Tag Archives: at-will employment

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Here’s How Democrats Could Win This Fall and the One After That and the One After That

Image result for workers strike

Democrats are optimistic about their prospects for this November’s Congressional midterm elections. But, as I argued in The Wall Street Journal last week, the party’s growing (and increasingly powerful) progressive base may well decide to sit on their hands, staying home on Election Day — just as a determinative number of Bernie Sanders’ supporters did in 2016.

Don’t be mad at them. Would you vote for a party that promised you nothing whatsoever?

To avoid again snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Democratic leaders must energize their long-neglected base. They should take their cue from Newt Gingrich in 1994 by nationalizing the election with an unapologetically left-leaning platform promising substantial change if they take back the House and/or Senate. Item one seems obvious: they should promise to impeach Donald Trump.

But anti-Trumpism wasn’t enough to win in 2016 and it won’t be enough this year either, especially in races featuring incumbents defending gerrymandered districts. Democrats should set aside identity politics in favor of a class-based agenda that leverages the low unemployment rate in order to restore some of the power workers have lost to decades of downsizing, outsourcing and deunionization.

If not now, when? True, many employers are deploying monopsonic tactics like non-compete and no-poaching clauses to keep workers toiling at their firms without giving them a raise. Even so, there are so many new jobs that corporations are complaining about labor shortages. Working Americans are never going to have a better chance to pressure their bosses to treat them better.

What should the Democrats’ pro-worker platform for 2018 include?

Let’s start with a $25-an-hour federal minimum wage. Sounds radical, but it’s what the lowest-paid workers would earn if Congress had tied the rate either to increases in worker productivity since 1960 or to the official inflation rate (the real one is higher) since the end of the Vietnam War. Going forward, the minimum wage should be indexed to the (real) inflation rate. Bosses say they’d have to lay people off but studies show that’s a bluff. As a concession to employers, the minimum wage could be adjusted downward if there’s deflation.

The United States is one of the few countries on earth — perhaps the only country — with “at-will” employment. Under U.S. labor law, employers can fire workers for any reason that isn’t specifically illegal, such as discrimination by gender or race, or retaliating against a whistleblower. In Europe, there are no independent contractors. All employees get a contract. Unless it’s for good cause (like a worker caught stealing), bosses can’t lay you off without paying you months, or even years, of severance pay. American workers too deserve to be treated with dignity. Democrats should end the obscenity that is at-will.

Under a Clinton-era law, American workers get up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for events like the birth of a baby. Talk about cheap! According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. is the only one of 41 countries that doesn’t offer at least two months of paid leave. Estonia gives more than a year and a half. Paid. Are Estonians better people, more deserving of time with their kids, than Americans? Germany offers more than 40 weeks — so who really won World War II?

Employers often fire workers because they want to join or organize a union. This is already illegal. But that law is toothless because employers simply make up some other reason to get rid of pro-union workers. Getting rid of at-will employment would solve the problem.

These fixes address issues that have long afflicted workers. Going forward, after this fall, Democrats should also take on the big systemic shifts in the workplace that are leaving even more working people underpaid and underprivileged despite putting in a hard week’s work.

Freelancers and independent contractors currently make up more than a third of American workers. They don’t get an employer-matched 401(k), much less a pension. They pay for their own healthcare. The 1099 set needs and deserves paid family leave, protection from fickle at-will employers and a nest egg for retirement.

Just shy of 20% of workers work part-time; many people hold multiple part-time jobs because they can’t find one full-time position. The system needs to take care of their health, retirement and worker-protection requirements as well.

No one is talking about the looming Generation X retirement — or lack of retirement — crisis. Nevertheless, it’s coming. Gen Xer retirement saving rates are terrifyingly low. An obvious solution is beefing up Social Security, but Republicans are slashing benefits instead.

Based on their record of inaction and subservience to corporate interests, I don’t expect Democrats to roll up their sleeves and take on the pocketbook issues progressives — and many swing voters — care about. But if I’m wrong, and they get serious about the stuff that matters most, they’ll win.

(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) brand-new book is “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” co-written with Harmon Leon. His next book will be “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. Publication date is March 13, 2018. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: If You Can Get Fired Over Your Politics, What Good is the First Amendment?

Now that the controversy over Mozilla’s firing of CEO Brendan Eich over his antigay politics has subsided (and before something similar happens again, which it surely will), it’s time for a brief tutorial on McCarthyism.

Because, if those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, Americans — who don’t notice history even as it’s happening, while it’s making headlines — are condemned to the endless purgatory of idiocracy.

McCarthyism, also known as the 20th century’s second Red Scare, took on several forms in the 1950s. Today, however, let’s focus on blackballing.

Blackballing, also often known as blacklisting (there are so many a.k.a.’s), is the act of denying employment to someone due to political opinions they express, and activities in which they participate, away from the workplace.

The qualifier “away from the workplace” is important. Denying you a paycheck because of your politics — politics you don’t express at work — is the essence of blackballing, and arguably the most powerful torture device in the censor’s toolbox. Examples of blackballing include the disgusting Hollywood blacklist of left-leaning actresses like Marsha Hunt and director Charlie Chaplin, and the 2004 firing of an Alabama woman because she had a John Kerry bumpersticker on her car. Also in 2004, Men’s Health magazine dropped my comic strip — which was about sex and relationships, 100% apolitical — because I opposed George W. Bush and his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

As Timothy Noah wrote about the bumpersticker firing: “Firing a person because you don’t like his or her politics runs contrary to just about everything this country stands for, but it is not against the law.” The U.S. embraces the savage fiscal Darwinism of “at-will employment,” which allows employers to hire and fire workers as they please, unless a victim can prove — which is difficult — discrimination due to race, color, religion, gender, age or disability.

Incredibly, your boss can fire you simply for being a Democrat or Republican.

Blackballing squelches expression and debate. Yet the American public doesn’t seem to mind that the First Amendment doesn’t protect them where they spend more than half of their waking hours — at work. Which set the stage for what happened to Brendan Eich.

Star LGBT columnist-editor-author Dan Savage “shrugged off” suggestions that Mozilla blackballed Eich: “No gay rights organizations had called for him to step down. This wasn’t really an issue in the gay community, it was an issue at Mozilla. There were people at Mozilla who didn’t want this man representing them.”

(Disclosure: Savage has commissioned work from me, and I have said nice things about him, which I meant.)

Savage is right. No gay rights groups weighed in. They kept quiet. None spoke out in Eich’s defense.

Hey, if someone offs this turbulent priest, it’s no skin off my ass.

“He was perceived by his own employees as an unacceptable CEO,” Savage remarked, pointing to Eich’s record of right-wing politics, which included supporting Pat Buchanan and Rand Paul, in addition to the $1000 campaign contribution to California’s Proposition 8 in 2012, which attempted to ban gay marriage in the state.

Exactly so.

Eich was perceived as “an unacceptable CEO” by Mozilla. But this was not because of his computer skills, which are widely seen as unimpeachable, or his management talent, which only came under fire after his politics came to light.

The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki showcased the rationale of McCarthyism. Allowing that Eich is “a brilliant software engineer who had been the company’s chief technology officer,” Surowiecki explained: “The problem was that Eich’s stance was unacceptable in Silicon Valley, a region of the business world where social liberalism is close to a universal ideology.” To which one might ask: so what? If I only bought products made by companies whose CEOs I liked, my house would be empty.

And here, the “well, duh” logic that ignores the much bigger question of whether censorship is a good idea: “In interviews, [Eich] repeatedly spoke about the need to respect the diverse views of Mozilla community members…But there was something self-evidently odd about the pairing of Eich’s rhetorical support for diversity with his financial support for denying legal rights to gay people.”

Bear in mind: Eich pledged, in writing, not to discriminate against gay Mozilla employees. There’s no evidence that he ever mistreated any member of the LGBT community.

What is “self-evidently odd” about the argument that a company that values diversity ought to be able to make peace with a right-wing, anti-gay marriage CEO? Nothing. These “liberals” are blind to their own prejudice. In the same way that cable news channels believe that ideological diversity runs the gamut from center-right Clinton Democrat to right-wing Republican, Surowiecki and Mozilla’s top executives think acceptable political discourse allows for no disagreement on gay marriage.

This makes me nervous, and not just because I’m a political pundit or because gay marriage is an issue about which Americans have changed their minds at a breathtakingly rapid rate. If anything you say can be used against you in the court of the HR office, who is going to risk saying what they think? At Mozilla, Republicans would be wise to stay in the political closet. Isn’t that kind of…fascist?

Which is why I have consistently refused to join, actively opposed and publicly argued against boycott campaigns against right-wingers like Dr. Laura and Rush Limbaugh.

I think Eich is wrong about gay marriage. I disagree with his right-wing views. He’s a rich (former) CEO, so I don’t care about him personally. Nevertheless, Eich has become a symbol of something dangerous and wrong.

If you can lose your job due to your politics — especially if those in charge find those politics repugnant — there are only two options available to those of us who need to earn a living: keep our opinions to ourselves, or lie about them. If politics leaves the public sphere, forced underground by watchful employers and politically correct coworkers and anonymous online crusaders, how does the United States differ from East Germany?

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