Congress has a job to do for workers

It’s no mystery that work in America just isn’t working — not for the millions of unemployed men and women, or for those stuck working longer hours at lower pay.

Our work force is scared, stressed, and scarred by financial insecurity. Working conditions may only worsen as our economic climate opens the door for more exploitation.

The National Employment Law Project found that more than two-thirds of low-wage employees surveyed in 2008 lost 15 percent of their pay on average due to the growing problem of wage theft by U.S. employers. An astounding 62 percent of workers surveyed by Nebraska Appleseed Center in 2008 said they had been injured on the job in the previous year.

How can such gross mistreatment be allowed?

Because corporations know current labor laws aren’t threatening in the least. And they know that our leaders in Washington have prioritized their bottom lines over those of working men and women.

Our nation’s leaders have a choice to make. They can continue to turn the other cheek as employers flush job standards down the drain, or they can ensure that the jobs of tomorrow are good, decent jobs that will move Americans into recovery.

Yes, we need to put people to work, and it is imperative that Congress pass legislation to provide incentives for businesses to hire more workers and extend unemployment benefits for those struggling to find jobs and pay the bills.

But make no mistake: We must not let our standards go by the wayside in the name of job creation. We must ensure the jobs that are being created are good jobs.

We can do that by giving workers a stronger voice and a fairer shake through meaningful labor law reform. When Congress meaningfully protects workers’ rights to join unions, workers will have a level playing field to improve their workplaces, and a real path to gain job security, better health care and decent benefits. The status quo of awful jobs, a lack of accountability by employers and no sizable progress on making the economy work for everyone is unacceptable.

Our nation’s workers have given more than their fair share of sacrifices and patience. They are playing by the rules, they want to rebuild the economy, and they are willing to work harder. They deserve better.

Kimberly Freeman Brown is the executive director of American Rights at Work, a workers’ rights organization based in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.