Monday, February 13, 2012

Building Bridges to watch them Burn

The new transportation bill engineered by House Republicans has been the target of much criticism. It calls for more highways and toll roads to be built, paid for by money from off-shore drilling. Sounds like the kind of thing the GOP would have dreams about, doesn't it?

Well, here's the latest news on the bill: a little piece slipped in under the guise of a "technical correction" that would strip transportation workers of overtime pay and would make them exempt from minimum wage laws. It's a piece of legislation that would cripple the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which established a minimum wage. The bill, if passed, would be a huge boon to transportation companies, who already push their workers to obscene work hours and questionable conditions.

While the outcry has not been overwhelming, it is growing and has some bipartisan support. In particular, Ray LaHood, the Transportation secretary and former Republican congressman, has been harshly critical of this provision.

This kind of legislation should be a wake-up call to where the leaders of the GOP are focusing their attention. They are trying to squash the rights of some of the lowest-paid, over-worked people in the nation so that their employers can enjoy a few extra dollars in their pockets. This, as they attempt to boost off-shore drilling to pay for toll-roads across America. The amount of money they are talking about is insane.

But I fear that this is the wave of the future. I fear that the leaders in Washington will fight to end the minimum wage, will take away worker's protections, to fundamentally change what it means to have a job in America. It will no longer be seen as a right but as a privilege. Those who work for these transportation companies could quit their jobs, sure. But with such high unemployment, they will be out of work and making nothing. So, they're stuck if their bosses are given the power to reduce their pay and deny them overtime compensation.

What happens when workers are no longer able to demand more from their employers? What happens to America when our workforce is given no defense by the federal government and is forced to work for pennies a day instead of the minimum wage which draws so many people to our shores? The answer is, we lose a piece of our identity, of our democracy, and we set ourselves back on the course of history.

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