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November 12, 2005

Workers’ Rights Initiative

Shakes here…

What’s my progressivism? It’s being pro-choice.

Pro-choice is a phrase most closely associated with abortion, but the belief in giving people choices is really the core of a progressive philosophy, and when I’m asked what I would do to shift power from the corporation to the individual, the employer to the employee, my immediate response is to give workers choices—and in so doing, return to their hands a little bit more of the much-touted freedom that politicians are always talking about.

1. Being dependent on one’s employment for healthcare is no kind of choice, particularly when extended illness legally allows an employer to terminate one’s employment—thereby also terminating one’s healthcare benefits, further exposing an already vulnerable person to further financial and physical distress.  Universal healthcare, on the other hand, opens up a world of choice for workers; not only will employment decisions cease to be contingent upon healthcare coverage, but entrepreneurship becomes less risky and ergo more attractive.

2. Compensation reform is also desperately necessary—a livable minimum wage, restructuring and expansion of overtime categories, mandatory minimum severance for no-fault terminations, job security in case of illness or family emergency, and family leave guarantees.  The lack of these protections is causing nothing less than the chronic abuse and exploitation of American workers, as they have assumed all the responsibility for their continued employment, in spite of a myriad of external circumstances they can’t possibly control.  The conventional wisdom, even among many liberals, is that such responsibility isn’t meant to be shared; that’s what a paycheck is for.  But that isn’t what a paycheck is for—a paycheck is for services rendered.  When an employer and an employee enter into a contract together, the responsibility of making sure both parties are secure in that contract ought to be shared by both parties.  I know that sounds wacky to most Americans, but that’s because we made a devil’s bargain for the fattest possible paychecks instead of the most secure jobs, and now the majority of workers has ended up with neither.

3. Close corporate tax loopholes.  Duh.  But, I’m pro-choice across the board…so how about offering tax incentives to corporations who adopt worker-friendly policies like flex-time, comp-time, tuition reimbursement, etc.?  How about an incentive for corporations who start each employee with four weeks of vacation, bringing us in line with most of the rest of the world?  Don’t laugh—this is my best progressive policy suggestion.  You see, American workers travel abroad much less than any other first-world workers—and a big part of the reason is lack of vacation time, which we end up using for sick days, the-kids-are-sick days, gotta-take-the-car-into-the-shop days, go-to-the-dentist days, and all that other stuff, because we don’t have proper allowances for such things, and we’ve got less vacation time than anyone else to start.  By the time we get around to taking a vacation, a long weekend on the coast is about all we can do with the time we’ve got left.  (And that's only those who have vacation time as a benefit.)  But the thing is—Americans who do travel abroad (the infamous 17% or so that have passports) are inevitably more progressive than is the general population.  They’re more open as a group to concepts like universal healthcare and family leave than is the general population.  Seeing the world opens eyes.  Give people the choice to explore the world, and they’ll choose progress at home.

November 12, 2005 | Permalink


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I would love to give my employees all the benefits you describe and more, but it costs money. Probably too much for my customer base to bear. However, the first option for universal healthcare does make sense to me, financially and ethically.

Posted by: Steve Mudge | Nov 12, 2005 7:42:39 PM

How does pro-choice apply to education? :-)

Posted by: Drew Miller | Nov 13, 2005 8:25:16 PM

It's not pro-choice if it requires denying choices to one group of people to expand choices for another. And if you want to demand that employers give severance compensation to workers, then what obligations do workers have to not up and leave their employer?

A paycheck is for services rendered. There is no other obligation from either side unless there is a contract of some sort.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Nov 14, 2005 6:34:24 AM

And BTW, can we hear some talk about how to shift power from the government to the individual? You go on as if corporations are the ultimate power in this country. No, they are the second most powerful, assuming you can count them as a monolithic entity, which you can't. Government is by far the most powerful entity in the country, and thus the greatest threat to our civil liberties. I want to hear how to reduce the power of the greatest threat, not the second greatest threat. Attacking Big Business to improve our civil liberties is like attacking Iraq to fight terrorism.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Nov 14, 2005 6:39:35 AM

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