Workers’ Rights Initiative

As part of a weekend salon, Ezra wanted to know:

...what's your progressivism? And none of this vague, Stronger at Home, Respected in the World BS. Give me four or five policies that should define the Democratic Party's agenda and the theme that ties them together. The only constraint? They have to be focused on shifting power from the corporation to the individual, the employer to the employee. It's a new progressivism, but using progressivism's old, and far too neglected, definition.
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.

(Crossposted at Ezra's place.)

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