Balancing Corporate Power With Workers’ Rights
Seventy-five years ago this past June, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to protect the rights of workers in the United States. Through FLSA, the government set a maximum workweek, guaranteed overtime pay for workers, established a national minimum wage, and instituted child labor laws to protect workers under age 18.
Yet, as much as the FLSA has improved the lives of American workers over the past seven decades, businesses have found loopholes and exemptions that threaten the rights employees, activists and legislators worked so hard to secure. The following is just a handful of recent issues in which employee attorneys are helping employees understand how FLSA can work for them:
- Overtime exemptions – Because salaried employees are exempt from overtime pay in many situations, a number of businesses have shifted hourly workers into administrative and executive roles. This allows companies to work employees beyond the 40-hour workweek with no overtime compensation. Yet with support from the legal community, these workers are becoming savvier about their rights. According to CNBC, collective lawsuits in regards to wage and overtime violations have increased 400 percent between 2000 and 2011 – in many of these cases the employers misclassified employees’ roles, placing them on salary and making them overtime-exempt even when they are performing non-professional and manual duties.
- Ensuring fair pay for women – The Equal Pay Act of 1963 amendment to the FLSA made it illegal to pay lower wages based on one’s gender. However, 50 years later, a woman still earns just 77 cents to a man’s dollar. This gap is growing even larger as a study by The National Employment Law Project shows real wages dropped five percent or more in low-wage job categories – jobs that are staffed two-thirds of the time by women. In addition, a significant female-dominant industry still not treated equally under FLSA is the home health care industry, which employs 2.5 million individuals nationwide, 90 percent of which are female. Although President Obama announced his intent to remove the exclusion for home care workers in 2011, almost two years later the majority of these workers still receive low pay, few benefits and no overtime compensation.
- The shift to unconventional employees – To increase profits, employers are hiring fewer full-time workers and instead reaching out to freelance contractors, temporary workers and interns, who receive lower pay, fewer benefits and in the case of interns, no compensation at all. In fact, the number of temporary workers has grown 50 percent in the past four years. According to Jefferson Cowie of The New York Times, employees can expect the trend toward temporary and contract workers to accelerate with the passing of Obamacare, which states an employer must offer mandatory healthcare if it has more than 50 full-time employees. Yet, employment attorneys are helping these workers defend their rights as well. Recently, a federal district judge determined Fox Searchlight Pictures violated FSLA by not compensating interns who performed the duties of paid employees.
Today’s employment attorneys are dedicated to protecting American employees from unjust work environments by using regulations established by FLSA to balance corporate power in an ever-changing business world. Recent legal cases involving FLSA show that even in a shaky economy, workers don’t have to sacrifice their rights in order to help a company’s bottom line. Our mission is to defend Roosevelt’s vision of an equal workplace that benefits both corporations and employees and strengthens the overall health of our economy.