Workers Sticking Together to Challenge Corporate Power
May 12, 2008
I have been writing about the strike by California Kaiser Permanente security guards working for contractor Inter-Con Security, who are demanding that laws be enforced and their rights be honored.
SEIU sent out a press release on the situation, titled, Workers With No Healthcare Protecting Kaiser Facilities, Security Contractor May Be Misleading California's Largest Healthcare Provider. In summary, the security guards at Kaiser are supposed to be provided with individual healthcare after working for 90 days, but it turns out that many are not. The security contractor Inter-Con Security has found a way around the promise: they classify workers as "on-call" instead of permanent.
As more and more workers report that Inter-Con is keeping workers on temporary or "on-call" status for months or years, it's still unclear whether Inter-Con is misleading Kaiser or if Kaiser is simply turning a blind eye to these tactics which short-change workers.
And their families are not provided with health insurance at all. The security guards -- paid as little as $10.40 an hour -- are supposed to buy it. The result is that 41 percent of the officers who responded to a survey cannot. And without paid sick days they cannot afford to take the time off to see a doctor anyway.
So here we are with a company finding ways around a promise by changing the classification of the workers to "on-call." This points out yet one more problem of workplaces that do not have unions. How many people are classified as "temporary" or "contractors"? This is one of the bigger scams that is going on these days. One reason companies do this is because if someone is not an employee the employer doesn't have to pay their share of the Social Security payroll tax. (There are other reasons as well, including avoiding paying promised benefits.)
How do you know if you should be called an employee or an independent contractor? For a quick guideline, let's go to the IRS. They say that by-and-large you are an employee,
if the organization can control what will be done and how it will be done. This is so even if the organization gives the employee freedom of action. What matters is that the organization has the right to control the details of how the services are performed.Yet most of us see examples of people in this situation who are called "temporary workers" or "contractors" all the time.
Companies are not supposed to do this to us, but here's the thing: What can you do about it? You and I are individuals, alone. But corporations have the ability to amass immense power and wealth and influence. You and I as individuals must stand alone against this power and wealth. What can you or I or anyone else do on our own? The average person in our society has very little ability to stand up against this kind of power and wealth.
Over time people discovered that there are some things they can do that will work. One of these has been to form unions. By joining together the workers in a company can amass some power of their own. The company needs the workers in order to function so the workers -- if they stick together -- have the ability to make the corporation obey employee/employer laws, provide decent pay, and all the other benefits that the unions have brought us. This is why they are also call "organized labor." By organizing into a union and sticking together people have the ability to demand respect and compensation for their work.
This is what the security guards at Kaiser are trying to do. This is what you should do.
I encourage you to visit StandForSecurity.org.
I am proud to be helping SEIU spread the word about this strike.