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Monday, September 7, 2009

Off-the-Clock Labor = Part Time Slavery

Off-the-clock labor has become a standard U.S. business practice.

For an eye-opening study of this and other elements of the state of labor in three major U.S. cities, check out the new study Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers* which can be downloaded from the website unprotectedworkers.org.

Among other rampant violations, the study reported that almost a quarter of the workers sampled came in early and/or stayed late after their shift during the previous work week. Of these workers, 70 percent did not receive any pay at all for the work they performed outside of their regular shift.

Among “white collar” office clerical workers, for example, 86% of those participating in the study reported OT violations (76.6% with “off the clock” violations). While the study focused on lower-wage workers, my personal research has confirmed that these numbers hold true for front-line employees of nearly all big businesses – and even among subsidiaries of Wall Street giants!

The study shows that over half of the few who report violations (or attempt to unionize their shops) are slapped down with retaliation. A fifth never report labor law violations out of fear of reprisals.

Even when labor violations are reported, action by State and Federal authorities is tepid, due to a significant decline in enforcement personnel since 1980. In a non-union shop, an employee can only report a violation for him/herself, even if the laws broken affect more coworkers.

Employers who violate labor laws seem to consider the risk of the occasional imposition of penalties to be insignificant, and they figure that the benefits gained from “free” labor outweigh any possible consequences under the current system.

The study provides specific curative recommendations to strengthen government enforcement of employment and labor laws and to update legal standards for the 21st Century workplace.

In a September 2, 2009 editorial, Workers in America, Cheated, the New York Times supports a major overhauling of American business practices and decries theft of labor by businesses.

I would add that any form of involuntary unpaid servitude is slavery and constitutes a violation of Civil Rights. If workers are coerced to provide labor without compensation, not only is their employer stealing their wages – he is stealing their personal time! How many have missed family events because they “had to work” – and were unpaid, to boot.

Nobody has challenged this practice on that basis in a Federal Court thus far, but that must happen to shake up the snakes who are profiting from this corrupt system.

United public outcry by American workers standing against this practice will finally end slavery in this country once and for all. We have been suffering in silence long enough, and it is time for Wall Street to dump its slimy overpaid managers and pay the back wages due and owing to the slaves on Main Street!

Contact your State and Federal senators and representatives to induce enforcement of existing labor laws and to get them updated for the 21st Century. Write letters to your local papers, exposing illegal labor practices. Report violators to your State and Federal Labor Boards.

End 21st Century Slavery NOW!

*authored by Annette Bernhardt, Ph.D., Policy Co-Director of the National Employment Law Project; Nik Theodore, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Urban Economic Development and Associate Professor in the Department of Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Douglas D. Heckathorn, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology at Cornell University and Editor-in-chief of the journal “Rationality and Society”; Mirabai Auer, Research Associate at the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago; James DeFilippis, Ph.D., Associate Professor at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University; Ana Luz Gonz├ílez, doctoral candidate in Urban Planning at UCLA; Victor Narro, J.D., Project Director at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center and Lecturer in Chicano Studies at UCLA; Jason Perelshteyn a Ph.D. student in Sociology at Cornell University; Diana Polson is a Policy Analyst at the National Employment Law Project and Political Science Ph.D. student at the City University of New York; and Michael Spiller, Ph.D. student in sociology at Cornell University

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