From The Huffington Post:
by Dave Jamieson
As the secretary of labor, Tom Perez spends a lot of his time explaining workers’ rights. Yet when he talks one-on-one with workers of all kinds, he’s noticed that many of them still aren’t aware of the legal protections they have.
Whether it’s the right to overtime pay when they toil more than 40 hours in a week or the right to take unpaid time off after having a child, “they don’t know what they don’t know,” as Perez put it to The Huffington Post.
The White House is hoping to change that. On Friday, the Obama administration unveiled a new government website, worker.gov, that’s meant to help people understand their rights under the hodgepodge of U.S. workplace laws that are enforced by a range of agencies.
Unlike the typical federal website ― which tries, and often fails, to put complicated statutes into plain English (and Spanish) ― the new site begins with the worker. If you visit the site, you’ll be asked to identify your job and perhaps your problem on the job. The site will then tell you how different laws apply to your situation and how regulators might be able to help if a law is being broken.
In other words, you won’t have to know that a certain law exists to learn about its protections.
“If you’re a low-wage worker, you shouldn’t have to know what the Fair Labor Standards Act is,” said Perez, referring to the law that guarantees a minimum wage. “You should be able to go to one stop, type in what you do for a living, and it’ll give you a primer on what your rights are and where you can file a complaint.”
Perez concedes that a new website won’t move the needle much when it comes to improving wages and working conditions in the U.S. But he sees it as part of a broader White House effort to boost employees’ bargaining power in piecemeal ways ― given the lack of cooperation from a Republican-controlled Congress.
President Barack Obama was criticized by many labor leaders for sitting back early in his presidency. But over the past few years, he has let loose a flurry of executive actions related to the workplace. These include directives to expand overtime protections to millions of salaried workers, finalize safety regulations that weredecades in the making, and force federal contractors to pay higher wages and offer better benefits to low-wage workers. Republicans opposed all those maneuvers, but weren’t able to stop them because they were carried out through executive power.
The White House has also tried to augment its more ambitious moves with smaller improvements. For instance, the administration was unable to get a bill through Congress guaranteeing paid family leave for workers, so the Labor Department doled out grants to states and cities to explore the costs of local paid-leave programs. The grants are modest ― the District of Columbia received one for $96,000 ― but they can help spur actual legislation. D.C.’s city council and mayor are now haggling over the details of a paid-leave proposal, and a new law could arrive as soon as next year.
Perez argues that this adds up to more than just nibbling around the edges ― although he acknowledges there’s no substitute for passing federal laws the president can sign.
“There are a lot of singles and doubles being hit,” Perez said. “I think we’re making progress in very real ways.”
Read more from The Huffington Post.