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Precarious Claims

Precarious Claims: The Promise and Failure of Workplace Protections in the United States OPEN ACCESS

Shannon Gleeson
Copyright Date: 2016
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    Precarious Claims
    Book Description:

    Precarious Claimstells the human story behind the bureaucratic process of fighting for justice in the U.S. workplace. The global economy has fueled vast concentrations of wealth that have driven a demand for cheap and flexible labor. Workplace violations such as wage theft, unsafe work environments, and discrimination are widespread in low-wage industries such as retail, restaurants, hospitality, and domestic work, where jobs are often held by immigrants and other vulnerable workers. How and why do these workers, despite enormous barriers, come forward to seek justice, and what happens once they do? Based on extensive fieldwork in Northern California, Gleeson investigates the array of gatekeepers with whom workers must negotiate in the labor standards enforcement bureaucracy and, ultimately, the limited reach of formal legal protections. The author also tracks how workplace injustices-and the arduous process of contesting them-carry long-term effects on their everyday lives. Workers sometimes win, but their chances are precarious at best.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96360-3
    Subjects: Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. 1 Introduction (pp. 1-23)

    Over the last century, workers in the United States have come to enjoy an expanding array of workplace protections. The minimum wage has continued to increase, albeit sporadically, and several state and city regulations now outpace stagnant federal protections. Workplace safety standards cover more workers than ever, and our modern ability to track occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities has helped to inform crucial policy change. Owing to the long struggles waged by civil rights and feminist leaders, employers can no longer fire workers solely on the basis of their race, gender, or religious preference without running the risk of the...

  2. The San Francisco Bay Area is known for its stunning landscapes, hipster neighborhoods, and status as a hotbed of innovation. Yet there is another side to the affluent region that is largely invisible behind its public image of tech start-ups, world-class universities, and tourist attractions. Toiling among the software developers (who make an estimated $60 per hour) are thousands of low-wage workers such as landscapers ($13.82), janitors ($11.39), and security guards ($14.17) earning far less than what it takes to survive and thrive here (Working Partnerships USA 2015). These wages pale in comparison to the increasingly untenable cost of Bay...

  3. So much of what we know about workers’ rights focuses on what makes them enter into the legal system in the first place, or, conversely, what factors bar their entry. What happens when workers decide to engage the law to demand their rights? And then what comes next? In this chapter, I begin to answer by examining the structure and logic underlying the labor standards enforcement system in the United States through the lens of the San Francisco Bay Area and California state systems. While not meant as a comprehensive overview, the following pages help frame our understanding of how...

  4. In this chapter, I examine the opportunities and pitfalls workers encounter while navigating the bureaucracy of workplace rights. The claimants I interviewed for this project faced a range of scenarios.¹ Some discovered that they had no legal protections under the law. Others found that although the law technically protected them, they lacked the evidence to prove that they were wronged. Even for those workers who were eligible for protections and had the necessary proof, the cost of filing a claim often far outweighed the potential benefits, and so they understandably backed out. Among those who were ultimately victorious, some settled...

  5. This chapter reflects on the nature of success, and failure, for workers engaged in the claims-making process. First I examine what happens after workers come forward to exercise (what they believe are) their workplace rights. What do workers gain and lose in this process? Do they get to keep their jobs? If so, do workplace conditions improve? If they don’t, how easy is it to get another job? And are the new jobs generally a step up or a step down? For those who lose their jobs and struggle to recover, what does the social safety net have to offer,...

  6. 6 Conclusion (pp. 123-138)

    In the months and years since I conducted the interviews for this book, dozens of jurisdictions have passed much-needed expanded protections for low-wage workers. Cities and states have increased minimum wages, with some even going a step further and strengthening enforcement mechanisms for violating employers. The federal government has expanded overtime protections to previously unqualified middle-income employees. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission effectively declared sexual orientation discrimination illegal in all states under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. And just this month, the classification of independent contractors for high-profile companies such as Uber is being reevaluated. These are all...