Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Minimum Wage Workers: Know your rights

During class yesterday, an attendee shared an experience she had over the weekend with a recruiting office she works with. She was asked to volunteer at the Moore, OK tornado site and while she went willingly, she found herself in a difficult position many minimum wage workers find themselves in.

When she was first approached by the recruiters about potentially volunteering, she was told the task would be limited to picking up debris outdoors. She knew there was a full work day involved, and she was fine with volunteering. The recruiter had offered to pay all volunteers $8.00 an hour, which meant extra money for her. Only when she arrived, she found herself assigned to a housing complex  which lacked air conditioning. She was made to wear a mask for safety reasons and wound up spending more than the eight-hour work day she was promised. Then the tornado sirens went off and she found herself out in the open air, unprotected among the destruction. It wasn't long before her asthma flared up, which was met with frustration by the supervisor. 

Not only was she placed in hazardous work conditions, but her health was in jeopardy as well. The supervisor was a young man in his mid-20s. From what she described, he lacked the experience and the wisdom to lead in a dangerous work environment. The good news is that this woman managed to control her asthma attack, although she didn't have her inhaler, and survived the ordeal. She made a complaint against the recruiting company the next day and plans to follow through until the responsible parties are held accountable. 

She was among the lucky ones. With the help of her advocate, she knew what appropriate steps to take. Many minimum wage workers don't know. 

There are two agencies operating under the Department of Labor responsible for the safety and health of American workers: 

- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates laws for private workers. They monitor industries to ensure that businesses are providing their workers with a safe and healthy environment. 

- The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) passes laws that prevent businesses from exploiting workers. It establishes minimum wage and overtime pay. It sets age and hour guidelines and ensures that companies are complying with child labor laws. 

Together, these agencies work to protect the rights of American workers. It's important that employees are aware of their rights and know where to go if those rights are violated. 

I'm certain that supervisor would have been more careful had he known this woman was in good hands. He underestimated her and put her in danger's way. He is now in for the surprise of his professional life. 

More information can be found at the US Department of Labor's site at http://www.dol.gov/

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