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Abbyrose86 On February - 18 - 2011

With all the talk I’m hearing and reading from some that believe Unions and collective bargaining are no longer necessary, I thought I would share a paper I wrote regarding the  “employment at will” doctrine and how unions are still very much necessary in today’s world.

Employment “At-Will” is an idea that came to being in the United States of the late 19th century.  It provides that an individual can provide their labor to another individual or entity in exchange for wages, and that either party can severe the arrangement, for any reason, without cause.  Originally, it was assumed that the employer and the employee where on equal footing, thus the arrangement was considered equitable to both parties.  It was also assumed, via the doctrines espoused by the “free market” principle of the “invisible hand” that both parties would do “the right thing” for their own self interest, thus businesses would not sever relationships with employees without good reason; such as that the employee was not doing their job properly or was not providing the service to the business for which he was hired to accomplish.

This doctrine is attributed to the concepts espoused by Horace C. Wood, in Master and Servant § 134, at pages 272-273 (1877).   Within this legal treatise about employment law, Wood unintentionally and erroneously,  cited a serious of four court cases, which he believed laid the foundation that an employer could fire an employee for any reason.  However, the court cases, he cited, did not support his claim.  However, due to the laissez faire business climate at the time, many pro business advocates and judges used his thesis to further the concept.

“In a serious of Court Cases, Soon after Wood’s treatise appeared, various courts began citing the rule in his treatise, and thus the rule became accepted law. For example:

  • McCullough Iron Co. v. Carpenter, 11 A. 176, 178-179 (Md. 1887) (“[Wood’s treatise] is an American authority of high repute ….”);
  • East Line and Red River Railroad v. Scott, 10 S.W. 99, 102 (Tex. 1888);
  • In re Philadelphia Packing & Provision Co., 1894 WL 3641 at *3 (Pa.Com.Pl. 1894);
  • Martin v. New York Life Ins. Co., 42 N.E. 416, 417 (N.Y. 1895) (“… we think the rule is correctly stated by Mr. Wood, and it has been adopted in a number of states.”);
  • Greer v. Arlington Mills Mfg. Co., 43 A. 609, 610 (Del.Super. 1899) (“Wood, in his Law of Master and Servant (§ 134), very clearly states the difference between the rule which obtains in this country and the one in England, and I can find it nowhere more intelligently and satisfactorily stated. It is as follows:” [quoting nearly one page from Wood])
    also “We have no doubt that the great preponderance of the best-considered cases in this
    country recognize and affirm the rule laid down by Wood in his work on Master and Servant, and which he terms the ‘American rule,’ ….” Greer at 612.
  • Harrod v. Wineman, 125 N.W. 812, 813 (Iowa 1910) (“… in this country it is held by an overwhelming weight of authority that a contract of indefinite employment may be abandoned at will by either party without incurring any liability to the other for damages. The cases are too numerous to justify citation, but see ….” [citing four secondary sources, including Wood’s Master and Servant.” (Standler, 2000)

Over the years this doctrine had become the rule governing employment.  However, due to a series of ideological changes starting with the formation of labor unions, then erupting after the Great Depression and the advent of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, the ideals and fairness of the “At-will employment doctrine, started to be questioned.

During the 1960’s and the civil rights movement, the concept of being able to fire or not hire an employee for “ANY” reason, came under scrutiny, especially where one’s color, race, sex, religion or national origin where the reason.  Starting in 1963, with the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and further in 1964, with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 employment decisions based on color, race, sex, religion or national origin became illegal across the United States.

Later, age discrimination was added to the Federally banned reasons for firing or refusing to hire an employee, with the passage of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.   In 1973, another class of citizens, the disabled, started to receive some federal protection in employment issues, with the Rehabilitation Act of 1963.  However, that legislation was very limited and didn’t address all disabilities; it primarily on protected certain handicapped conditions. .   In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was enacted and finally provided federal employment protection for individuals with all disabilities.  It outlawed the practice nationally, of any employment decision on the basis of an individual’s disability.

While the federal government has come to the aid for some Americans with some statutes governing employment issues, on the whole, employment issues are under the jurisdiction of the individual states.  As such, state laws are the primary determinant of employer/employee legalities.

All but one State does not employ the “employment at will doctrine”.  In 1987, Montana passed “The Montana Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act” (Mont. Code Ann. § 39-2-901) which provides that an employee needs to be let go for “just cause”.

Other states have replied by providing some exceptions to the “At-will” doctrine.  However the rules are somewhat murky and are not very specific and thus can lead to confusion, especially with organizations which have employees in many states.

Some states provide exceptions based on “public policy”, which is the concept where an employer can not fire an employee if it would violate the states public policy or a state or federal statute.   Forty- three (43) states currently have such a rule.  Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, and Florida are the seven states without this exception.

Thirty-seven (37) states have “implied contract” provision as an exception to the “at-will” doctrine.  The implied contract states that “an employer may not fire an employee when an implied contract is formed between an employer and employee, even though no express, written instrument regarding the employment relationship exists.”(Muhl, 2001).  This can come about if the company has company handbooks, or policies which provide the specifics of how employee discipline or separation issues are supposed to be handled.  If the employer violates their own policies, they can be held liable for “breach of implied contract”.    The thirteen states which do have implied contract provisions are:  Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia.

Unfortunately, this provision isn’t always accepted by the courts even in the states which may allow for this exception.  There have been court cases in NY and Texas, where the courts ruled against the rule since the state law did not recognize the ability to sue for wrongful discharge and thus upheld the “at-will” doctrine.

The last exception to the “employment at-will” doctrine is the “covenant of good faith and fair dealing”.   This concept provides that all employer/employee relations are subject to “good faith and fair dealing”, thus providing a “just cause” concept to the idea of an employer requested employment separation.   Only eleven (11) U.S. States, provide this exception:  Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Delaware, Idaho, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.  However, the level of broadness of the concept varies from state to state, with Montana’s interpretation being the most “employee” friendly.

There are a few other concepts which do not adhere to the “at-will” doctrine, but they are not exceptions, but rather different classes of employment.  While most private industry employees in the United States are “at-will” employees, based on State Laws, other individual’s employment is governed by actual contracts or collective bargaining agreements.   Also, government employees, whether they are of federal, state or municipal governments, are not subject to the “at-will” doctrine.

Union employee’s relationships with their employers are subject to the collective bargaining contracts that the union negotiates for them with the employer.  As such the terms of their employment is specifically laid out within the actual contract, thus the terms often dictate under what situations the employee can be released of their duty from the employer.

Certain employees are able to negotiate actual employment contracts with their employers.   These contracts often stipulate various provisions between the two parties, including under what circumstances the parties may part company and any financial considerations which may apply if either party attempts to severe the relationship before it matures.   Usually, these contracts are provided to “key” employees or for executive positions.   On occasion, some other employees, with special skills, knowledge or client base may also be offered contracts or may be able to negotiate such as conditions of their employment with an organization.

Finally where government employees are concerned, while many do have union representation which governs their employment specifications, many assume their employment is not subject to the “at-will” doctrine, for this reason.  However, my research has discovered that even without the union representation and contracts, they are still exempt from the “at-will” doctrine, because the government can not release an employee from duty, if the behavior for which they are being let go, may be interpreted to be in violation of the individuals’ Federal or State constitutional rights.  As such, these employees are not “at-will” because they can not be discharged from their duties for “any” reason.  For example, if a federal government employee where discharged for writing an opinion piece for their local paper, thus expressing their 1st amendment right to free speech, their employer, the government, could not fire them for that reason.  Whereas, an employee of a private company, who is an “at will employee” who elected to write an ob-ed that their boss did not like, could be let go for that reason without recourse toward the employer.

While in some ways, the employment at will doctrine seems to be a good idea, for both parties, as it allows either party to severe the relationship.  However, the balance of power between an employer and an employee is not an equitable one.   As our society has evolved, so has our ability to provide for ourselves.  While we once were an agriculture society, where individuals hunted, grew their own food and literally built their own homes on land they themselves settled, that is not how individuals in our current society provide for their basic survival needs.  Today, in order for an individual to fulfill their basic needs of food and shelter, individuals require money to purchase needs.  As such, unless they were born with a substantial trust fund, an individual must have some sort of financial resource, such as an income from which they can use to survive.  Our socially accepted method of income generation is employment; whether an individual accepts employment from a private company, an individual, the government or if they are able to be self employed, the goal is through work they can earn money to provide for their survival.

The transaction between an individual (employee) and an entity (an employer) conveys the idea that both are providing to each other what they both need.  In theory, that implies that the relationship is equitable.  However, the reality is that the financial resources of the employer are usually much more than the financial resources of the employee.  As such, usually the employee needs the employer more than the employer needs that particular individual, as there are usually others who are equally able to provide the service which the employer requires.  Therefore, the relationship is not equitable and thus the power is with the employer.

The At-will doctrine gives the employer, who already has an unfair advantage within the transaction another advantage over the employee.  Thus creating a situation, whereas the employee is at the mercy of the employer for their livelihood and thus their ability to survive.   This in turn creates an atmosphere of fear on behalf of the employee and thus he/she is more likely to condone whatever the employer dictates, even if it is against the individuals own ethics and beliefs.  Often times the employee must put on a false persona while at work, in order to ensure they “fit in” so as not to place their job in jeopardy.  It often is not enough that the individual comes to work, does their job effectively, and provides the service they were hired to do, many times, especially today, their personal habits and out of work activities are subject to their employer’s approval.   Under the “at will” doctrine, employers can let an employee go for just about any transgression of which they do not approve.

While, in theory, it would seem prudent, that an employee would not want to work under such conditions and thus because the “at-will” doctrine works both ways, the employee could quit and find other employment.  However, while that is true, there must be a market for their services.  If the employee is not one with “special” talents are skills, they might not be able to find other employment.  In addition, if they are let go for “any” reason, some of which, might include they “just didn’t get along with the boss” than their reputation will be affected and other employers might not being willing to hire them, because of the previous boss’ opinion. In addition, while they are looking for new employment opportunities, they may not have adequate financial resources required for basic survival.   Thus, the at-will doctrine is much more harmful to employees than it is to employers.

According to the ACLU, approximately 200,000 Americans lose their jobs unjustly every year.   While there are many wonderful organizations which have respect for their employees and recognize their employees are a reason for their success, sadly, there are still many that are not so enlightened and treat their employees poorly.  Statistics and medical research show a correlation between “toxic” work environments and health ailments, which affects our society as a whole.  In addition, while numbers can be found for those who have filed lawsuits or formal complaints, I wonder how many are out there, who were the victims of unjust firing, who don’t come forward.   Sadly, there are many in our society whose lives are severely damaged by these actions of the unscrupulous employers.

The United States is the only major, industrialized, country which does not protect worker’s rights.   There are many who may argue, that what other countries do is not relevant; I would suggest that in a global economy that is a very disingenuous statement.   We are competing with workers and companies literally located all over the globe.  While some countries are not as evolved or civilized in their treatment of employees, others are ahead of the pack.  In general, those countries which do not protect they workers are primarily third world and have less educated work force or are primarily manufacturing centers.  Whereas, those societies which behave in a more worker friendly atmosphere have higher education standards and a more sophisticated populace.  Why would we want to behave like a third world country?

Bibliography

At-Will Employment. (2009). The American heritage dictionary of business terms. Retrieved (2009, December 14) from http://www.yourdictionary.com/business/at-will-employment

Employment At Will. (2008). West encyclopedia of american law. Retrieved (2009, December 14) from http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Employment+at+Will

Muhl, C.J. (2001). Employment at will. Monthly Labor Review, Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2001/01/art1full.pdf

The At-will presumptions and Exceptions To The Rule. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/Default.aspx?TabId=13344

Your rights – at will employment. (2006, March 7). Retrieved from http://www.workplacefairness.org/atwill?agree=yes

Foulkes, A. (2005, May 23). In defense of employment-at-will. Retrieved from http://mises.org/story/1821

ACLU, Initials. (n.d.). Rights of Employees. ‘Lectric law library. Retrieved (2009, December 14) from http://www.lectlaw.com/files/emp08.htm

Pitchford, G.K. (2001, January 3). An Examination of at-will employment doctrine. Retrieved from http://www.ala-apa.org/newsletter/vol2no08/spotlight.html

Standler, R.B. (2000, September 30). History of at-will employment law in the united states. Retrieved from http://www.rbs2.com/atwill.htm

Categories: News & Politics

Written by Abbyrose86

For the last 21 years, I worked in international trade as a licensed customs broker, international freight forwarder and international trade consultant. I ended up in that business after having studied Journalism and communication in college. (Strange how that worked) Over the last 3 years I have been trying to change my life and my career, so I left my job, returned to school and am on the last leg of completing my Bachelor's of Science in Business Administration and Economics, and am planning on going on for my masters in International Business. It might seem odd that I decided to formally study the business I was in for 21 years...but there is a reason for that... I hope to teach and write on the subject in the future. I'm a mother of 2 young adults and have many hobbies; reading, researching, writing, blogging, decorating, are my current favorites.

129 Responses so far.

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  1. JSand says:

    I see no one has discussed the Employers telling their employment agencies not to send them any “Unemployed people” because their is a reason they are unemployed. What a crock. I even see in many employment counselors articles that after 6 months, most people’s skills are degraded. I feel I am iin this boat, as well as being 50 years old. I have enough resources for another year or so, and then if I’m still locked out of the system, I’ll rob a bank or something. At least I’ll get medical care and food. Imagine that. prisoners are treated better than most of our unemployed,

  2. KQuark says:

    How come the conservative answer to workers is always a race to the bottom?

    Don’t collectively bargain.
    Work longer hours.
    Take less benefits.
    Work for lower wages.

    Yet they never ask for management to get their compensation in line with countries like Japan and in Europe.

    They never ask corporate officers to forgo bonuses and all the perks they get.

    It’s really a joke. Workers have to give up there standard of living, turn us all into Chinese workers who should just be happy we have a job. Yet management never needs to concede anything and worse they think shareholders deserve maximum share value.

    That’s why there personal responsibility memes are such a joke. If conservatives who run most of the mega corporations had personal responsibility they would be sacrificing as well. And the worse part is they don’t have to even sacrifice that much. Maybe a second home in the Hamptons, the tenth car, a smaller yacht, pathetic when you even call it sacrificing.

  3. dimplasm says:

    If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a beautiful thing. The firefighters and their Bagpipes marching into the capitol to support the protesters:


    Hope I did that right, :)

  4. ADONAI says:

    I hope one day we will be at a place where unions become irrelevant. Until then, they are every much the main counter to disingenuous business practices. The only real friend labor has. Though that friend does get them in trouble from time to time.

  5. Abby, how do you see the temporary employment agencies, corporate recruiters (headhunters), and similar enterprises contributing to this?

    I seriously think that these enterprises have contributed to the attitude of employers that most employees are disposable and interchangeable (“butts in a chair” is how one supervisor referred to it).

    I can almost envision a “roach coach” pulling up in front of companies one day, displaying the various temporary workers they have to “rent” to the employers.

    • KillgoreTrout says:

      Some companies use temps on a probationary basis. Of course it is not usually a written contract between the temp and the potential employer.
      I worked for a company, starting as a temp. I was told that if they liked my work, and I had good attendance, and was not some sort of trouble maker, that chances were very good that I would get hired full time by the company I was sent to as a temp.
      I worked 6 months as a temp and got hired permanently, or as an employee of not the temp agency that sent me to this company, but by the company I was sent to.
      Companies save huge amounts of money this way. They can pay a temp much lower wages than a full time employee that works for said company. They save money by not having to supply benefits to temps, such as health care, sick days and vacation days.

      • ghsts says:

        I assume you read the contract you signed with the temp company who hired you initially? Something like ‘don’t expect much until you pass the 12-18 month probationary period’? My father’s last career was in HR Administration back when temps rose to power, the employees get less but the employer pays more with the caveat that they can replace or substitute the individual at will as I understand it.

        • KillgoreTrout says:

          Yes, that is true, but temps do not sign a contract with any expectation of being hired by the company you are sent to. At least this was not the case in my experience.

          • ghsts says:

            True, though the temp companies contract with the employer stipulates “bonuses” for employees that the company eventually hires. At US Robotics/3Com this was the case where if orders were up they would hire the temps who by now had 12 months experience on the line at starting wages and reintroduce the probationary period from the USR’s perspective then ManPower would get $4500 kick back. The net result was a full time employee that had a 15 month probationary period before qualifying for benefits package. The first wave of temp to hire employees came online for stock options many invested heavily in their new home, 3months before the stock tanked and was bought out by 3Com at a 3 year low.

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              I don’t know what sort of deal my temp employers made with the company that actually hired me. I do know they were paid several dollars an hour over what I was being paid by the temp agency.

      • Abbyrose86 says:

        I truly understand WHY companies do it, but I truly don’t think it is a good long term strategy for the company or for most potential employees.

        I’ve done quite a bit of research on strategic planning, human resource management and labor law…as you can see! :)

        BOTH when from when I started my company and when I returned to school…so I’ve found that it’s one of those counter intuitive business strategies, that sounds good in THEORY and looks good in the short term (on the books) but actually COSTS MORE in the long run and negatively impacts company growth, brand and other harder to quantify aspects of the organization.

        • UpstateSC says:

          Abby, you are right. In practice, using temps is a losing long-term strategy. The company I work for laid off most of the plant employees about five or six years ago. Many had 20+ years experience with the company, were great workers, reliable and loyal to the company. Our then new HR manager had the “brilliant” idea to lay them off and then to “rehire” them through a temp agency. Anyone with commonsense and empathy could have told top management what would (and did) happen. Most of the laid off employees decided to take their severance pay, apply for unemployment and either look elsewhere for a job or go back to school. The few who came back as temps ended up quitting within a few months.

          Inexperienced temps were then “hired” to take their place, and they weren’t as good as the workers they replaced. I’m not putting down temp workers, I’ve been one, doing the same kind of work I do now. And while I always try to do a good job, no matter the pay and benefits, I don’t work as hard if I’m a temp. Maybe it’s psychological, but I feel that the company isn’t showing any loyalty to me by outright hiring me, so why be loyal to it?

          As result, we had some customers return orders, as they weren’t of the quality they were used to. We still have some temps in the plant, but most working there are hired permanently and doing a much better job than as temps. In 2010, we seem to have recovered somewhat from the temp experiment, and the HR manager that suggested it is gone.

          Just as using temps is not a good long-term strategy, I think that workers making concessions without management doing the same is a bad long-term strategy.

          • Abbyrose86 says:

            Thanks for sharing your experience and the data truly backs up what you are saying.

            I so agree with your last paragraph. SO SO agree…the two have to REALLY negotiate and not just one entity can take a hit…it will hurt the business and everyone (except for maybe 1 0r 2 execs) in the long run.

        • PocketWatch says:

          Abby -- Ahhh! The hidden (buried) costs of mismanagement, which is why overhead in many companies is higher than it needs to be. I will, over and over in my series, repeat that TRUE costs have to be determined. For example, bad safety practices are EXPENSIVE. Higher WorkComp, higher liability insurance, legal fees, settled claims… all are in overhead. Why not set up a safety program that eliminates those expenses? That is also in overhead, but is MUCH less expensive than those other things over time. Just one example…

          • KQuark says:

            But then again who are the ones keeping companies in check on this end?

            Those horrible liberal trial lawyers who don’t let companies get away with an unsafe workplace.

            • PocketWatch says:

              KQ -- And OSHA, the BigBadWolf! This is why the idea of “tort reform” keeps coming up, along with defunding OSHA and the EPA.

              Can’t imagine why THAT would be an issue with big business!

          • Abbyrose86 says:

            And YOU do it well! :)

            But it can’t be said enough!!!! :)

            • PocketWatch says:

              Abby -- the sad reality is that companies are set up to monitor and reward/punish COGS issues. No one watches overhead or rewards/punish for inflated overhead. So, Project Managers, Dept. Managers, VP’s and anyone that can, hides mistakes and cost overruns in overhead whenever they can.

              I can fix that.

          • Abbyrose86 says:

            EXACTLY! EXACTLY! EXACTLY!

            Thank you PW…so many organizations don’t realize that they aren’t allocating their resources properly and they tracking their costs appropriately either.

            MISMANAGEMENT….is usually the problem!!

            Thank you, Thank you so much for saying that!

    • Abbyrose86 says:

      Good question.

      Temporary employment agencies I think are a bad thing. Some headhunters are good and work for both parties well. It depends on the industry I think. I worked with a headhunter once and I was able to negotiate through him and my lawyer a very good contract with the employer. BUT that is not always the case, unless the headhunter specializes in a difficult to place field.

      I have worked with employers who look at employees as assets and those who see them as liabilities. I’ve also read many studies on the subject…(hmmm…another topic for an article :)) and without exception those who treat their employees as assets (although this is often counter intuitive to some) SEE better profits, longer sustainability and more opportunities for sustainable long term growth. So I don’t understand the thinking of some who insist that the quality of employees and how they are treated is not important.

      It all goes to incentives. Perverse incentives at the top often lead to this myopic thinking…but it actually ends up hurting most companies who employ such concepts in the long run. But the wrong incentives structures (too low of wages) for the lower end workers is a problem too. AS you get what you pay for…why would anyone making just minimum wage or slightly above, with little hope for improving their income in a company…give more than what that wage provides? They won’t…not in the long term. They may AT first give their all, but as time goes on, there is no incentive for them to give their all..if they aren’t being properly compensated.

      Turn over is quite expensive for an organization…some studies say it costs at least 3x the yearly salary of the old employee to replace. The costs associated are sometimes hard for companies to quantify (if they aren’t tracking it properly) and so they often don’t realize just how much having pissed off employees really costs them.

      (BTW…I am working on an article for next week on incentives and perverse incentives…it will tie in with this one and a short series on global trade…I hope to have them all completed next week! )

      • PocketWatch says:

        Abby -- I will, at some point, also address incentives in my series. It is actually a cornerstone of effective management, if done properly. And the way I suggest it be done, it costs the comapny nothing outside of what they establish as a reasonable profit margin in a careful and complete Business and Financial Plan. It’s actually what I’m pointing at.

        I’ll be interested to see what you have to say on the subject.

        • Abbyrose86 says:

          Oh goody! We can compare! I can’t wait to read it PW!

          I am doing mine more on the effect of perverse incentives and how they can cause the wrong outcomes for both companies and society as a whole.

          I’m sure we will touch on some similar concepts though!

          • PocketWatch says:

            Abby -- every time I have gotten a business to apply what I set up for them and follow through, it has resulted in more profits, fewer headaches, and a self-running business.

            A practical approach. who doesn’t want that?

      • I saw a contract customer service company, who had a call center director who, through a series of WTF moments, negotiated her own contract.

        This was a company (A) that was hired by other companies (B) to provide customer service to the customers of company B. Just for clarification.

        The call center director had it written into her 6 figure salary that she received a $1000 bonus for each new employee she hired (or rather, that HR hired for her).

        The kicker? She also got paid $1000 for each employee she fired… er, “forced to resign”.

        That call center director later (after I left the company) got raided by the state labor department *and* Federal Marshals. She had attempted to lock employees into the building for mandatory overtime, and had directed managers not to allow any breaks.

        And yes, she used temp agencies a lot. Not only were employees disposable and interchangeable, but they were also inimical to business.

  6. KQuark says:

    dave really if bargaining is always about the state of the economy or business how come in good times concessions are never given back to the unions?

    Usually the big corporations just increase the bonuses for their management.

    • When is an appropriate time for workers to organize and bargain for equitable pay and benefits?

      A poster in HuffPo was quick to point out that during WWII, trolley drivers went on strike. The implication was that it is somehow disloyal to strike during war time. I had to wonder, if the trolley drivers were on strike, how did the soldiers get around the battlefield? (he never answered that one)

      It’s bad to negotiate through unions during a recession “obviously”. How many recessions have we had in the past thirty years? How many “threat[s] of recession” have we had? Do the “gas crisis”, the “housing crisis”, the “dot com bust”, etc., all count as well?

      I think I can reasonably assume that, if the pseudo-cons were allowed to list all the qualifications for times when it is “reprehensible” or “heinous” for unions to bargain for just wages and work conditions, we would find out that unions could have been allowed to have something to say for about five minutes in 1953.

      Unless that was close to Reagan’s birthday.

    • Abbyrose86 says:

      Very good point KQuark

  7. intotheabyss says:

    Rachel Maddow pointed out the other night that the Wisconsin Governor’s attempt to crush the public employees union has nothing to do with the state’s deficit. He created the deficit by giving a big tax break to the state’s corporations. Without that, there would be no deficit. What this tactic is really all about is de-funding the Democratic Party. The Democrats rely heavily on unions not only for funding, but for voter registration and get out the vote drives. Since “Citizen’s United”, the Republicans already have a huge financial advantage. If public employee unions are crushed, the Republicans will face a severely weakened opposition. As usual this has nothing to do with balancing the budget and everything to do with hard nosed politics. More people need to be calling them out on this.

    • KillgoreTrout says:

      I sincerely hope that the courage and determination of the Egyptian people has/will inspire the American people to stand up and fight these encroachments by the GOP.
      If it can be done within such an oppressive regime like Mubarak’s, then it can certainly be done here.

    • boomer1949 says:

      I doubt he would have been elected either. It’s payback time and he is throwing good, honest, hardworking people under the bus.

    • Buddy McCue says:

      I caught that show too.

      She really made it plain what was motivating the Governor, that it was more about union-busting than addressing the budget. I liked that she summed up the funding difference between D’s and R’s if there were no unions this way: she described it as “Bake Sales versus Billionaires.”

      Maybe generalizing a bit, but a colorful phrase.

  8. dimplasm says:

    I was on BBC reading the British take on the Wisconsin seige, and lined over to Economic Policy Institute in a comments thread. Here’s what it has to say about the assertion that the Right is flooding the blogsphere and atmosphere with that teachers in Wisconsin are over paid:

    http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/6759/

    • bito says:

      However, the data indicates that state and local government employees in Wisconsin are not overpaid. Comparisons controlling for education, experience, organizational size, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship, and disability reveal that employees of both state and local governments in Wisconsin earn less than comparable private sector employees. On an annual basis, full-time state and local government employees in Wisconsin are undercompensated by 8.2% compared with otherwise similar private sector workers[……]As a consequence of these requirements, Wisconsin public sector workers are on average more highly educated than private sector workers; 59% of full-time Wisconsin public sector workers hold at least a four-year college degree, compared
      with 30% of full-time private sector workers. Wisconsin state and local governments pay college-educated employees 25% less in annual compensation, on average, than private employers. The compensation differential is greatest for professional employees, lawyers, and doctors.

    • kesmarn says:

      Nothing like those “annoying” facts to get in the way of a good dose of Tea Party propaganda, eh, dimplasm? Do they ever do even five minutes of research before they blurt out their talking points?

  9. david p canada says:

    Decades ago, unions fought against inhumane working conditions and wages that amounted to a mere pittance. Employers would use workers against each other as someone would always be willing to work for virtually nothing in a desperate attempt to feed their family.

    Thank God for the union movement.

    However, more recently, unions tend not to focus on rights and equalities but attacking employers with what amount to ransom demands and blackmail.

    This is especially true of public service unions. Because they enter into a contract with the taxpayers, they have access to near unlimited funds as legislation controls the tax rates. These unions are also entrusted with the most critical jobs in society as they deal in services necessary for the public as a whole. We can all get along without Twinkies for quite some time, but roads must be repaired.

    I would propose that public service unions be replaced with some sort of binding arbitration enforced through tough legislation. That way work could continue through the negotiation process. Obviously labor would have a strong voice on any sort of arbitration council. This would allow contracts to more reflect economic conditions at the time.

    It seems that everyone takes a hit during a downturn in the economy, but public servants feel they should be somehow immune to these negative economic conditions.

    Even in private companies, unions and union leaders have acted very strangely. Going on strike even though they knew full well the plant would be closed. Often those jobs go to China or Mexico, and that’s that.

    • Artist50 says:

      It’s always about paying for what we value and we don’t value education. 30 years ago when I signed my first teaching contract under $13K my children would have qualified for free lunch had I not been married. That at a time when masters were required to teach -- ridiculous.

      I have my doubts about tenure however. All teachers and workers should be responsible for doing their job every year. That’s another story.

      I left teaching and had my own business for many years hiring young high school grads that were new to the workforce. There
      largest problem? No one taught them what was appropriate language, attire and work ethic on the job. I soon learned I had to teach and prepare good employees. Once I figured that out I had some wonderful young people work for me. Example of poor employee: at this point I had returned to hometown to care for my mother and was working at the local hospital. Young religious girl posted a petition against gays on work website. No one else said a thing and I forwarded it to two superiors and said I was going to send it to hospital administrator. She was talked to, totally clueless what she had done wrong and written up. I would have fired her. Honestly, people must be taught very specifically that you can’t use your computer for personal reasons, etc.

    • KillgoreTrout says:

      Do you have any data or research that proves your claims, or is this simply your opinion?

    • KQuark says:

      I can’t disagree more.

      Taking an employees right to collectively bargain just because of an economic downturn is the kind of reactionary decision that got us the downturn in the first place. The purpose of unions is not just to maintain safety in the workplace and similar goals but also to ensure we still have a middle class which to me is just as important. Otherwise all wages will erode further.

      C’mon who do you think the arbitrators are always going to side with and without the ability to strike why would the states negotiate a fair deal? It’s the only power unions have.

      Trying to blame strikes on companies moving the China or Mexico is just factually inaccurate. Strike or not the cost of workers is far less in Mexico and China. You are just giving the company line for big business. Just shut up and be happy you have a job.

    • dimplasm says:

      An interesting concept, David, but the Wisconsin governor is not interested in bargaining at all.

      • david p canada says:

        He may seem intransigent on the issue, but only because of the excesses of the past. I believe he has the public’s best interest at heart and this is a dose of reality that public servants are not willing to accept.

        Currently, the teachers pay 6% of their health-care premiums and virtually zero toward their very generous pensions. Plus decent wages and 12 weeks of paid holidays per year. Sounds like a helluva deal to me.

        We all know when we are granted some benefit, even if unwarranted, there’s a lot of howling when that benefit is rolled back.

        • KQuark says:

          You are framing the argument in the greed is good era values. No one use to contribute to their pensions and 6% for healthcare was the norm. Yet you call sanity excesses when the new norm is the insanity.

        • PocketWatch says:

          Hi David.

          What about the fact that they have a signed contract? I mean, it is a NEGOTIATED contract. Both sides signed it. If it were so onerous or problemmatic, why didn’t the state just not sign it?

          Contracts work both ways. Are you saying that contracts are to be ignored? Seems a bad bit of business, if true.

          Besides, the workers’ union has tried repeatedly to speak with the governor, but he has refused. They are more than willing to talk about the money, but they are adamant about not giving up negotiating rights. Seems reasonble to me.

          How am I mistaken?

          • david p canada says:

            PocketWatch, contracts are re-negotiated in the private sector frequently, often depending on the health of the economy.

            The right to with-hold services from the public by a public entity is debatable, with good arguments from both sides.

            That right is obviously not sacrosanct, as then it would be granted to the military.

            BTW, my parents were both teachers all their working lives, retired now.

            • In the private sector, a contract can only be re-negotiated within the term of the contract with the approval of both parties.

              Both parties must agree to do so, or it is an attempt to violate the terms of the contract.

              So that is a non-argument.

  10. KevenSeven says:

    I worked for a while for a Republican (who I actually rather liked). He owned a company with about 30 employees, and liked to complain about the “risks” he was taking and how it justified his taking a substantive cut of the company’s income.

    Actually, he often had to do without a paycheck, to be honest.

    But I always thought in the back of my head about the “risk” I was taking working for him and getting older and less marketable as I did.

    And in the end he did lay me off with half a dozen others, without any warning or notice. Five weeks after I had finished the sale of my condo and purchased a house. I had doubled my housing costs, after years of working for this whinging twit, and got dumped by the side of the road.

    To be an employee without union protection is to be at risk.

    • ghsts says:

      Ah K7, small businessmen the backbone of the economy, spineless opportunists in a slave wage society. It is only the risk of capitol that is rewarded.

    • Abbyrose86 says:

      Thanks for adding your personal experience Kevin. I think it is important for people to share their experiences with how these type of laws really effect real people!

    • kesmarn says:

      Yep, K7.

      I know someone who worked for a major retailer for 10 years. He’s an avid Beck-watching, Limbaugh-admiring RWer. He made this company boatloads of money, because he worked many hours voluntarily off the clock and could fix (for free) any piece of equipment in the place. They dumped him a year ago with no notice. (“Nuthin’ personal, just business.”) He struggled for the whole year.

      A few weeks ago he went back to work for them, in a lower position, with a 33% salary reduction, and now does not only his old job, but another person’s as well. He’s “grateful” to be back. If he could, he would lick the master’s hand.

      In some ways I like this guy. He’s not an evil person, but he is the modern day equivalent of a scab. He’s the type who allows corporations to do what they do. He’d never even think of organizing or even joining a union, because he’s been taught that they’re all corrupt, un-American and filled with thugs.

      So, this is what he gets. :-(

      • KQuark says:

        A complete sucker if you ask me.

      • Buddy McCue says:

        That sure is sad.

        • UpstateSC says:

          Buddy, it is sad. I wish I knew how to get through to people like that. They don’t have to take such treatment, yet they do over and over.

          • Buddy McCue says:

            Sometimes people wise up.

            It doesn’t happen often, but it happens. I know it seems hard to believe right now, but one day your state and mine might turn blue.

            A long time ago, the South had company towns. The big bosses owned EVERYTHING, and workers were absolute peasants. Things are better than that now.

            The South may not move quickly, but I will not lose faith. MLK said something that I have always found inspirational: “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.”

  11. jkkFL says:

    My two FL favorites are the case where a tavern owner fired his (Female) bartender of 14 yrs because ‘he hated her laugh and was sick of hearing it’.
    And my first job in FL was at an Adventist hospital, who proudly stated in it’s employee handbook ‘any employee caught with literature, or attempting to organize or promote union activities, will be terminated without notice.’
    Later, we received a memo from ‘Upper Management’ stating that anyone who files a Federal complaint against the Hospital without attempt to settle the grievance with the appropriate chain of command, would be subject to suspension and/or termination.
    The excuse they regularly used for paying/promoting men first was ‘because men have families they have to provide for’…!

    Thanks Abbyrose for showing how the American worker has systematically been demoted into servitude- with no end in sight.

  12. Gransview says:

    Very informative, Abby. Thank you!

    I remember, with fury, 2 years ago when we had bailed out the Banks and AIG. Yet when it came to “Bonus Obligations,” Our own Timmy Geithner argued they “Couldn’t break their contract!” We must pay them what they are “entitled to.”

    How is this situation in Wis any different? The workers have a contract! Seems to me the State needs to declare bankruptcy if they want to legitimately abrogate those contracts!

    Otherwise, the State has to deal in good faith!

    I predict other States will claim insolvency to wipe out their obligations. It’s not right. we definitely have an “entitled class.” but it isn’t us, like the GOPers would tell it.

  13. Buddy McCue says:

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has a few things to say about Employer’s rights:

    Article 23:

    Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

    Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

    Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

    Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
    http://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Pages/Language.aspx?LangID=eng
    ______________________________________________

    That’s something else, isn’t it? The first time I read this document, I was shocked, saying to myself, “Wow, we’re supposed to get all those things, like human dignity and all?”

    • Abbyrose86 says:

      Sadly the many in the US refuse to acknowledge international rights for our own citizens…sad isn’t it?

      • ghsts says:

        This is such a lead in to the US’ voting record at the UN.

      • Buddy McCue says:

        It is.

        Thanks for the article, by the way. I had to read it twice. I like that you talked about employees being “at the mercy of the employer for their livelihood and thus their ability to survive.”

        That sure is a good point. Sometimes progressives wonder why more people are not outspoken about important issues, or why more people do not march in the street or demand better working conditions.

        The fact that so many really ARE at the mercy of their employers’ whims probably has something to do with it, particularly in these times of high unemployment. Most folks just want to keep their heads down, to take whatever crap they have to, just to keep their jobs.

        Oftentimes employers take advantage of having the upper hand and humiliate their workers because they can. I’ve seen grown men told to get down and wipe a spot off the floor before their boss’s feet. I’ve seen grown men called “boy” by the “boss-man” who is only a few years older. It can get pretty disgusting out there.

        Not much human dignity in that.

        • Abbyrose86 says:

          I thought it was an important point to make and gets to the heart of the issue of WHY I believe the at will doctrine is a bad concept.

          I love the idea of labor contracts, both for unions and individuals, from both the perspective of an employer and an employee.

          I believe contracts really make it easier for both parties to manage their end of the business transaction.

          Sadly, too many forget, on both sides, that an employee/employer arrangement IS A BUSINESS deal. The employee is selling their time, labor or expertise to an EMPLOYER. THE employer is buying that time, labor or expertise and is NOT BUYING the person…so labor contracts to ME, are just good business for both parties.

          The at will doctrine is NOT a good idea as it places one party in a subservient position…AND is based on false concepts!

          • Buddy McCue says:

            Exactly. Employment is a business deal between employer and employee.

            Another false concept one hears a lot these days is that the employer creates jobs.

            It’s like out of the goodness of his heart, as they say. The employee is expected to feel pure gratitude for the sheer beneficence of the provider.

            Nonsense. An employer makes the business calculation that he can take whatever value the worker creates and charge a little bit more than that for his overhead and his profit. Nothing wrong with that, but it should be seen for what it is: a business calculation.

            Too many people seem to think that wealth and all good things spring from the forehead of their “betters.” This is not true.

            Lincoln put it well when he said “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

            • Abbyrose86 says:

              Exactly! Exactly Buddy.

              Sadly too many in our society don’t have a thorough understanding of business, business concepts,marketing, contract negotiation,finance, the free market, capitalism,MACRO economics, our political system, philosophy, human psychology, etc…and don’t seem to understand how ALL things concepts WORK together.

              So they hear certain terms and phrases that resonate and then look at their own lives and situation and apply the wrong concepts which is often NOT in their own best interests, because unfortunately they don’t understand what they don’t understand.

              It’s frustrating, especially because most who DO understand all this are not as benevolent as you and I!

              ANY concept can be used for good or evil…or something in between. It depends on the motives of the individual employing the concept.

              Sadly, many very well schooled or innately knowledgeable people, who understand these concepts…who have selfish motives CAN use these concepts in a way to enrich themselves at the expense of those who don’t understand.

              It seems to me a ethics thing or lack thereof…more than anything.

  14. MIVOTE says:

    Great article Abby!


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