Employers Get A Pass on Worker Safety, and Big Banks Are Still Ripping You Off
As the Great Recession fades into memory, the economy is creating more and more jobs. So what? What good does a job do if your employer can mistreat you and get away with it? What good does an income do if your bank can keep ripping you off?
What good is a little more income if your workplace, or your neighborhood or your kids’ school, is in danger of either blowing up or getting doused in toxic chemicals?
The Arizona Supreme Court just ruled that if a company sends its workers home every day covered in asbestos dust, the company bears no responsibility for the family members who get cancer from it. That’s one example of the larger problem, which is decades of a systemic whittling away, in federal law, state laws and corporate behavior, at the well-being of people. Just getting a job or a little more income is not going to fix it. It requires a systemic, wholesale reversal in favor of people. Otherwise, you get the job, but you also get cancer. You get the income, but you get constantly ripped off.
The EPA is trying to undo a rule just recently enacted that would require companies which deal with dangerous chemicals to meet stronger safety guidelines. The rule was enacted in 2016, then suspended in 2017 because EPA head Scott Pruitt says it will save the industry, “roughly $88 million a year.” In the year following the suspension Earth Justice has logged events every week and a half on average that have descriptions such as, “2.5 million pounds of pollutants released,” “kills four workers,” “emissions that cover nearby homes, cars and an elementary school playground,” “Shelter-in-place orders for two elementary schools,” “explosions…evacuation of more than 70 square miles.”
A major phone-support center described as, “the top federal contractor in the call center industry,” was just busted for paying employees below what the contract specified. Employees who had risen to higher level work were still categorized at a lower job level. These aren’t low-wage, blue-collar, casual labor or temp-services workers. These are full-time office jobs that are supposed to be lower-middle income. This contractor was caught, but it’s doubtful they’re the only ones. What good does it do to have a job if the employer rips you off?
The EPA has tried to hide a study detailing how leaks from chemical plants and military installations contaminate water supplies of surrounding communities, because of the “potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.” What good does it do to perhaps afford a home if the water might kill you?
Most companies that provide you a service have in their fine print that you agree to forced arbitration if there are any problems. This even covers violent crimes, as women who were assaulted by Uber drivers learned. They could neither go to court, nor pool together for a group-lawsuit that might be the only way a suit is practical. Uber has changed its tune under public pressure by releasing these women from part of the clause, the part about arbitration, but still won’t release them to bring suit as a group. What good does it do to have a little more income if the rules have been so stacked against you that you can’t even get justice for being violently attacked?
What good does it do to have jobs available if the law allows for pay so low you still need food stamps just to eat? (In some states if you worked full time for the federal minimum wage you would still qualify for food stamps.) Then the GOP Congress, who have kept the minimum wage low, treats everyone on food stamps like leaches and try everything they can to kick people off, as they just attempted in their farm bill.
I understand the reasons behind policy proposals to boost jobs and income, but if they’re not presented in context, as interim patches, as steps along the way, if they’re not accompanied by a clear, burning commitment to much larger change, if the focus is not relentlessly on the overarching goal of full, systemic change of priorities back to what benefits people, then…what good does it do? Helpful policies are good, but undoing all of the bias against people, back to people first, throughout the law and the economy, is the only real fix.
Tom Cantlon has the interesting challenge of being a left-leaning writer for the paper in a small, right-leaning Western town, in a right-leaning state. He can be reached at comments at TomCantlon.com.