Monday, July 30, 2007

Arkansas Workers Have No Job Security

A Letter to the Editor in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today calls attention to a gross inequity concerning dedicated employees trying to do a good job and provide for their family. They can be fired on a whim without a moment's notice and find themselves facing unpaid bills for rent or scrambling to find health insurance for their family.

Spencer Honey of Arkadelphia makes a lot of sense when he writes, "You can be legally fired from your job for no reason in Arkansas. Why? Because without a good employment contract or union membership or an employee handbook requiring the employer to fire for good cause, you are an at-will employee and can be fired for no reason. Even if you do a perfect job and your employer promises that if you follow the rules, you will not get into trouble for anything, you can still be fired without the employer being wrong. Why? Because Arkansas legislators have never passed a law requiring employers to have a good reason to fire. And because Arkansas courts say at-will employees can be fired for no reason or even a poor reason.

America is the only industrial nation generally forcing workers to be at-will. Almost all Arkansas courts and employers say employees and employers are equal. They think equality is that employers can fire for no reason and employees can quit for no reason. Such thinking is wrong and like believing a car and roller skates are equal transportation. Employers can keep their job when unfairly firing an at-will employee. To solve this problem, our legislators can pass a good-cause discharge law that is fair to employees and employers."

AFSCME 965 members at the University of Arkansas have some due process protection against being fired without cause, but non-union workers in the private sector do not. We agree that the legislature could--and should--adopt a law providing for firing only for good cause, but we doubt that will happen anytime soon. Arkansas is a so-called Right-to-Work state that undermines union strength by allowing free riders and scabs to reap benefits without joining a union that protects their economic interests, and the state Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau will bring out the big guns to kill any legislation to protect worker rights.

As long as the Arkansas General Assembly is dominated by members recruited and financed by business interests, the average working family will remain at risk for unjust firing, low wages, and inadequate workers compensation for job-related injuries. Employees need to understand the benefits of union membership and begin organizing their workplaces. Unions need to more actively recruit and help elect public officials who care about working families. We can begin now in Northwest Arkansas.

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