Consumer Protections / Workers' Rights

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This is a collaborative knowledge base; feel free to propose edits/additions that you believe are important for others to know. Contributions will be reviewed and approved based on quality and accuracy.

How You Can Resist
How You Can Resist
[edit]

  • Call your Senator by dialing tel:844-6-RESIST and tell them to support the consumer protections and workers' rights legislation below.
  • Find out when your Senators and US Representative are holding town halls and other Upcoming Events/Opportunities. Show up and tell them to support consumer protections and workers' rights legislation below.
  • Submit a comment to the FCC, as led by Ajit Pai, to protect net neutrality now that the FCC has voted to overturn Open Internet rules.
  • Find organizations to get involved in here and here, and find more information and opportunities for online activism here.

Actions Taken by the Federal Government
Laws Proposed by Congress
[edit]

Legislative Actions[edit]

Legislation that Supports Equity and Justice

  • S. 337 The FAMILY Act is a bill that entitles every individual to a family and medical leave insurance benefit nationwide, currently it is limited only to states with enacted legislation. The bill will grant up to 60 days of paid leave and the language is gender neutral.[1]
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  • H.R. 179 / S. 175 The Miners Protections Act of 2017 is legislation that would ensure that the federal government and coal operators honor their obligation of lifetime pensions and health benefits to retired miners and their families.
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Harmful Legislation

  • H.J. Res. 41 repeals a regulation by the SEC as part of the Dodd-Frank Act, requiring energy companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments.[2]
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  • HR 785 National Right to Work Act would reduce Union resources from which to collective bargain for both members and nonmembers.
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  • HR 1031 targets the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Dodd-Frank by removing consumer protections and regulations.
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See also the State and Local Pages for state-by-state legislative tracking.

The CHOICE Act[edit]

The CHOICE Act is a bill that would repeal and replace the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. It would allow banks with a certain level of cash to opt out of Dodd-Frank. It would also limit bank stress testing to every two years.[3]

The bill would prevent the federal government from labeling banks "too big to fail." This label allows the government to disassemble the bank before it collapses and potentially triggers another crisis. This bill would also introduce a new special bankruptcy process to replace the Orderly Liquidation Authority in Dodd-Frank. This process is intended to help protect financial markets from a failed bank's effects.[4]

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau(CFPB)[edit]

Introduced in 2010, the CFPB has returned approximately $12 billion to 29 million defrauded consumers. Some of the major events and practices investigated by the CFPB include [5]:

  • Wells Fargo's unauthorized accounts scheme. [6]
  • Citibank tricking credit card owners into purchasing fraudulent add-ons. [7]
  • Homeowners illegally foreclosed on, such as those by Ocwen. [8]
  • Students overcharged by student loan servicers. [9]
  • Discriminatory interest rates that were given to African-, Hispanic-, and Asian-Americans looking for auto loans. [10][11]

The CFPB's authority would be significantly reduced. They would no longer be able to fix the above problems. The bill would also remove any power to watch over financial institutions. CFPB would be disallowed from making consumer protection rules. The bill would also allow the President to replace the CFPB director whenever they like. The bill weakens borrower protections, including by removing a rule that lenders must ensure their borrowers can afford a proposed mortgage. [12]

Attempted Undermining of Unions[edit]

  • By law, unions are required to collectively bargain on behalf of both member and nonmember workers. Right to Work laws allow a state to not allow unions to collect fees from nonmembers to reduce contributions to help cover the costs of bargaining.[13]
  • Without the resources to support both members and nonmembers, union impact falls and a consequence is reduced wages in Right to Work states compared to states without the law.[14]
  • Right to Work laws have nothing to do with the right to have a job or be provided employment. Right to Work laws have nothing to do with whether people can be forced to join a union to contribute to a political cause they do not support; that is already illegal.[15]
  • Go to your State and Local Pages to see if your state is trying pass a Right to Work law.

Wage Theft[edit]

There is a core set of wage and workplace protections that help define America's Workplace:[16]

  • The right to be paid at least the minimum wage
  • The right to be paid for overtime hours
  • The right to take meal breaks
  • The right to access workers' compensation when injured
  • The right to advocate for better working conditions

Preemptive Wage Theft[edit]

After cities such as Seattle and San Francisco passed laws that require employers to schedule shifts weeks in advance, pay workers when their hours are cut, and ensure that on-call employees are paid even if they don't end up coming in, state governments are preemptively passing legislation that would block cities from regulating workers' schedules.[17]

  • A bill pending in the Georgia Senate would block local governments from requiring employers to pay workers when their schedules change at the last minute.[18]
  • Minnesota and New Mexico (and possibly other states) are trying to block cities from regulating how workers are scheduled. Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas and Michigan already have similar laws).[19]

Wage Inequality[edit]

Women in the Workplace[edit]

Families depend on women’s wages more than ever, but a woman working full-time, year round is typically paid less than a man working full time, year-round. The Wage Gap for Women negatively affects women nationally.[20]

Workers with Disabilities[edit]

There is a direct benefit to expanding employment opportunities for people with disabilities. There are employers that are projected to face labor shortages as the baby-boom generation retires,[21], and unemployed people with disabilities could help fill those needs. For people with disabilities, employment has not just economic value but also important social and psychological value.[22]

Overtime Pay Protections[edit]

  • An Obama-administration regulation required employers to pay workers earning $47,476 or less time-and-a-half overtime pay for the overtime hours they worked. In November, a judge struck it down, keeping the amount at $23,660 or less to earn time-and-a-half overtime pay.[23]
  • Trump has indicated that he might increase the amount of money you have to earn less than in order for your employer to be required to pay you overtime, but not to what Obama had suggested (to roughly keep pace with inflation). One-third of salaried employees would have been eligible for overtime with the $913 threshold that Obama had created.[24]

Instances of Wage Theft[edit]

According to a study performed by the National Employment Law Project on 4,387 low-wage workers, these rights are being denied to a significant number of US workers:

  • Over 25% of respondents worked more than 40 hours during the previous week.[25]
  • Among workers who had overtime violations, on average 11 hours of overtime were underpaid or completely unpaid.[26]
  • 86% of respondents worked enough consecutive hours to be legally entitled to at least one meal break during the previous week. More than two-thirds (69%) received no break at all, had their break shortened, were interrupted by their employer, or worked during the break—all of which constitutes a violation of meal break law.[27]

Minimum Wage[edit]

  • Trump has sent mixed messages regarding the federal minimum wage, at one point calling for eliminating the federal minimum wage and at another point supported raising the federal minimum wage to $10.[28] Trump's attitudes regarding the minimum wage are of particular concern for people with disabilities, who are currently allowed to be paid a sub-minimum wage.[29]
  • 19 states began 2017 with higher minimum wages:[30]

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  • Minimum wage legislation can also be raised in your state. Go to State and Local Pages to see what your state is doing.

Instances of Wage Theft[edit]

According to a study performed by the National Employment Law Project on 4,387 low-wage workers, these rights are being denied to a significant number of US workers:

  • 26% of workers were paid less than the legally required minimum wage in the previous work week.[31]
  • 60% of workers were underpaid by more than $1 per hour.[32]
  • Foreign-born Latino/a workers had the highest minimum wage violation rates of any racial/ethnic group.[33]
  • African-American workers had a minimum wage violation rate triple that of their white counterparts.[34]
  • Women were significantly more likely than men to experience minimum wage violations, and foreign-born workers were nearly twice as likely as their US-born counterparts to have a minimum wage violation.[35]

Workplace Protections Under Attack[edit]

The Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires companies to report any workplace injuries or illnesses.

Last December the agency extended the window where a company can be punished for failing to make these reports to five years.[36] The limit was extended in response to a decision of the US Court of Appeals in DC, where a majority realized that OSHA was not permitted to force a continued record-keeping obligation on employers. A clarification was needed and the new 5-year limit was imposed.[37] On March 22nd, 2017 the Senate voted to block the Obama-era rule and send the bill to President Trump, who is expected to sign it.[38]

Removal of Penalties for Wage or Safety Violations[edit]

An Obama Administration regulation called the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule encouraged federal contractors to follow labor laws by punishing contractors with bad records of violating wage and safety laws. The penalty would be losing their government contracts if they did not follow the rules.[39]

The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule was deemed necessary after it was found that almost 30% of the top violators of federal wage and safety laws are also current federal contractors (as of 2013).[40]

Specifically:

  • 18 federal contractors were recipients of the largest 100 penalties issued by OSHA between 2007 and 2012. Almost half of the total initial penalty dollars for OSHA violations were against federal contractors (in 2012).[41]
  • 42 American workers died as a result of OSHA violations by federal contractors in 2012.[42]
  • 32 federal contractors received back wage assessments among the largest 100 issued by the Department of Labor between 2007 and 2012.[43]
  • 35 of these companies violated both wage and safety laws.[44]
  • 49 federal contractors responsible for large violations of federal labor laws were cited for 1,776 separate violations of these laws and paid $196 million in penalties and assessments. In fiscal year 2012, these same companies were awarded $81 billion in taxpayer dollars.[45]

On March 27, President Trump signed a bill to repeal this regulation without any legislation for replacement.[46]

Cuts to Department of Labor in House and Senate budget[edit]

  • The budget passed by the House and Senate cuts $710 million from the Department of Labor.[47]
  • Job Corps, a program that provides workplace training for disadvantaged youth, would close centers that "do a poor job educating and preparing students" for the labor force, and will see a $15 million increase.[48]
  • Legal Services Corporation provides low-income workers the ability to receive legal assistance to ensure they have rights on the job and to ensure that they receive the types of public benefits they are entitled to for living in poverty. This will not be cut.[49]

The Open Internet[edit]

The FCC has set up what it calls Open Internet rules to protect a consumer’s ability to go where they want, when they want, online. Internet service providers (like Comcast, Verizon or Time Warner) cannot:

  • Block or slow speeds on purpose
  • Create special “fast lanes” that discriminate against particular kinds of content
  • Engage in other practices that build walls in exchange for tolls

These rules are often referred to as “Net Neutrality" [50].

Network Neutrality[edit]

Network neutrality is the idea that your cellular, cable, and phone internet connections should treat all websites and services the same. Big companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast want to treat them differently so they can charge you more depending on what sites and services you use.[51]

How is the Open Internet protected?[52]

  • Blocking: Internet providers may not block access to legal content, applications, or services, or non-harmful devices.
  • Throttling: Internet providers may not deliberately slow down legal internet traffic.
  • Paid prioritization: Internet providers may not favor one type of internet traffic over other types of traffic in exchange for compensation of any kind.

FCC Under Trump[edit]

End of Net Neutrality[edit]

On May 18, the FCC voted to begin replacing the Open Internet order/Net Neutrality rules. The Federal Communications Commission has officially begun undoing and replacing net neutrality rules after voting 2-1, along political party lines. FCC Head Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, considers the vote as a step to end regulation on providers. Those in favor of net neutrality argue that this vote could lead to select few powerful Internet service providers taking control of the Internet, while consumers and start-up online companies pay the price [53].

This passage starts a three-month public comment period. Initial comments must be filed within 60 days, July 17, with another 30 days for replies by August 16 [54]. Over 1,000 Internet start-ups, investors, and entrepreneurs have signed an open letter to Pai expressing their concern about overturning net neutrality.