Labor Laws to Promote Universal Rights

Some basic rights that should be considered civil rights.

Workers’ rights are an integral part of a post-industrial society. Ensuring the right of all Americans to work means securing their rights in the workplace. The following rights should be considered civil rights.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor: "[All ILO members]... have an obligation to respect and promote...: freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor; effective abolition of child labor; and elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

Current Laws

This means having standards for wages and overtime pay. Employees must receive at least minimum wage. Employees under the age of 16 cannot work too many hours, while those under 18 cannot have jobs that are too dangerous. Worker's compensation grants workers and their families compensation money if they are wounded, disabled, or killed while at work. However, there are other policies that are not nationally enforced, just created by individual companies, or enforced in certain areas, locally or by state.

One of these is known as bereavement leave. What is bereavement leave, though? It means giving family or friends of a loved one who died time to grieve, prepare for a funeral, and/or help finalize the estate. This has not yet been enforced in states besides Oregon.

There are laws ensuring that employees have maternity and parental leave, but the provisions of these are often not adequate for families. Many advocates for increased leave say that not providing adequate paid leave is problematic for families, and women especially, who may suffer pregnancy discrimination, and are often pressured into staying home to take care of children, which negatively impacts their careers. The disproportionate impact of inadequate maternity and parental leave on women due to gender roles and the difficulties of pregnancy means that women’s careers often suffer more than men’s.

Currently, there are issues surrounding the gig economy, because independent contractors and freelancers may not be entitled to the same rights and benefits under the law and through company policy, raising questions as to what rights they should be entitled to. There are similar issues with people who earn through tips, such as in food service.

Also, there are issues surrounding immigrants who work in the U.S. and lack documentation, because they can be mistreated by their employers or not paid properly without employers being held accountable, because to initiate a complaint would be to compromise their status in the U.S.

Further, employment laws are meant to protect employees for harassment and discrimination. According to the Department of Labor site:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. These laws protect employees and job applicants against: Discrimination, harassment, and unfair treatment by managers, co-workers, or others in the workplace because of race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, transgender status, and sexual orientation), pregnancy, national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information Denial of a reasonable workplace accommodation for disability or religious beliefs Retaliation because they complained about job discrimination, or helped with a job discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Despite this, there are still many barriers to minorities in the workplace. Sometimes, company culture, lack of oversight and fear of repercussions makes it difficult for harassment or discrimination to be reported. Additionally, minorities often must overcome greater obstacles in order to be recognized as equal in the workplace, which is why affirmative action policies can be useful if done properly.

Lobbying and Unions

Some people are lobbying for these policies to be codified by law. Others hope that current protections can be improved. Union organizations through “collective bargaining” often give workers the ability to organize in order to ensure that they are properly protected by existing laws, and to protest unfair working conditions, or organize to change existing policies if they are not adequate. Big trade unions often employ lobbyists at the state and federal level. For instance, many speak to their Senators and Representatives in Congress.