::Literate Blather::
Monday, October 23, 2006
Essay: Employee Bill of Rights
What this country needs is a workers' revolt. No bloodshed, no violence in the street. A civilized, lawful revolt that will give workers some of their rights back -- not to mention some dignity. We've let Corporate America treat us like commodities for too long.

Workers in the United States – both blue and white collar – may be in their worst shape since the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed way back in 1938. The FLSA, among other things, established the eight-hour work day, a national minimum wage and overtime for certain jobs. It was an enormous victory for workers and Corporate America and their enablers in government have spent the last 70 years undermining it.

Does the eight-hour work day even exist anymore? Blue-collar workers are often forced to work overtime and if you wear a white collar you know that a 9-to-5 work schedule is merely a memory. Corporations have been successful in keeping the minimum wage at poverty levels, and making more and more jobs ineligible for overtime compensation.

At a time when corporate earnings reach unheard of highs and the stock market surpasses 12,000 – workers who don’t have a “C” in front of their titles are being left behind. The median income for families has decreased 2.9 percent since 2000 despite productivity per worker increasing 16.6 percent and the economy growing from $9.8 trillion to $11.2 trillion in the same period.

While we’re earning less – we’re working more. The number of U.S. businesses offering paid vacations dropped in 2004 to 68 percent of companies compared with 87 percent in 2003 – a drop of 19 percent in one year. One in six U.S. workers was unable to use up their vacation time – and we have fewer vacation days than any other industrialized nation.

It’s time for a change. Workers need to unite behind an Employee Bill of Rights. But its important to start with a manageable bill – so our first draft will not include a universal healthcare care plan (which the U.S. desperately needs. Job creation stagnation is partly being driven by the high cost of healthcare. U.S. corporations can no longer afford to underwrite the country’s healthcare system. Nor should workers only option for healthcare come from employment in an age of lay-offs and multiple careers. But universal healthcare is too thorny a political issue and the goal here is to establish a foothold).

Here’s DaRK PaRTY’s recommendation for an Employee Bill of Rights:

  • Three weeks (15 days) of paid vacation
  • Six weeks of paid maternity leave for women
  • Two weeks of paid paternity leave
  • One year of unemployment benefits

American workers are exhausted. Europeans and Australians enjoy four weeks of vacation mandated by their governments. In the United States, the average worker receives an average of eight days of vacation – a little over a week. Globalization and technology have made working 9 to 5 obsolete and result in longer hours and more days worked. In this type of hyper-competitive atmosphere, workers need to be protected – and this means making vacation time mandatory.

Well rested workers will increase productivity, create safer working conditions, lower stress related illness, and allow workers to send more time with their families. In our plan to mandate three weeks of vacation for every full-time worker in the U.S., small businesses will be eligible for tax cuts and subsidies to help pay for their workers to take time off. Workers will be encouraged to take the time off – but if they do not, they will be compensated for any vacation time leftover at the end of each year.

Maternity & Paternity Leave
There’s a lot of talk in America about valuing the family – but little action. Just like we lag behind the rest of the industrialized world in vacation time, we fall far short in providing time off for new parents.

In fact, there is no requirement in the United States for paid maternity (never mind paternity) leave of any kind. According to a recent study at Harvard University, out of 168 countries in the world, 163 had some form of paid maternity leave. The U.S. enjoys the company of Swaziland, Lesotho, and Papua New Guinea as the only nations in the study that did not.

Industrial nations are unusually generous (or realistic) when it comes to advocating for parents to be with their children. Canadian women enjoy 14 months of paid maternity leave and in Sweden couples get 16 months of paid parental leave (at 80 percent of salary), according to a recent article in U.S. Today.

If the U.S. is serious about being family first – then we need to start with maternity and paternity leaves. Six weeks is hardly adequate for mothers, but it’s a starting point. This benefit (and the two weeks of paternity leave) will be compensated directly by the government at full pay. Companies will have the option to extend the benefit, of course. Under the plan, the amount of time will be reviewed for an increase every two years.

Unemployment Benefits
The average length of time it takes for an unemployed worker in 2005 to find a job is about 20 weeks. Unemployment benefits in the U.S. last an average of 24 weeks and that’s cutting it much too close – especially when you consider older workers who have a more difficult time finding work.

It’s a ridiculous notion that you can lose unemployment benefits while still actively looking for a job. Why do we want to burden workers with a ticking clock of anxiety as they search for a new job? Twelve months of full benefits is fair and allows people to adequate time to find a new job.

We want to make sure people don't fall into bankruptcy, enter into a spiral of debt, and lose their self-esteem like looking for work. Extended unemployment benefits ensure the dignity of all workers.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...
Do I see nipple?

Blogger GFS3 said...
Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comments.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
It's about time the US joins the civilized world.

The way US workers are used like mules is reminiscent of the 19th century Europe. The capitalist masters were up in arms over the fact of paying people living wages. "It would ruin civilization as we know it." Of course that does not happen, when you give someone building up a life a decent wage, they are not going to hoard it or invest it in the stock market, like people do who have no other earthly idea how to spend all their extra money.

By not giving its workers decent wages or amenities worthy of the name the powers-that-be are depriving themselves of a lot of money.
All the people who now have to work for a pittance would spend it on better living conditions for themselves. The money flows back into the economy and more people can have a decent job because more goods and services are needed.

Women don't have maternity leave, much less paid maternity leave? You people live like animals. How you even accept that is beyond me.

No universal health care system? When every industrialized country has one? Hilarious.

If anyone thinks these are 'socialist' ideas I would like to offer this thought: if capitalism had treated the working classes with fairness and dignity, there would not have been a need for a socialist movement because the working classes would receive a fair share of the wealth they helped generate. Socialism is not the alternative of capitalism. Socialism is the result of capitalism.
It's illegitimate child if you will.

I hope American workers get far better working conditions soon. I've been to the States several times, they are the hardest working people I know.

Nobody should have to work 3 jobs and even then not make enough to make ends meet. Certainly not when C-rank employees get n thousand shares for a token amount of money. It's easy to be disdainful towards people who have to work for every cent they get when it's given freely to those who make the rules. It is disgraceful and it just means that to all intents and purposes the US working class lives in the third world.

Good luck, American workers. Go out and demand your fair share [and that also means: go out and vote for people who will defend -your- interests for a change. That's how it works, trust me].

Blogger GFS3 said...
You make some great point Anonymous. The challenge in the United States is one of mindset. We have a philosophy of rugged individualism here and most people -- even the poor and working class -- frown on what is considered government hand-outs.

We need to do a better job of equating the government with the people -- they are us (or they are supposed to be). Mandating vacation and maternity leave seems to be a no-brainer -- and its been proven to increase morale and productivity.

Not having a universal health care plan is just ridiculous -- but that, at least, is slowly changing and I think we'll see a government healthcare system in place within the next 10 years.

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