Yes, We Can Do Something About Insecure Work

A recent New York Times editorial claimed it is simply impossible for “good jobs” to equate to a “good life” for Americans. So a logical conclusion can be drawn, that “bad jobs” (or non-secure work) could ever equate to a “good life”.

Politicians routinely promise that, if elected, they will create more “good jobs,” which are understood to be jobs with solid wages, regular ours and, perhaps, generous employer-provided benefits. During this year’s Presidential Campaign, Hillary Clinton promised “the biggest investment in good-paying jobs since World War II” by a means of a misture of tough trade negotiations, investment in domestic manufacturing, infrastructure investment, research and development, regulatory relief for small business and a tax credit to subside apprenticeships. President-elect Trump proposed to protect American workers from competition with illegal immigrants, the offshoring of jobs by United States-based corporations and harmful practices by trading partners like China.

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But far from the campaign stops and Capitol Hill, Americans are asking; shouldn’t we all be able to enjoy “good lives,” even if we have “bad jobs,” or those defined as insecure work… one’s with low wages, irregular hours and poor or no employer-provided benefits?

Well, according to an important new study from the International Labor Organization, which highlights smart policies that have been used to improve insecure work.

DOWNLOAD: International Labor Organization Study on Non-Secure Work

The comprehensive study by the ILO documents the rise of “insecure” or “non-standard” forms of work – temporary work, seasonal work, casual or intermittent work, daily work, involuntary part-time work, on-call work, temp agency work, subcontracted work, and employment misclassified as independent contracting—around the world in recent decades.

For most working people, these “non-standard” working arrangements have meant greater economic insecurity, including lower earnings, greater likelihood of unemployment, limited control over work hours, less predictable schedules, lower likelihood of union representation, greater occupational safety and health risk, and reduced access to on-the-job training and unemployment and retirement benefits.

The ILO study identifies policy choices that have made “non-standard” work less insecure, including the following:

  • Ensuring equal treatment for part-time workers with regard to wages, working conditions, freedom of association, safety and health, paid annual leave, paid holidays, maternity leave, pension benefits, protections against discrimination, and termination of employment;
  • Ensuring equal treatment for temp agency workers with regard to wages, working conditions and freedom of association, and protecting agency workers against discrimination;
  • Preventing abuse by setting limits on the use of temp agency work, casual work, on-call work or labor subcontracting, in certain circumstances;
  • Assigning joint liability for labor and employment obligations to lead firms in subcontracting networks and user firms in multiple-party arrangements;
  • Establishing minimum guaranteed hours for part-time, on-call and casual workers, and limiting the variability of working schedules;
  • Cracking down on misclassification of employees as independent contractors by, for example, establishing a presumption of an employment relationship or legally defining contracts for certain kinds of services as employment contracts;
  • Using collective bargaining to regulate insecure work by, for example, turning contract work into regular jobs; ensuring equal treatment of temporary, temp agency, casual and part-time workers; guaranteeing minimum hours; and negotiating worker-friendly schedules;
  • Ensuring that all “non-standard” workers can organize and be represented effectively in collective bargaining;
  • Broadening the scope of collective bargaining to all workers in a sector or occupational category;
  • Strengthening remedies against anti-union discrimination, especially discrimination against temporary and on-call workers;
  • Forming alliances between unions and other organizations, such as day labor worker centers, to address issues of concern to insecure workers;
  • Promoting fiscal and monetary policies that lead to full employment;
  • Making social protection programs more inclusive by lowering thresholds for hours, earnings, duration of employment and minimum contributions

Insecure work is not inevitable. Nor is the impossibility of a “good life”. Non-standard employment, including temporary work, part-time work, temporary agency work and other multi-party employment arrangements, disguised employment relationships and dependent self-employment, has become a contemporary feature of labor markets the world over. What is key is that the policies and regulations in place protecting non-standard workers detailed in the International Labor Organization study be an ongoing effort practiced consistently.

As Union Members you know… the “good life” does not have to be impossible.

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What This Means for Unions: The NLRB Judges Decision; Walmart Strikes Lawful, Must Reinstate Workers

This week Reuters broke the news that the National Labor Relations Board Judge found the 2013 Walmart strikes lawful and they must offer to reinstate 16 dismissed employees.

The Ruling
Administrative Law Judge Geoffrey Carter said in a ruling posted on the board’s website that the U.S. retailer violated labor law by “disciplining or discharging several associates because they were absent from work while on strike”.

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The ruling was hailed by labor group Making Change at Walmart as a “huge victory” for employees, although Walmart indicated it would likely appeal the decision to the labor agency’s board in a statement:

“We disagree with the Administrative Law Judge’s recommended findings and we will pursue all of our options to defend the company because we believe our actions were legal and justified,” Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg said (@korylundberg).

Walmart had argued that it was lawful to discipline workers with unexcused absences to participate in the protests because the strikes constituted “intermittent work stoppages” not protected under labor law.

But the judge found this case differed materially from other previous work stoppages not protected by law because, among other factors, it was not a brief strike – meaning the risk for workers was higher – and because it was not scheduled close in time with other strikes.

Judge Carter ordered Walmart to offer 16 former workers their previous jobs and make them “whole for any loss of earnings and other benefits suffered as a result of the discrimination against them”.

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Union Built PC spoke to a former Walmart Employee for his feedback on his victory… and when it is a victory at all:

“As a former Walmart employee about a decade ago, I remember how hard I laughed when my training had anti-union videos that seriously reminded me of cold war era propaganda.

“‘If you are approached by a Union Representative” – shows shady person approaching you in the clothing section as if he’s about to flash you – “don’t’ talk, get a manager to have them escorted off the premise immediately.’

“And I ‘loved’ receiving my evals; “Outstanding. Excellent. Outstanding. Enjoy your .10 raise.”

“I don’t bear any ill will to my former employer, but they definitely abused their workers when it came to pay. All under the banner of ‘the customer is always right’ and under the guise of corporate profits.”

This video is shown to all associates at on-boarding – it is mandatory that everyone working for Walmart understands they are “better off” without a union! This training video – boasting the care and concern Sam Walton has for its employees – actually leaked and posted to social platforms such as YouTube (see minute marks 2:34 and 6:45).

The Impact… Is it a “huge victory”?
Administrative Law Judge Geoffrey Carter also ordered Walmart to hold a meeting in more than two dozen stores to inform workers of their rights to organize under U.S. labor law.

The impact, if any, the decision would have on the efforts by Making Change at Walmart and other groups to pressure Walmart on wages and benefits is unclear. The UFCW has tried for years to organize Walmart workers and the hurdles remain high. With a consistent history of anti-union messaging presented to their employees – and a statement already issued by Walmart spokesman Lundberg disagreeing with these with intent to file appeal defend the company on the grounds their actions were legal and justified – how can we trust the meetings ordered by Judge Geoffrey Carter will be transparent and without bias?

We suppose Union Built PC will need to source out more Walmart employees who attended one of these meetings to understand just how clearly their right to organize under U.S. Labor Law was communicated.

Your Turn

What do you think of Judge Geoffrey Carter’s decision? What impact do you think it will have on Walmart Workers? How do you feel about the inevitable Walmart appeal?

Sound off in Comments, on our Facebook Page and #UnionStrong Facebook Group, and on our Twitter or LinkedIn Pages… And don’t forget to subscribe to the Union Built PC monthly eNewsletter where we regularly cover topics related to the Labor Movement and have a regular feature called #WalmartWatch.


Additional Sources: Nathan Layne, Reuters