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A Brief Look at Today’s Workers Rights and Protections

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Workers used to be at the mercy of their employers when the topic of job-related safety and benefits arose, to say nothing of hiring and promotions. Now, after a push for employee rights gained momentum late in the 20th century, the result was a series of important laws that millions of Americans rely on for protection to this day.

Today, roughly 180 worker protection laws ranging from pay requirement to parental leave benefits are in force. Some key federal protections are below.

The Minimum Wage

Per the Fair Labor Standards Act, American workers receive a minimum wage for their work. Since 2009, most public and private employers have had to pay staff members at least $7.25 per hour, with several states providing their own minimum rates that are even higher. The law offers special protections for minors as well. For non-agricultural positions, it places limits on the number of hours children under the age of 16 can work.

Workplace Safety

Since the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 came into law, dangers in the American workplace have been minimized through a number of specific safety provisions, including industry-specific guidelines for construction, maritime and agricultural jobs. There also is included a “General Duty Clause” that prohibits any workplace practice that represents a clear risk to workers. Primary enforcement of these provisions has been the responsibility of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, although state agencies may also have a role. 

Health Coverage

Formed in 2010, the Affordable Care Act promised to make health insurance a right for workers at most medium and large-sized businesses. A provision that requires companies with 50 or more full-time workers, the “Employer Shared Responsibility Payment” offers workers a minimum level of health insurance. A worker that logs at least 30 hours a week, on average, is considered a “full-time” employee.

Whistleblower Protections

There is in place a patchwork of federal statutes to help protect whistleblowers who report employer violations of the law. Much of the time whistleblower protections are built into pieces of legislation that govern an industry. An example would be the Clean Air Act, which provides safeguards to those who highlight violations of environmental law, as well as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act that affords protections to individuals that uncover unlawful manufacturing practices.

The main body responsible for protecting the rights of employees is OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. The program protects employees who may fear job loss or other reprisals if they speak up. 

Family Leave

In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton signed the Family Leave and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, which resulted in eligible employees being afforded 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year if they decide to stay home in the wake the birth of a child, adoption or serious personal or family member illness.

In order to receive FMLA benefits, an employee must have been with the company for at least 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours during the year prior. Also, the law only applies to business that employs at least 50 employees with a 75-mile radius.

Employee Based Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for businesses to discriminate based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” Subsequently, in 2009 the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act further strengthened workplace rights, prohibiting wage discrimination against minorities and women. Also in this category, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects against age discrimination for employees over 40 years and older, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 provided protections against discrimination of employees with disabilities. 

The bottom line is that today, American employees benefit from the numerous protections designed to provide a minimal level of income, as well as protect them from danger in the workplace, and other safeguards.

About the Author: Jordan Fuller is a retired golfer. Now, he is coaching and teaching golf. He works with wonderful people who help him manage his schedule, mentoring materials, as well as his website, www.golfinfluence.com


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8 Ways That ALEC Is Targeting Working Families

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Kenneth-Quinnell_smallInformation about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) working in secret to push state-level policy to more extreme levels is coming to light more and more and America’s working families are starting to stand up to the group’s corporate-driven agenda. While ALEC’s agenda is all over the policy map, the organization has a particular focus on pushing new laws that attack working families and undercut the rights of workers, both in the workplace and in retirement.  Here are eight of the most dangerous and most widespread ways that ALEC is targeting workers and their right to a voice on the job.

8. Voter ID Act: Laws directly based on or similar to ALEC’s Voter ID Act have been introduced in recent years in nearly every state, with more than a dozen states passing or strengthening such laws in the past three years. These laws disproportionately affect working families, senior citizens, people of color and residents of rural areas and help elect legislators who vote against the rights and needs of workers.

7. Paycheck Protection Bills: ALEC has at least four different versions of this legislation, each one more extreme than the last, that were introduced 20 times in various states in 2013. These bills range from requiring that each employee sign an annual form authorizing that their union dues be allowed to be used for political purposes to preventing payroll deductions from being used for union dues. These bills provide no additional rights to workers and do nothing more than weaken the ability of workers to collectively bargain by depriving unions of the funds they need to fight on behalf of their members.

6. Direct Union Assaults: Through model legislation such as the Election Accountability for Municipal Employee Union Representatives Act and the De-certification Elections Act, introduced in Idaho and Arizona, respectively, ALEC is seeking to make public employees vote over and over again to retain their union status, giving ALEC and other groups the opportunity to flood workers with anti-union propaganda.

5. Public Employees’ Portable Retirement Option Act: Through this and similar bills, 10 states have attempted to weaken or eliminate defined-benefit pension plans and replace them with defined-contribution plans, which make retirees depend on the market for how much money they have for retirement and health care.

4. Council on Efficient Government Act: As Orwellian a name as any in the ALEC arsenal, this legislation does nothing but use government money to create a commission to figure out ways to privatize government services. In other words, yet another example of ALEC attempting to get taxpayer money into the hands of private corporations without any accountability or taxpayer recourse.

3. “Right to Work” Act: This incredibly misleadingly titled legislation gives no one any new rights and does nothing but prevent employees from paying for the benefits that unions earn on their behalf. So-called “right to work” for less states end up paying their workers a lot less than states that don’t have such laws. In 2013, 15 states introduced this legislation.

2. Parent Trigger Act: These laws give parents the option, once a majority of parents sign a petition, to change a public school into a charter school, give students vouchers or close the school. Seven states have passed parent trigger laws similar to the ALEC bill. Parent Trigger laws force parents to make a bad choice—either stick with a poorly performing school, or take drastic actions that are likely to make things worse, do little to help students and are a boon for corporate groups that run private schools. Meanwhile one of the best tools for helping working families reach the middle class—public education—gets less and less funding.

1. Wage Protections: In 14 states, ALEC model legislation attacking wage protections were introduced. The bills sought to weaken or eliminate laws that require prevailing wages, living wages or minimum wages. Big corporations heavily support these efforts, which would only serve to lower wages for workers.

On Thursday, Aug. 8, working families and other opponents of the ALEC agenda will be rallying at the conservative group’s convention in Chicago. Those who are in the area can RSVP online.

This article originally appeared on AFL-CIO NOW blog on August 7, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


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