More Power in the Workplace



When work has dignity, workers have power in their workplaces – whether they work in a factory, an office building, or from their cars. But corporations’ focus on stock price and profit maximization means they see workers as a cost to be minimized, instead of an asset to invest in. And a fundamental shift in employer-employee relationships has hurt workers.

To reduce workforce costs, employers outsource work to contractors or hire temp employees. They give workers irregular schedules and hours without allowing worker input. They intimidate and harass employees into voting no on union representation. Employers also classify their workers as independent contractors, which aren’t covered by federal wage and hour protections, so they can pay lower payroll taxes. These business decisions lead to marginalized workers and depressed wages and benefits. All workers, including those in nontraditional employment arrangements, need power in the workplace to fight back against this race to the bottom.

For all work to have dignity, we must:

  • Give workers advanced notice and a say in their schedules;
  • Strengthen our labor laws to make it easier for workers to join a union, even when their employer opposes it;
  • Give the IRS the authority to force companies to reclassify workers as employees when their employer is wrongly treating them as independent contractors;
  • Force large corporations with hundreds of independent contractors to pay their fair share of payroll taxes that contribute to Social Security, Medicare, and other programs for workers; and
  • Strengthen and fund the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission so it can fight back against discrimination in the workplace.

To empower workers, we must ensure they get advanced notice and a say in their schedules. If workers don’t get their schedules in advance, it is harder to get a second job or meet family responsibilities such as child care.

Unpredictable, varying, or last minute work hours have significant consequences for employees, and using these scheduling techniques is another way workers are made powerless in the workplace. In the sectors where scheduling practices are the worst, we must change the law to mandate that workers get at least two weeks’ advance notice of their schedules and an opportunity to request specific hours. And if workers are called in to work but then sent home, they should be paid for their time.

Workers are more powerful in the workplace when they are free to exercise their right to join a union without retaliation or pressure from their employers. We must pass reforms to ensure that workers trying to form unions don’t face discrimination, and that companies aren’t able to tie up unionization efforts in legal challenges.

Modernizing our labor laws means recognizing the right of all workers – even those in nontraditional work arrangements – to collectively bargain for higher pay and better benefits. It also means increasing penalties for employers that discriminate against employees who try to form a union or improve conditions in the workplace. It also means streamlining the process for union elections when an employer challenges the results, and requiring employers to collectively bargain their first contract with the union after its workers have chosen to organize.

To increase workers’ power, there must be better tools to prevent employers from treating employees as independent contractors in order to avoid paying them the wages and benefits they are owed. We must give the IRS the authority to audit companies who try to cheat the rules, and force employers to make corrections when they wrongly classify workers as contractors instead of employees.

And we need to end the charade of corporations who classify nearly their entire workforce as independent contractors. If a company has hundreds of independent contractors, those aren’t freelancers like someone hired to fix a leaky roof, or consultants brought on to help with short-term projects. Those are employees, and companies should treat them that way – including paying the company’s fair share of payroll taxes. If a company has more than 500 independent contractors and $7.5 million in annual receipts, that company should pay half the payroll taxes for those workers and contribute to Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, the proposed Family Leave Trust Fund, and other programs workers rely on.

Workers are empowered when they are protected from acts of discrimination by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). We need to restore the EEOC’s requirement that employers report on workers’ pay, gender, race, and ethnicity to increase companies’ compliance with federal wage laws and address discrimination in the workplace. We need the EEOC to take a leading role in helping private employers combat sexual harassment in the workplace. And we need to increase the EEOC’s funding, so it can reduce its backlog of thousands of workers waiting to have their cases heard.

Companies are doing everything they can to make a bigger profit, often by denying workers power or voice in the workplace. We can and must fight back with the right policies to give workers the power and the dignity they deserve.

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