Maine Governor John Baldacci yesterday signed an Executive Order establishing a Joint Enforcement Task Force on Employee Misclassification, making Maine the latest state in New England to take formal and serious steps to stop the practice.
The task force will include representatives from the Department of Labor, Workers Compensation Board, Office of the Attorney General, Department of Administrative and Financial Services and the Professional & Financial Regulations agency. The Executive Order assigned the group to coordinate information sharing among agencies; study the extent of the problem of misclassification, suggest legislative action that may be needed and work with interested industry groups and individuals to educate and assist them.
Audits performed by the Maine Department of Labor between 2004 and 2007 showed misclassification to be a quickly growing problem. In 2004, 29% of audits uncovered misclassification. Only three years later, 41% of employers were found to have misclassified workers.
It was an issue in last year's Congressional session; was made a significant issue in some state elections by national business groups, who poured millions of dollars into ad campaigns; and figures to be one of the tone-setting issues of President-elect Barack Obama's first year in office.
While on it's face the legislation may not seem to be significant to the average American (and even union building trades workers) Esther Kaplan's article explains how it could decide whether the American middle class goes extinct once and for all. The entire article is well worth reading, start-to-finish, but here's a few snippets to set the table...
At first glance, Employee Free Choice looks like little more than a technical fix. In addition to allowing unionizing through majority sign-up, it stiffens penalties for intimidating or firing union supporters and imposes arbitration when a company refuses to bargain a first contract. But as the leading corporate lobbies recognize, the bill could have far-reaching effects. By reviving unions, it could push up wages, realigning the broken economy so that company profits are spread beyond CEOs. It could help rein in corporate power and, perhaps most threatening to a business community that has enjoyed decades of deregulation, sustain a progressive majority in Washington in the years to come. If progressives aren't doing the math, conservatives are. "Unions don't spend money to elect Republicans," Senator John Ensign told a group of executives this past fall. "They spend money to elect Democrats. From our perspective, this would have devastating consequences."
With the concentration of wealth approaching 1929 levels, there is a forceful case to be made that unionization holds the best chance for a reversal. Corporate profits have doubled since 2001, while real wages have flatlined and the number of workers earning poverty wages has risen to nearly a quarter of the workforce. Unionized workers earn between 15 and 28 percent more than their nonunion counterparts and receive far better health and retirement benefits, and when unions reach a high enough density in a particular industry, wages in nonunion shops tend to rise to meet the new standard.
But unionization rates have been crashing for decades. "Historically, unionization basically created the middle class," says economist James Galbraith. "First, by its direct effect on the wages and benefits of unionized workers; second, by its indirect effect on the wages of workers who weren't unionized; and third, by the impact unions had on the creation of the social institutions that underpin the middle class, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid--the very structures of the New Deal and the Great Society." A line tracing the rise of wealth inequality and one tracing the decline in unionization make a perfect mirror image of each other.
If your interest in the Employee Free Choice Act has been little to none, you might want to read this article and reconsider. It could be the canary in the middle class coal mine.
The New England Regional Council of Carpenters continues to take advantage of modern methods of communication by recently starting a group on Facebook. Any members or family who are active on Facebook can search for New England Regional Council of Carpenters and select the "Groups" tab on the results page.
The group is currently open for anyone to join, without invitation or permission. Union news and notices will be posted on the group wall, pictures and videos are available and members can easily connect with other members.