The recent Supreme Court decision allows Amazon the right to require employees to stand in long security lines, without being paid for their time. This decision is an important reminder of corporate power and the limited rights of non-union employees.
Over the course of the last year alone, we’ve seen many such reminders. Corporate profits are at an all-time high and yet, non-union workers’ wages are stagnant. As retail companies open for longer and longer hours on Thanksgiving, non-union employees must choose between spending the holiday at work or losing their jobs. Non-union pharmacists at corporate chains have talked about how long hours without breaks coupled with short-staffing is leading to dangerous prescription labelling errors.
In the construction industry, we have seen how the misclassification of employees as independent contractors puts non-union workers in the position of choosing between feeding their families and being protected by the law.
When an underhanded contractor misclassifies an employee as an independent contractor, an employer can dodge the legal responsibility to provide workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and payroll taxes. By circumventing these laws, an underhanded contractor can decrease his labor expenses by as much as 40%, making it possible for him to underbid law-abiding contractors. But the contractor does this by putting hardworking men and women at risk, physically and financially.
The result is that law-abiding contractors are underbid, lose business, and then ultimately pay increased workers’ comp and health insurance premiums to subsidize the unscrupulous contractors. And the non-union employee risks injuring himself or herself on the job, without workers’ compensation.
Many people talk about how there was a time when unions were necessary. There was a time when employees risked their health and safety just by going to work. There was a time when corporations could fire someone just for being sick. There was a time when workers couldn’t take breaks without fear of retaliation. For many people, that time is now.
This holiday season, we should be grateful if our work environment is safe. We are fortunate if we have time off this holiday season without fear of getting fired. We are lucky if we do not have to wait in long lines, unpaid, at the end of every work day.
Mike Jackson, Executive Secretary/Treasurer