Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Americorps Workers Should be Employees, not "Volunteers"

We've heard about the working conditions at Walmart and fast food jobs were bad, but have you heard about Americorps? Check out this e-mail IWW Union Delegate Alex Lotorto sent back to the Public Allies' fundraiser.

As an alum of Public Allies and during my time in the program, I became very aware of the ambiguous employment status of Public Allies and Americorps members at large. I've concluded Americorps workers need to be classified as employees and given the rights of employees for me to support the program vocally or financially.

Currently, the only rights under labor law afforded to Americorps workers are the Family Medical Leave Act and workers compensation. Rights that are denied include harassment and discrimination protection by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Occupational Safety and Health Administration protection, the right to form a union, the right to unemployment compensation, and the right to access state labor departments to resolve wage disputes and harassment on a state level.

This problem stems from a single clause in the National and Community Service Act which says Americorps members will not be considered Federal employees [SEC 199M (b)(1)]. In addition, courts hearing cases about worker misclassification in regard to Americorps have dictated, in the instance of unemployment compensation, that states can afford members their rights, but Americorps members are not protected federally [US DOL 1995].

A simple re-writing of that clause would provide Americorps workers with hard-fought for workplace rights. With 75,000 Americorps members participating every year, surely there are instances of harassment or workplace hazards that should be reported to the EEOC or OSHA. Surely, workers should enjoy the basic protections of the National Labor Relations Act and Universal Declaration of Human Rights that allow unionization. Surely, Americorps workers should be able to access unemployment compensation at the end of their terms when they are laid off due to lack of work, just like any construction trades worker or temp worker can.

I have witnessed and experienced instances of injustice due to this misclassification. It's something high on my list of concerns for my generation. The scenario contributes to the larger narrative regarding Millenials being subject to job insecurity through a terrible job market and common labor practices like unpaid internships, canvassing for a commission, independent contractor status, and working on political campaigns. A simple classification as "employee" may only provide marginal new improvement in the working conditions of Americorps, but it would transform the narrative and trajectory of injustice for young people.

We live in an age where we condemn Walmart and fast food companies for their working conditions, yet many people who consider themselves leftists turn a blind eye to what's going on in one of their most beloved programs, Americorps. In fact, a worker at Walmart or McDonalds enjoys more workplace protections and job security than a twenty something Americorps worker.

Please consider making this employee misclassification issue a priority before seeking my support again. Thank you.

Alex Lotorto
Union Delegate
Industrial Workers of the World

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