Sunday, October 28, 2012

Just For The Record

    A succesful local business owner wrote that her husband had been a 4th grade teacher and she had been a clinical nursing instructor” before opening their business. She commented, "Idaho is a Right-to-Work state, thank goodness.”
    That raised my interest level.

    I suggested to her that she should get out and mingle with the ‘cake eaters’. (e.g. The infamous quote based upon 'Let them eat cake' wrongfully attributed to Marie Antoinette)  Together the At-Will and Right to Work employment laws have had a devastating impact on Idaho’s blue collar working families. Either one would be tolerable, but the impact of the two laws working together is another story.
    I submitted a Bonus Round Question to her, for a minimum wage job with no benefits, to her:
    “The 1985 Idaho Legislature passed the Right to Work law and overrode Gov. Evans’ veto. In 1986, 54% of the voters affirmed it…In what year did Idaho’s Legislature enact the At Will law?”

    She responded, after questioning why I noted their history as a 4th grade teacher and clinical nursing instructor, as follows:

    We own a small business and have for 26 years. We employ about 10-12 people full time and several part-time. I am glad that Idaho is an “At Will” state, which means that we can stop our employment of any employee at any time, except for reasons of gender, race, etc. It also means that our employees can leave their job for any reason at any time. Seems fair, doesn’t it? Lucky for us we have wonderful employees! They are great. It would be a terrible business decision for us to let any of them go because they are very good, and it would cost our business a lot of money to replace them and train someone new. That’s the open market; that’s real business. But any of our employees can leave at any time too, and in the past some have…for all kinds of reason, most of them personal. But their choices left us, as business owners, in tough situations. We had to scramble to replace them. Do you think there should be a law to protect us from employees who leave without much or any notice? I don’t. It’s their right. Right-to-Work doesn’t apply to our small company because we are not unionized. But Right-to-Work simply says that no one can be forced to join a union in order to get a job at any business, and I believe that’s best. If the union wants to help workers, let them convince the employees that it’s worth the price of the dues. Years ago, as a nurse, I was a member of the Nurses’ Association, which was somewhat like a union, and I chose to pay my dues and join. I don’t think anyone should be forced. Do you?

    My response, after explaining why I noted their work history and current business:
     I quoted you work history and current status as the basis for my suggestion that you should spend time with the ‘cake eaters’. I am glad you are successful, sincerely. I believe you are a good employer, sincerely. But, I want to be very clear about the fact that you should mingle with the blue collar workers, the factory workers, the miners, the minimum wage hospitality workers, the food workers, and on and on before you declare at will wonderful a wonderful ‘fair’ law. At will is only fair if the majority of employers treat their employees fair…and most don’t by a long shot. I would be glad to have you spend a week or month with me seeing what I see…and you would quickly understand the reality faced by blue collar workers in Idaho today. How many employees working for good employers, receiving a fair wage—whatever the market is for any given job—leave, as compared to those who get terminated without notice. How many people are out there looking for work. If you have an opening and list the job you would have 20-30 people applying. It might take you having to interview most of them to find one that is a good fit, but it wouldn’t take long. How long does it take for a worker, fired without notice, to find a job?

    Right to Work, no I don’t/never have agreed with forced unionization. However, I have read ‘The Jungle’ by Upton Sinclair…at least until I throw it across the room where it smacks into the wall… and ‘Big Trouble’ by J. Anthony Lukas…several times. Big Trouble is, after all, the history of Idaho written by a Pulitzer Prize winning author. It is a factual recordation of history. Unions used to serve a purpose. Did you ever read about the ‘Ludlow Massacre’? A machine gun and a high vantage point is good labor management. How about the ‘Bull Pens’ in the Silver Valley…locking up union members without any charge of any crime…does that seems fair? Sadly, it seems that today the only purpose served by most unions is to collect dues. Heck, 30 years ago a close relative of mine was angrily called a ‘scab’ by a former Cda Mayor/teacher for taking a temporary job and not joining the union. Get rid of at will and leave right to work…no problem. Give people a choice…absolutely. Now they have no choice, no help, and no defense against the many unscrupulous employers. Yes there are many. Montana does great with ‘for cause’ legislation. Fences make good neighbors and ‘for cause’ laws make good employers. Right now ‘fair’ isn’t a word that blue collar workers would use to describe Idaho. Most are afraid to even mention ‘fair’ for fear they will be looking for work the next day. I sure wouldn’t describe the situation in Idaho as fair to blue collar workers. What I said in my post was that the two laws, together, are devastating to blue collar families. Level the playing field.

    You call out the teachers’ union. Who makes up that union…the teachers. They don’t have to join the union. Many don’t belong. Perhaps, if we are talking about ‘fair’ perhaps we should talk too about the real power in Idaho called the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI). It is an association of Idaho’s big businesses whose leaders regularly meet, at places such as the ultra exclusive Arid Club in Boise, to determine how to squeeze blue collar workers. The most recent example of IACI’s efforts would be the amendments to Idaho’s Right to Work laws that were pushed through the Idaho Legislature, even though Idaho’s Attorney General advised the legislators that it would be thrown out. The amendment was thrown out by (Federal) U.S. District Court Judge Winmill in January of this year. Somehow I don’t think it was pushed through by IACI because it was ‘fair’ to workers.

    Finally, you didn’t mention if you found where the at-will law was enacted by the Idaho Legislature. When you do so let me know…it will raise another topic of discussion—judges who legislate from the bench, instead of doing what they are supposed to do…enforce and interpret the laws as enacted by the members of the legislature who are elected by, and accountable to, the citizens.
    Reply: No substantive response was received:


Cedar Street Kid said...

From personal expereince I can say that I could not agree more.

Anonymous said...

I did not think the at will was a statute enacted by the legislature, rather it is a doctrine developed in common law. However I could be wrong!!! I was once before.

Go Figure said...

Anonymous--correct amundo! That, of course, is the point! Thanks for taking the time to read the post.

Cedar Street Kid said...

QUESTION. Years ago I worked in a hotel that brought in a new management team. They put out a memo to all employees that stated that they could terminate anyone with or without cause, and if anyone did not sign it, they would be terminated. I hold out for a long time, but finally signed it at the last minute. I was thinking that by signing the meme, it became a contract of sorts, placing me at their mercy. By forcing us to sign it, did that not show that they did not have the right to enforce that doctrine? I wish I had not signed it just to see how it played out legally.

Go Figure said...

It suggests to me that you had a contract up until the time they forced you to sign it or be fired. That would have probably breached the contract that you had before signing. However, a wrongful termination/breach of contract civil suit and a dollar will buy you one cheap cup of coffee during the 2-3 years it would take in court to find out if you were right.