2013 continuses the decline in workers and their rights. (Image Source: Flickr: peoplesworld)
While Labor Day is supposed to be a day honoring the toil and work that Americans do every day of their effective lives, these days people seem to be losing more and more control over their rights as workers. Some would argue that these losses enable a greater freedom for Americans as a whole, and help our economy as it struggles to regain some clear direction. However, the problem with this is that the source of these changes are not workers themselves, but rich businessmen and entrepreneurs who find the rules an obstacle rather than guidance. There have been quite a few things that workers have lost this year. Let us look at five big losses that impact workers greatly.
Median Income Household Index Chart courtesy Sentier Research
1. Income and Earnings
The complaints that people's earning's have not changed, and have dwindled, is not without merit. Accoridng to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, real earnings dropped by .1 percent over the last year in July 2013, with the average workweek remaining unchanged. This comes with the year's real earnings being flat as of July. While Sentier Research's Median Income Household Index, which adjusts average incomes for inflation, notes a recent increase in their index, it remains mostly flat. Without an increase in income, the hesitance amongst Americans of buying things, important and not, remains a stumbling block for any progress in the economy.
The bankruptcy of Detroit earlier in 2013 represents the twilight moments of worker pensions. While many creditors will suffer from the loss, the pensions of city workers and retirees are likely to be hit hardest, due to how bankruptcy law functions. Many suspect that Michigan governor Rick Snyder ordered Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to file for bankruptcy in order to subvert state law that prevents any cuts to worker pensions from being made. If the U.S. Bankruptcy Court decides to push Detroit's bankruptcy forward, retirees and workers are expected to lose almost everything, making it hard to live after one finishes working.
As the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, begins to take effect next year, corporations are responding almost across the board by using the excuse of "uncertainty" from the law to cut health care benefits. UPS is dropping coverage of spousal support for over 15,000 workers. Women's clothing store Forever 21 announced that almost all of its store employees nationwide are now limited to working below a maximum 29.5 hours per week to avoid having to offer health insurance to them, with many more in the retail and service industries likely to follow suit.
4. Harassment Protection
Two under-the-radar Supreme Court rulings this year, Vance v. Ball State University and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, stripped away many protections for workers that are being harassed in the workplace. In Vance, the Supreme Court allowed bosses to harass and bully subordinates with impunity, as long as they do not have the power to hire or fire people. In Nassar, the Supreme Court allowed bosses to not reveal the motives of their thinking when faced with a discrimination lawsuit. Such loss of protections make it harder to work without people being harassed needlessly.
While worker rights are supposed to be represented by unions, unions get a bad rep by certain parts of the country as being no better than corporations in terms of political influence. Thus, the unions have lost significant support in recent years. Companies and public agencies have taken advantage of this situation by exploiting people's own economic fears. This was best demonstrated in the recent strike of San Francisco Bay Area transit service BART, where the agency used a PR campaign highlighting transit workers' high salaries to turn public opinion against the unions. As more governments try to whittle away union power out of necessity and/or political points, more campaigns such as this one will pop up in the future.