Monday, September 12, 2016


My father, who lived through a depression, was a person who had firsthand experience with hard times.  His father died when he was a young boy and so he was required to drop out of school to help support his family.  He later became president of one of the largest local unions in the United States.  I suppose his experience shaped much of his thought concerning working people.  He harbored a deep-seated belief that a man’s job was almost as sacred as his right to worship.  He witnessed firsthand the difference between laboring under circumstances where a man’s livelihood could be terminated at the whim of a boss and the conditions which could prevail while working under a decent union contract.

It is difficult for me to fully grasp the fact that so many wage earners who live from payday to payday do not appreciate the difference between working with some job protection and with none.  Seldom does a week pass at my law office without receiving a call from an hourly wage earner who has been unfairly treated, fired from their job, or subjected to oppressive behavior by their superiors.  Most are stunned when I relay to them that in Texas and many other states there is no real job protection unless there is a union contract or a personal employment contract.  Most of these cases involve circumstances where the employee is accused of certain conduct but there is no proof the accusations against them are true.  

Sadly, I have to tell them that in the absence of a contract—union or otherwise—they have absolutely no remedy whatsoever because Texas is what is called an "at will" employment state.  An employer can discharge an employee for absolutely no reason whatsoever other than the fact that the employer wants them gone.  The only avenue available to people who work for a living are the federal statutes which prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, age, national origin—or in some cases, disability.

Many people in our state mistakenly believe that the Right to Work statute has something to do with maintaining your employment unless discharged for good cause.  Unfortunately, the Right to Work statute in Texas and other states has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the right to keep a job or earn a living.  It is simply a device by which "closed shop" agreements by unions are made unlawful.

Even more stunning to me is that so many working people in our state have turned to the Republican Party as their choice for government leadership.  In Texas, since the late 1970’s, with the growing control of the Republican Party in our State Legislature and statewide elected offices, the concept of fairness in the workplace—or even safety in the workplace—has taken a nosedive. 

Republicans—not only in Congress but also in our own State Legislature—have fought at every turn against safety measures such as OSHA.  Even consideration of a decent minimum wage law is not a matter even to be discussed in the halls of government.  Worker compensation or other insurance provisions for injured workers in Texas is not mandatory; and even if it exists, it is well-nigh impossible for an injured worker to find a lawyer who would handle his case against insurance companies and their high-dollar attorneys.  The Legislature’s restrictions on worker's comp has made it virtually impossible for an attorney to be adequately compensated for handling a worker's comp case unless able to do it virtually pro bono.

The Koch brothers and most Republican leaders continue to ignore hazards of the work place—and also to deny that climate change is a scientific fact.  Money and profit trump worker safety and public health.  We should all remember that those defending positions in the name of good business are much the same interests who lied to workers for years about silicosis.  And, they are the same folks who refused to acknowledge the harm of smoking.

It is truly time for people who work for wages to wake up, arise, and vote in every election possible—and closely examine which party serves their livelihood.

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