Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thursday Evening Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Ian Millhiser writes that the Republican majority on the U.S.' Supreme Court is restoring the robber baron era:
The conceit of Gorsuch’s Epic Systems opinion is that workers and their bosses sit down like equal bargaining partners to hash out their terms of employment. “Should employees and employers be allowed to agree that any disputes between them will be resolved through one-on-one arbitration?” Gorsuch begins his opinion with a question framed as if it could only have one answer. “Or should employees always be permitted to bring their claims in class or collective actions, no matter what they agreed with their employers?”

In reality, the facts of Epic Systems bear little resemblance to the civilized negotiation presented by Gorsuch. Workers at one of the companies at issue in this case received an email one day informing them that they must give up their right to bring class actions. Employees who “continue[d] to work at Epic,” according to the email, would “be deemed to have accepted” this agreement. A similar email was sent to the employees of one of the other companies that prevailed in Epic Systems.

These employees, in other words, only “agreed” to the terms proposed by their bosses in the same sense that a person accosted by a gunman in a dark alley “agrees” to give up their wallet. Their choice was to give up their rights or to immediately lose their jobs.

This is not the first time the Supreme Court ignored the fairly basic fact that employers typically have far more bargaining power than their workers — and can use this greater share of power to exploit their employees.
[At the time of the similar decision in Lochner v. New York,] (b)akeries often had no windows and little ventilation, filling the air with irritating flour dust and fumes. Ovens heated the workplaces into infernos. Low ceilings required many workers to crouch, and the floors were typically either dirt or rotten wood filled with rat holes.

The average bakery worker labored at least 13 hours a day in these conditions, though some worked as much as 126-hours a week. Workers, moreover, were often required to sleep on the very same tables where they prepared the dough, and the cost of these makeshift beds were then deducted from their wages.

These were the sorts of conditions that the free market offered workers who, without the law to protect them, were forced to bargain alone with their employers. Perhaps, in some narrow sense, these workers “agreed” to work countless hours among the roaches, the heat, and the raw sewage. But only a judge blinded by their own ideology could conclude that these workers had any real choice in the matter.
[Gorsuch] ignored the way the law was originally understood, ignored the text of the National Labor Relations Act, ignored the law’s hard-won understanding that employees and employers do not have equal bargaining power, and ignored Congress’ explicit efforts to strike a different balance of power between workers and their bosses.

It is a great day for law firms that profit off the exploitation of workers. And it is an even greater day for their clients.

The rest of us can either sign away our rights or lose our jobs.
- David Dayen comments on the severed connection between economic growth and wages in the U.S., while Sarah Anderson notes that the appalling pay gap between CEOs and frontline employees is bad for business. And Terri Gerstein calls for stronger legal action against employers who steal wages from their workers.

- Noah Smith discusses the uneven effect of a university education - with already-privileged white males seeing far more income gains from a degree than their classmates. And Martin Armstrong charts the additional work performed by women compared to men.

- Corey Mintz offers a reminder of the importance of regulations to ensure that our food is safe to eat. And Jayme Poisson and David Brusser report on a new study showing the damage done to the residents of Grassy Narrows by industrial mercury poisoning.

- Finally, Vicky Mochama criticizes the inhumane use of indefinite detention in maximum-security facilities pending determination of an individual's immigration status.

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