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Rotten Fruits of Labor

In honor of the impending Labor Day weekend, I shall leave you with a digest of stellar but sobering reports that have recently come out around workers and workplace conditions.

If you can’t bring yourself to pore through these while at the beach or firing up the grill, here’s my synopsis:

Today’s economic crisis has turned the spotlight back onto the struggles of working families. But the reports below show that what we’re experiencing today, and will continue to feel, absent strong federal, state and local leadership, is the result of decades of turning a blind eye to the plights of workers and their eroding workplace standards.

And we can’t afford to continue this status quo—strong labor standards and quality jobs are the backbone of a strong American economy. One can’t happen without the other. It’s time to put them back together.

Confronting the Gloves-Off Economy: America’s Broken Labor Standards and How to Fix Them
This stellar report broadens the standard focus on workplace conditions beyond low-wage workers and makes the case that the bigger problem has been a “quantum shift in working and living conditions as many employers, aided by lax enforcement, have made a lucrative game of flouting labor and employment laws”. It stealthily paints a comprehensive picture of our economy and its deep relationship to working conditions, from day laborers to ex-offenders, from globalization to broken health and safety codes.

Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers: Violations of Employment and Labor Laws in America’s Cities:
The New York Times highlighted this report this week, which explains the results of the most comprehensive examination of wage-law violations in a decade. The uplifting study found that “in surveying 4,387 workers in various low-wage industries, including apparel manufacturing, child care and discount retailing, the researchers found that the typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339. That translates into a 15 percent loss in pay.”

Fractures in the Foundation: The Latino Worker’s Experience in an Era of Declining Job Quality:
NCLR released this report in advance of Labor Day and takes on the cracks in our workplace standards as they impact Latino workers. Its findings include the facts that:
Latino workers are more likely to die from an injury at work than White and Black workers and Two in five Latino workers do not earn sufficient wages to keep their families out of poverty.

Young Workers: A Lost Decade:
This report is now out from AFL-CIO and puts the spotlight on young workers (ages 18-35), a segment of the working population that has been slogging along with less health care benefits, fewer paid sick days, and scant opportunities for advancement than even the average working population (which ain’t doing so hot either). It spells out a grim future if we don’t make changes to our labor laws and re-dedicate ourselves to enforcement.

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