Working Notes: A busy Friday discussing workers and workplaces

L to R: DY, Rep. Kay Khan, Rep. Ellen Story

L to R: DY, Rep. Kay Khan, Rep. Ellen Story

Yesterday served as a welcomed reminder that healthy dialogue can play an important role toward advancing the interests of workers and workplaces. I was fortunate to participate in two excellent events, and I’d like to share a bit about each.

MARN Legislative Forum

I spent the morning at the Massachusetts Association of Registered Nurses 2013 Health Policy Legislative Forum, held in the Great Hall of the State House. There I joined Representatives Ellen Story (a lead sponsor of the HWB, House Bill No. 1766) and Kay Khan (a HWB co-sponsor and psychiatric nurse) for presentations and Q&A about workplace bullying in healthcare and the importance of supporting anti-bullying legislation. MARN is one of the organizational endorsers of the HWB.

The discussion was both practical and policy oriented. We talked about the challenges of dealing with bullying behaviors in the healthcare workplace, as well as the role that associations like MARN can play in advancing the Healthy Workplace Bill.

It’s an honor to present with two elected officials who truly “get it” when it comes to how public policy can promote human dignity in the workplace. The three of us were pleased to be there, as the photo above (grabbed shamelessly from Rep. Story’s Facebook page) indicates!

Northeastern University Conference, “Employed or Just Working?”

For the afternoon, I hopped on the subway to a conference sponsored by the Northeastern University Law Journal, Employed or Just Working? Rethinking Employment Relationships in the Global Economy, which focused on the changing definitions of employee status and their impact on workers and organizations.

I gave a talk on the “intern economy” and detailed the emerging legal and social movement against the widespread practice of unpaid interns, explaining how this practice excludes individuals who cannot afford to work for free and likely violates minimum wage laws. I will be submitting an article on this topic to the journal later this year, updating my 2002 Connecticut Law Review article on the legal rights of interns. (You may download the 2002 piece without charge, here.)

Several panels focused on the common practice of employers misclassifying workers as independent contractors that, in turn, allow them to avoid paying wages, overtime, and benefits. Some of these practices are egregious, as lawyers who litigate these claims explained to us. We also heard from attorneys representing employers, and they provided an important perspective on the challenges of engaging in good-faith compliance efforts with laws that define “employee” in significantly different ways.

A compelling panel featured advocates and scholars who are examining the difficulties confronting domestic workers such as home health care attendants who are trying to obtain decent wages and benefits. These issues aren’t going away as our population ages and the demand for affordable in-home care increases.

Thanks and kudos

Thank you to both MARN and Northeastern for these opportunities to share information and ideas and to engage in discussions with people who care about the quality of our work lives, and congratulations for putting on very successful events involving multiple speakers. I hope that others who attended and participated benefited as much as I did.

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