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Fired for Moral Turpitude: Labor in the Second Gilded Age

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Sarah Jaffe has an important piece up at Alternet exploring the realities of public sector workers in the Second Gilded Age:

Beil told a story of guards at a women’s correctional facility, who get sent along with inmates when they have to go to the hospital to hold a “vigil.” If one of the guards has to use the bathroom while waiting, they are now required to call the prison, get a replacement sent out, and not use the bathroom until they have returned to their post at the prison. “Workers are every day subject to this kind of abuse and degradation. There’s absolutely no dignity in the workplace anymore,” he said.

Wisconsin’s teachers, are also feeling the loss of their protections at work, with new handbooks replacing their old union contracts, containing strict and arbitrary rules on dress code and restrictions on their outside-of-work activities. In New Berlin, teachers reported [PDF] that not only were workdays for teachers getting longer with no pay increases, but that teachers must adhere to a dress code that includes skirts below the knee, no jeans, no open shirts, and that they can be dismissed for the crime of having students as “friends” on Facebook. They are also required to report any traffic incidents or tickets to their school district.

“’Moral turpitude’ is a standard [officials] are trying to now use in very vague ways,” Dye said.

It is always important to remember that union contracts are not just (or even primarily sometimes) about wages and hours. They are about dignity for workers. They are about being able to go to the bathroom when you need to go (an indignity also suffered by the workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory). They are about not allowing employers to judge your ability to work for them based upon their own shifting and retrograde definitions of morality. They are about giving you a voice on the job that provides a process to defend yourself from employer attacks on your livelihood.

Hopefully, that doesn’t all go away.

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