I have been representing workers for 20 years. One of the biggest problems has been teaching workers their rights. Most people don’t know that they have certain legal rights, like the right to their personnel file, the right to file a rebuttal, the right to be paid overtime wages, and more, the list is very long. Over the last few years, I have begun to use Facebook as a way of reaching out to people to educate them. You can’t enforce a right unless you know that you have one.
What I have found has amazed me. While there are many people who are interested in learning their rights, there are those who side with their employer in almost every case. Recently, I have added posts to my Facebook page which let people know about pending class actions that might affect them. If they fit the class definition, they might be entitled to back wages. In response, several people have reacted negatively. Some say that lawsuits for overtime wages will end up costing them jobs. Others say that the company is the one they feel for because they have to defense these lawsuits.
The most recent used the word “bottom feeder.” It could have been directed at me or it could have been directed at the people who brought and joined the lawsuit. In any event, I just don’t get it. Workers have been getting poorer and companies have been getting richer for decades. The gap between the rich and the poor has never been wider in this country. Part of the blame falls on employers who continue to violate the Fair Labor Standards Act. This law was passed in 1938 and protects workers from employers who would work them too hard and too long for too little money. The general rule is that hours over 40 in a week get paid at time and a half.
Employers try to avoid this rule by classifying employees as “exempt.” An example is a retail store which calls its Assistant Manager “executives” even though they spend most of their time stocking shelves. In this way, the company can work these people beyond 40 hours per week for free.
What I don’t understand is the hostility towards these claims by workers. Workers should be thrilled that lawsuits like these exist. Those that aren’t have been brainwashed, perhaps by our right wing friends at Fox News, that workers are the reason this economy is in the trouble it is. (by the way, workers are not to blame, the bankers on Wall Street are!).
I believe that this country rises and falls on the backs of its workers. Companies can’t survive without their employees, no matter how hard they try. Workers should be proud of who they are and what they do and they should not hesitate to stand up for their rights when they are violated. Employers make enough money and shouldn’t be allowed to steal wages from their lowest paid employees. Workers are the backbone of this country and not, as my Facebook follower stated, bottom feeders.