Thursday, September 03, 2009

Stealing from families

These practices are not just morally reprehensible, but they’re bad for the economy. When unscrupulous employers break the law, they’re robbing families of money to put food on the table, they’re robbing communities of spending power, and they’re robbing governments of vital tax revenues.

- Annette Bernhardt, co-director of the National Employment Law Project and an author of a study showing that low-wage workers are routinely cheated out of overtime pay and workers' compensation, and are often paid less than the minimum wage. (Source: The New York Times)

I worked for the same grocery store chain as my brother for a few summers in college. He's older than me and had been working there for several years already and had a reputation for having a strong work ethic. At the time he was fiercely loyal to the company. I think it was also pretty important that I not make him look bad because I remember him telling me that if I was on the clock (not on break or lunch) but wasn't working, it was tantamount to theft. If you're just standing around and not working, but getting paid for that time, it was the same as stealing.

That left a powerful impression on me. Perhaps as much as anything our father taught us or anything I'd learned in school or at church.

Annette Bernhardt's quote from featured in Sojourner Magazine's weekly e-newsletter makes every bit as powerful a statement, only rather than warning the potentially slothful worker, hers is an indictment of the unethical employer and poor corporate citizen in America today.

Whenever people get bent out of shape about illegal immigration, I wonder about the businesses that hire them- or in many cases recruit them. Since they're payed "under-the table," they not only don't have to pay benefits to the worker, let alone minimum wage or over time, they don't with hold or report taxes either. It's unlikely that they bother with minimum safety regulations either.

What about the businesses that schedule workers for 30-39 hours a week- too much to have time or energy to look for a better paying job, but too few to have to pay benefits like insurance or retirement pension. It's practically slavery.

And how many American businesses have out-sourced jobs, moved production facilities over seas or relocated their headquarters off shore in order to lower over-head, avoid regulation or shelter profits from being taxed? No, it's not like every corporation out there has their product manufactured in a third world sweat shop for starvation wages and knowingly poisons the environment, but it certainly is hard to find ANYTHING that says "Made in America"on it anymore.

It makes you think. All this "globalization," de-unionization, and immigration has been happening under decidedly conservative, some would argue pro-corporatist, political administrations- Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush. Was it NAFTA? Was it "cancer-stage" unfettered capitalism? Was it just natural coincidence?

I don't know, but it is frightening that just 50 years ago CEOs were paid 8 times what their average worker was paid and now days they get paid as much as 800 times as much.

I'm not calling for Marxist revolution, but I do believe that we need a revival of responsibility, accountability and community altruism in this country. Call me crazy, but I think that responsibility, accountability and altruism are conservative values. So why don't people who claim to be social and political conservatives advocate for them? Is noblesse oblige really dead? Is it just too inconvenient?

When Republicans talk about personal responsibility, half of them think they're talking about not getting pregnant outside of marriage and not doing drugs, but the other half is talking about being on your own to develop survival instincts so that you can eat or be eaten. That's not Jesus, that's Darwin- which I find disturbingly ironic.

What about corporate responsibility? What about all being in this together? Being on the same team? What about being our brother's keeper?

When did Prince John become the one we all want to be like instead of Robin Hood? The religious right likes to whine about how upside down and twisted our values have become and how we should be holding on to absolutist black and white concepts of right and wrong. They use this to rant about evolution and gay marriage. But didn't looking out for the little guy used to be an American virtue? Didn't fairness and equality used to be the right think? So when did our values get turned on their head? Why is cunning and craftiness rewarded and hard work and playing by the rules laughed at and looked down upon? Why is it that cheating isn't wrong anymore- just being stupid enough to get caught?

Yes, people should be willing to work hard and not cheat their employers, but businesses should care for their workers like they're human beings, maybe even like they were family- not take advantage of them like disposable, expendable resources. Where's Teddy Roosevelt and his "Square Deal" when we need him?

Here's some more Biblical food for thought to chew on:

Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns.
Deuteronomy 24:13-15

'If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you.
Leviticus 25:34-36

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.
Deuteronomy 15:6-8

My whole being will exclaim, "Who is like you, O LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them."
Psalm 35:9-11

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