18 percent of public employment.

Janus Case Targets Public Unions – and All Workers

This Monday (February 26), the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a case that would make it much more difficult for public-sector workers to bargain for better wages and working conditions.

Billionaires Behind the Case. In Roman mythology, Janus was two-faced, and so is this case. While hiding behind individual workers, the legal action is bankrolled by the same far-right billionaires who are attacking Social Security, Medicare, bargaining rights, and other benefits for all working Americans.

African-American Women at Greatest Risk. An unfavorable ruling by the Court would disproportionately hit African-American women since they account for 17.7% of public-sector workers. Black women are paid only 65 cents of the dollar that their white male counterparts receive. Unions narrow that wage gap by seven cents on the dollar.

Will the Middle Class Grow or Shrink? The real issue is whether working Americans can still earn middle-class livelihoods. Just think how many working families may have dads in private industry and moms in the public schools. Wisconsin has weakened public and private-sector unions, while neighboring Minnesota is taking the high-wage road. The result: Wisconsin leads the nation in middle-class decline, while Minnesota is in the top five states for the middle class.

Why Muzzle Middle-Class Workers? Weakening unions will make the political system even more rigged in favor of the wealthy and well connected. Working Americans thrive with public employees—like Minnesota teachers advocating for smaller class sizes—are able to speak up for improved public services.

Amazon Workers Underpaid, Micromanaged, and Under Surveillance

With a net worth of more than $100 billion, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s wealthiest man. But the warehouse workers who helped make him rich are underpaid and micromanaged.

Now, many of these workers will subjected to high-tech spying straight out of nightmarish novels about an authoritarian future, such as Brave New World and 1984.

Brave New Bracelet. Amazon recently patented the designs for a wristband that could make its workers the most micromanaged in America. To streamline the fulfillment of orders, the bracelet would track where workers are placing their hands. Using vibrations, the bracelet could nudge them in different directions. This would speed up workers who are taking products from inventory bins, packing them into delivery, boxes and moving on to their next orders.

Taxpayers Subsidize Low Wages. Amazon is encouraging states and cities to compete for its facilities with taxpayer subsidies. But it pays workers so little that 700 Amazon workers receive food stamps in Ohio, where the company gets $123 million in tax breaks.

Sweatshop Conditions. In addition to micromanagement, Amazon workers endure other health and safety hazards. In a warehouse in Lehigh Valley (PA), the heat index once reportedly reached 102 degrees. Warehouse worker Elmer Goris told the Allentown Morning Call: “I never felt like passing out in a warehouse and I never felt treated like a piece of crap in any other warehouse but this one.”

Trump Winks at Work Hazards

Donald Trump keeps saying, “I love our coal miners.” But coal-mine deaths last year were the highest since 2014, when 60,000 more miners were working in the US.

What about other workers? Americans in at least 14 other occupations throughout the economy are at greater risk because the Trump administration has weakened rules and cut back funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):

  • Manufacturing workers are in greater danger now that Trump has halted the rule requiring employers to report job-related illnesses and injuries.
  • Healthcare workers’ hazards have been heightened after Trump’s administration delayed a rule protecting workers from exposure to pathogens—bacteria and viruses.
  • Truck drivers and workers at docks and construction sites are imperiled by OSHA cuts and by federal contracts to companies violating health and safety standards.
  • Mechanics repair cars, trucks, trains, and aircraft, often for federal contractors. And Trump and the Republican Congress have eliminated the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Act, which was designed to ensure that contractors “understand and comply with labor laws.”
  • Working high above ground, power-line installers and repairers are experiencing extra risks because Trump has eased reporting requirements for electrical contractors.

Loggers, fishing workers, pilots (whose hours have increased), sanitation and recycling workers, and chemical workers are also at risk as Trump and his administration place profits above people’s lives and limbs.

First in a Series: The Trump Administration Fails Workers

President Trump says he’s fighting for working Americans. But, as his administration passes the one-year mark, its actions speak louder than his words.

Drawing on a report by the Economic Policy Institute, here are five (of many) ways they’re robbing workers’ paychecks and risking workers’ lives:

  1. Costing Workers $1.2 Billion in Overtime Pay: In October, Trump’s Department of Labor killed the Obama administration’s rule making workers who earn up to $47,476 a year eligible for overtime pay. As a result, 12.5 million workers lost $1.2 billion a year.
  2. Ripping Off Servers’ Tips: Trump’s Labor Department allows employers to “pool” and pocket servers’ tips. This means employers can now pay tipped employees minimum wage and keep the rest of their tips. This could cost tipped workers $5.8 billion a year.
  3. Spending the Taxpayers’ Money on Crooked Contractors: In March, Trump and his Republican Congress blocked a rule that prevented the federal government from contracting with companies that had records of violating workers’ rights, from wage theft to job safety violations. Before the rule was put into effect, the federal government “paid” $81 billion in a single year to these bad corporations. Now they’ll be eligible for more ripoffs.
  4. Giving Safety Violators a Get-out-of-Jail Free Card: In April, Trump signed a resolution blocking the Workplace Injury and Illness recordkeeping rule. As a result, employers no longer need to keep records of employees’ illnesses and injuries, making it harder to prosecute lawbreakers or learn from past mistakes.
  5. Letting Wall Street Siphon Your Savings: The Trump administration also put a freeze on an Obama-era rule protecting workers’ retirement savings from investment advisers making recommendations in which they might have a conflict of interest. This could cost those saving an estimated $18.5 billion over the next 30 years in lost earning potential.

OSHA Reductions Mean More Deaths, Injuries, Illnesses

When Donald Trump promised to trim the federal workforce, he didn’t say he’d be cutting back the trained professionals who protect workers’ health and safety on their jobs.
But, since Trump took office, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has already lost 40 inspectors through attrition, and has been slow to replace them.
These reductions are especially serious because it takes time to train new inspectors. Meanwhile, Trump and Congressional Republicans have tightened the time limit for issuing citations against health and safety violations.
Reducing OSHA won’t lead to less “waste, fraud and abuse,” but will cause more worker deaths, injuries and illnesses. Forty-seven years ago, President Nixon – a Republican – worked with a Democratic Congress to protect workers by creating OSHA. Before OSHA, some 14,000 workers were killed on their jobs every year. Now, “only” 6,000 workers are fatally injured annually.
In addition to staff reductions, as former OSHA officials David Michaels and Kathleen Rest warn, the Administration and its Congressional allies are weakening worker safeguards, as well as enforcement, research and education. For example, OSHA is watering down protections for workers exposed to beryllium, which causes cancer, and silica, which causes lung disease. This is alongside a 40% budget cut for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which researches job safety and health and training professionals in these fields.
Watch Former OSHA official Jordan Barab explain why these cuts are so harmful.

Trump, Congress Make Lawbreakers Eligible for Federal Contracts

If your boss steals your wages or risks your health and safety, don’t count on him being hauled into court or even facing fines. Instead, the company just might get a fat federal contract.

That’s because, President Trump’s and the Republican-controlled House and Senate have struck down President Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order, which required federal contractors to disclose and correct wage theft, safety violations and other lawbreaking.

Even if you don’t work on a federal project, contractors’ conduct matters to you – “yugely.” Year after year, the federal government spends about $500 billion of your tax money on contracts for private companies that employ almost one fifth of all American workers.

By winking at lawbreaking, the Trump Administration is threatening workers’ lives and livelihoods. Since 2015, more than a third of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s 100 largest penalties have been slapped on companies with federal contracts. In fact, companies with records of wage theft or health and safety violations pocketed about forty cents on the dollar for federal contracting from 1999 through 2013.

Until President Trump and Congressional Republicans crack down on contractors’ criminality, their calls for “restoring law and order” won’t pass the laugh test.