Want Growth? Enforce Labor Laws
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis is reportedly cracking down on businesses that cut corners on workplace safety or cheat employees out of their pay. Alarmed by the prospect that employees' legal right to organize a union will also be enforced more effectively, some of the nation's largest retailers are now stepping up their anti-union indoctrination efforts. Advocates of workers' rights should be cheered by their alarm. As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce frets, "even if we defeat the card-check bill, it's entirely possible that other changes to the National Labor Relations Act will come up, and some of those will likely make it easier to organize the workplace."
In this New Year, renewed enforcement and the prospect of improved labor laws are positive signs that we're moving closer to a world where Americans can actually exercise the workplace rights we already have on paper. If wage enforcement and new organizing resulted in higher take-home pay for enough people, it would fuel the increase in consumer spending we need to get the economy moving again.
But immigration reform remains the critical item on the labor enforcement wish list.
Consider the newest installment of the "Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers" report which highlights the way that the routine violation of labor laws has become a standard "business strategy" in certain sectors of the Los Angeles economy. The situation in Los Angeles is even worse than in New York or Chicago, the authors note, both because of L.A.'s lack of union density and the high number of undocumented immigrant workers, who are particularly vulnerable to exploitation on the job. Enabling these participants in our economy to earn legal status would immediately remove a major barrier to the enforcement of workplace protections - and raise the floor of the labor market for all of us.