For hundreds of years, people from all over the world have been coming to America to make better lives for themselves and their families. Yet today we find more and more Americans are worse off than their parents, or worried their children will be worse off than themselves. We must preserve the American Dream for current and future generations of hard-working people throughout our great nation. Pitting one group of workers against another results in a race to the bottom that we all lose.
Over 200 years ago, the Bill of Rights codified our most basic and cherished liberties as citizens of the United States. Now it's time for a "Workplace Bill of Rights" to ensure that we have fairness and justice as working people in America.
In the workplace, people should treat each other the way they would like to be treated themselves. Our workplaces should be free of verbal abuse, threats, sabotage, and bullying of any kind. As much as possible, jobs should maximize the fulfillment and development of the people doing them and should minimize drudgery and stagnation. Employers that make promises to their employees about pay, benefits, promotions, and responsibilities should honor those promises.
There's nothing wrong with an economic system that rewards some people very well for their creativity, dedication, excellence, and ingenuity. This should not mean, however, that equally hard-working people who clean hotel rooms, grow food, or care for children must live in poverty. People who work 40 hours a week should be able to afford-for themselves and their children-safe and comfortable housing, nutritious food, adequate clothing, quality health care, retirement security, education, reliable transportation, and at least some leisure activities and savings, without depending on government assistance or charity.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed with the goal of eliminating employment discrimination. Over 40 years later, literally thousands of incidents of discrimination are reported every year. This simply must stop. All employees should be evaluated based on how they do their jobs-without bias, prejudice, or stereotyping.
It is disgraceful that America spends more on health care than any other developed country, yet has more people with inadequate or no health care coverage. Our political and business leaders must work together to develop a strategy that will make adequate and affordable health insurance available to everyone who has a job.
Employees should be paid enough that they can afford to save for and enjoy retirement. Companies that defer some of their employees' compensation in the form of pensions must honor those obligations. Social Security must be fully and reliably funded.
Not every employee and every job are a perfect match-terminations are a fact of life. But we must abolish the tyranny of at-will employment, where most Americans can be fired for almost any reason - or for no reason at all. When firings or layoffs are justified, they should be carried out with as much notice, dignity, and support as possible. Meaningful job training, career counseling, severance pay and benefits, and unemployment insurance should be available to all who need them.
Having a job shouldn't be a matter of life or death. Employees should be provided with any and all protective equipment and training required to minimize their chances of getting hurt or sick on the job. Enforcement of health and safety laws must ensure that it costs more to break the law than to follow it, and employers that willfully put profits before people must be punished. Those employees who still get hurt or sick, even with the best precautions, deserve adequate workers' compensation.
Our entire society is better off when people are able to spend time with their families, be active in their communities, and participate as citizens. Businesses that encourage their employees' lives away from work find that those employees are more productive, more satisfied, and more loyal. America lags behind almost every other developed country in paid leave for employees. But people get sick, people become disabled, people have loved ones who need care, people have babies, and people need vacations. Work must leave room for these other, but no less vital, parts of life. Employers should have no control over their employees' time off-the-clock; they should respect the privacy and autonomy of their employees.
Some things that we take for granted - like weekends or the eight-hour workday - we only have because men and women sacrificed their livelihoods, and sometimes their lives, to build the labor movement that was the backbone of America's economic dominance in the 20th Century. Even today, without the ability to join together to protect their rights and improve their working conditions, employees will be at risk of unfair treatment. For those workers who wish to pursue traditional union organizing or other collective action, employers and the government must continue to honor that established right.
Employees should never be afraid to stand up for their rights or face punishment because they have done so. Employers should not be able to force employees to give up their rights to get or keep a job. Employees need fair and accessible means to pursue justice when their rights are violated. Agencies charged with enforcing rights must have the resources and commitment to do the job right. The courthouse doors must remain open for those who need justice. Penalties for violating the law must be a true disincentive for future violations of these rights.
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