A New Deal for Workers

In my previous articles, I’ve underscored underlying wage inequality and wealth inequality and how its disproportionately affected communities of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community. There are several strategies we can and should execute to expand safety net programs and lift to reduce this inequality. However, discrimination in the workplace and stressful working conditions continues to pose major threats not only to the economic well-being of minority groups but to their mental health as well.

In nearly every corporation and non-profit in this country, employers hire their employees in what’s known as at-will employment, which allows them to terminate that employment at any time without having to provide a reason. We can, and should, strengthen non-discrimination laws and expand them to include sexuality and gender identity, but employers can easily evade those laws by firing at-will. We need to pass a new, national Just Cause law that ends at-will employment altogether.

Data For Progress illustrates its benefits “The idea behind “just cause” is simple. In contrast to the at-will rule, a “just cause” standard means that employers can only fire employees if they have a good reason — say, the employee’s performance is lacking, or the business is struggling. By requiring employers to provide a good reason for firing, it will give workers a basic modicum of job security. It will also have significant knock-on benefits. By eliminating the legal loopholes that plague anti-discrimination law, just cause could prevent employers from using at-will employment as a cover for underlying prejudices.”

A system that requires employers to provide just cause termination will benefit all workers by allowing them more freedom and security in demanding dignified pay and conditions and to be treated like human beings. Earlier this year, an Amazon factory in Bessemer, Alabama attempted to form a union. Workers at the plant were tired of a corporation that paid them substandard wages, and were ready to take collective action. Amazon didn’t like that, and they fought back with a coordinated campaign of threats and intimidation including that workers who voted to unionize would be out of a job. The union vote failed, and Amazon workers around this country continue to face degrading conditions. Just Cause protections will serve as a safety net to allow workers to fight for their dignity without fear of having rug swept up from under them.

Strengthening worker protections through Just Cause is an integral component to the mission of fixing our hyper-capitalist society, and making it work better for working people; the next step is to fix our work-life imbalance. Americans work longer hours than nearly every other country in the industrialized world. That reality manifests in less time spent with family and friends, less time for sleep and relaxation, less time to explore new hobbies and travel. And to be clear, there is no discernable evidence that we trade longer hours worked for greater productivity. In fact, a Stanford study concluded that companies that require their workers to put in excessive hours actually see a decline in productivity.

We are more than capable as a society of reducing hours workers to give workers more time off.

This can manifest in greater vacation time; Italy guarantees workers as much as 7 weeks of paid vacation. We can and should join the rest of the world and guarantee paid medical and family leave to all workers. And we absolutely need to rethink the 40-hour work week altogether. Companies around the world and even in the United States are experimenting with a 4-day work week. We should create a commission within the Department Labor tasked with exploring the impacts of a shorter week on productivity as well as mental health and overall worker happiness.

We’ve been conditioned to think that our work culture is normal or just something we have to deal with in order to have a thriving economy. Securing new worker protections and giving workers more time off will lead to less stress, greater productivity, and greater quality of life. It’s time to be bold and demand a new deal for working people.

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