Conditions of Employment.

AuthorLueders, Bill

My father worked for more than thirty years, half his life, for a laundry and dry cleaning company in Milwaukee, picking up and dropping off clothes at the homes of people who, unlike us, could afford such things. His work days started at 5 a.m. He worked second jobs at night, cleaning office buildings. This was something he had to keep secret from his bosses at the laundry, because workers there were prohibited from having outside jobs.

Neat trick, that: First you don't pay your employees enough for them to get by; then you insist that they show their loyalty by not having any other sources of income.

That's the kind of predicament many workers find themselves in these days. The employer--usually a corporation--is king, and the king can dictate how those in the realm live. Under President Donald Trump, who got elected pretending to care about ordinary working stiffs, such abuses are becoming more prevalent, as several articles in this issue attest.

Stephanie Russell-Kraft writes about how employers use "non-compete" and "non-disparagement" contract clauses--which must be signed as a condition of employment--to control the behavior of employees, even after they receive their last paycheck. Madison Margolin explores the irony that workers can still get fired for smoking pot, even if they need it for medical purposes and even in states where recreational use is legal. And Sharon Johnson looks at the use of nondisclosure agreements--gag orders--that prevent victims of on-the-job sexual harassment from speaking out.

The Supreme Court apparently has no problem with these practices (or at least has not ruled against them), but it did in late June strike down the ability of unions to collect fees for the services they render to nonmembers, on free-speech grounds. Writer Bill Blum, an attorney and former administrative law judge, parses this latest example of the Roberts Court's hostility toward workers. He and Russell-Kraft also note another recent high court ruling, affirming the ability of companies to prevent workers from engaging in collective action.

In other labor-related stories, Brandon Weber turns a miner's headlamp on the recent teachers and support staff strike in West Virginia, noting how the struggles of the past instruct those of the present. And Maeve Higgins takes a look...

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