Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

You’re Getting Short-Changed, So Vote!

October 31st, 2004 | Paula Brantner

With perhaps the most important election of our lifetime just days away, we are acutely aware of the issues our nation faces and the choices we make that determine our future. Many of the most critical issues today are those faced by the working people of America. With each passing day, more and more of them struggle to make ends meet and worry about their future. Regardless who wins the election, it’s clear it’s time for a change.

That’s why Workplace Fairness has added a new area to its website called Short-Changed: America’s Workers Are Giving More and Getting Less. This area offers a comprehensive look at many of the most important workplace rights issues today, including the growing income gap, the crisis in healthcare and retirement benefits, the imbalance between work and family, and a justice system that is closing its doors on the American worker.

Here are the topics we cover in more detail in Short-Changed, and why we think they’re so critical to workers today:

Short-Changed explains how America’s workers are giving more and getting less with every passing day. Get started with this overview of the issues that make it harder and harder for working people to get by, then find out more about each issue and what you can do to bring fairness back to the American workplace.



Help Wanted (jobs): Many jobs that allow blue- and white-collar workers to be part of the middle class and adequately support their families have gone away and are never coming back. Too many working people are now stuck in low-paying, dead-end jobs. Unemployment remains high, and the statistics do not even account for the millions of underemployed workers who struggle to get by or those who simply have given up looking for work. Find out more about the loss of good jobs.



Profits Before People (income gap): The income gap between corporate executives and the average worker is wider than ever and still growing. Corporate profits and executive salaries are surging, while workers are having difficulty just making ends meet. Millions of Americans must work two or even three part-time jobs to keep up with bills. Many of the jobs being created today lack benefits, the chance for mobility, and long-term job security. Find out more about income inequality.



Critical Condition (healthcare): In response to dramatic increases in healthcare costs, employers are reducing benefits for workers and their families, or shifting costs to employees through increased employee contributions, co-pays and deductibles. Some employers have been forced to eliminate benefits entirely, leaving workers and their families without coverage. Some employees may never recover from the financial devastation of a major injury or illness. Find out more about the healthcare crisis.



Broken Promises (retirement): Will today’s workers be able to retire comfortably, if at all? Traditional pensions are quickly becoming a thing of the past, as corporations reduce or eliminate them to save costs. Some workers lost their retirement security to corporate scandals and declines in the stock market. Social Security may not provide an adequate safety net when today’s younger workers approach retirement. Find out more about retirement insecurity.



Nobody Home (work & family): Workers are finding it increasingly difficult to balance their work and family responsibilities. A majority of workers say they already do not have enough time with their families, yet many employers are further restricting programs such as paid family leave, flexible work hours, job sharing, telecommuting, and compressed work weeks which allow employees to harmonize their work and family life. Find out more about work and family balance.



Hidden Barriers (discrimination): Although some of the worst employment discrimination was eliminated by the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other anti-discrimination laws, there has been strong resistance to enforcement of existing laws and political opposition to remedial affirmative action. As discrimination has become more subtle and more difficult to identify and correct, many Americans continue to endure unfair and unlawful discrimination in the workplace. Find out more about workplace discrimination.



In Harm’s Way (health & safety): Having a job shouldn’t be a matter of life or death, yet each year millions of workers get killed, injured, or seriously ill at work. Workplace safety regulation has become virtually non-existent, while the frequency of repetitive stress injuries climbs due to a lack of ergonomic standards. The workers compensation system fails too many workers, who are discouraged from filing claims or retaliated against once claims are filed. Whistleblowers who report the most egregious health and safety violations can quickly find themselves out of a job, with very little recourse. Find out more about occupational health and safety.



No More Secrets (privacy): American employers increasingly show a lack of regard for the personal privacy of employees. Workers who endure telephone and computer monitoring, video surveillance, drug testing, medical and genetic screening, credit checks, or lifestyle regulations have few protections from these unwarranted invasions of their privacy. Find out more about privacy in the workplace.



Hidden America: undocumented workers: Undocumented workers are among the most vulnerable and exploited workers in America. They are often victims of unpaid wages, dangerous conditions and uncompensated workplace injuries, discrimination, and other labor law violations. Undocumented workers who try to stand up for their rights routinely face physical and immigration-related threats and retaliation. Find out more about undocumented workers.



Divide and Conquer (unions): The dramatic decline in union membership over several decades–in large part the result of deliberate, effective, and often illegal tactics by employers–has a substantial negative impact on the welfare of all American workers. Organized labor not only protects and strengthens the rights of union workers, it is the most powerful voice for fair treatment of all employees and the most effective check on corporate influence in Congress and legislatures across the nation. Find out more about the attack on unions.



Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (legal protections): While union members and government employees generally have some protection from unfair treatment by their employers, and certain forms of discrimination are illegal in any workplace, most workers are employed “at will” and therefore have no rights when they are treated unfairly or terminated without a good reason. Find out more about diminishing legal protections for workers.



Case Closed (court access): Most workers believe that if their employers violate the law, their rights will be protected and preserved by the courts. Many now find, however, that the courthouse doors are closed to them as a result of mandatory arbitration and conservative judges who are not sympathetic to employee lawsuits. Find out more about the obstacles to justice for workers.

Each issue area is designed to build awareness of the need for change, with resources for further information and action. Short-Changed already has a wealth of information and it’s going to get better and better as we add new features such as multimedia presentations of real life stories. We also hope that you will help us build Short-Changed. As you see good resources–books, articles, statistics, and even cartoons—that are relevant to the twelve topics contained in Short-Changed, please submit them to us at shortchanged@workplacefairness.org. (Or just tell us what you think about Short-Changed at the same address.) That way, we can keep Short-Changed chock full of the latest and greatest resources out there (which we intend to do anyway, but we need your help.)

After reading Short-Changed, you’ll see that the evidence that the vast majority of Americans are giving more and getting less from their jobs isn’t just clear, it’s overwhelming. But there’s something you can do right now (or by Tuesday, anyway) and that’s vote!

But, you say, “I’m busy on Tuesday, trying to make a living.” In most of the country, that’s not an excuse not to vote. We have also included on our site information about voting rights in each state of the union. See your voting rights. In 30 states, you have a right to take time off from work to vote. Depending on state law, your employer could be fined or lose its corporate charter if you’re denied permission to vote. And even in the states where there is no law, your employer may not want the bad publicity that could result when employees are denied the right to vote. If you need information about where to go on Election Day, or anything else to do with voting, we have that too. See JustVote, which contains a wealth of information about all you need to know to just vote on Tuesday.

See it for yourself, and tell everyone who cares about workplace fairness to check out Short-Changed at www.workplacefairness.org/sc. Together we can help turn the tide for the working people of America!

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