Thursday, January 19, 2012

News Flash for Newt Gingrich: Americans Do Not "Own" Their Jobs

Newt Gingrich

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has caused a stir by saying that Barack Obama is a "food stamp president" and that poor people should want paychecks, not handouts. Gingrich went on to say that he wants to help poor people "learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job, and learn someday to own the job."

The Gingrich statement presents all sorts of problems, including its ugly, not-so-subtle racial undertones. But perhaps the biggest problem is this: Almost no one in the United States "owns" his job. In fact, most of us essentially work on a day-to-day basis. Given that unpleasant fact of American life, how are people--poor or otherwise--supposed to accomplish something that, by law, cannot be done in this country?

Here is the reality that Newt Gingrich is ignoring: The overwhelming majority of Americans work under an "at will" arrangement. At-will employment is a legal doctrine that means either party in an employment environment can break the relationship without liability, unless a contract expressly states otherwise.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Montana is the only state where at-will employment does not prevail.

The basic tenet of at-will employment is this: "You can be fired for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all." Talk to any employment lawyer, and you are likely to hear those words verbatim. The only exception, for the most part, is if an employer violates a federal discrimination law, and those generally are limited to characteristics such as race, gender, age, national origin, religion, or disability.

Having been fired in May 2008 from my job as a university editor, after 19 years on the job and with a spotless work record, I know first-hand how tenuous your hold on any job can be in the US of A.

The bottom line? Most Americans have zero protections in the workplace. If you have a well-crafted employment contract, that should protect you for the term of the contract. If you own the company, you probably own your job. If you fit into any of the discrimination categories above, an employer is likely to think twice before firing you. But I've learned that there is not much reason for many employers, especially large ones, to worry much about discrimination because they are likely to get away with it.

Why? Well, the system is stacked in their favor. Check in your local phone book or do a Web search for "employment lawyers." Look closely for information about the kinds of cases a lawyer takes. Here's a helpful hint: A lawyer who represent plaintiffs, employees who allege to have been wronged in the workplace, usually will call himself a "discrimination lawyer" or something along those lines; a lawyer who represents defendants, employers who have been charged with wrongdoing in the workplace, usually call themselves "labor and employment lawyers."

My unofficial research indicates that for every plaintiffs' lawyer in the employment arena, there are probably 50 defendants' lawyers. And I think that is conservative. The ratio probably is more like 1:100. Plaintiffs' employment lawyers usually are solo practitioners or they work in a small shop of three to five lawyers. Employment defense lawyers tend to work in big firms, with 50 lawyers or more. Who do you think has more pull and resources?

Here is an even bigger kick in the pants for American workers: Discrimination usually is governed by federal laws, so that means employment cases almost always are heard in U.S. courts. Federal judges are appointed at the presidential level, so they tend to come from large, politically connected law firms. And what kind of clients do those firms tend to represent in the employment arena? They represent employers-- the bigger, the better because big companies tend to generate lots of discrimination cases, and that means more cash for the lawyers.

My experience and research indicates that federal judges overwhelmingly favor defendants in employment cases. And since federal judges have lifetime appointments, they are pretty much untouchable and answer to no one. You can be the victim of the most egregious form of discrimination, and a federal judge is likely to ignore the facts and law and rule against you. All you can do then is appeal to a U.S. circuit court--and that is an expensive process, with appellate judges that might be even more predisposed than their trial-court brethren to rule against plaintiffs.

When Newt Gingrich says Americans need to learn how to "own" their jobs, he is full of elephant feces. If you are in a union, you have some protections on the job. But you essentially pay dues in order to "own" union membership and the protection it affords; you don't "own" a job.

Consider my experience: I worked for 19 years at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in various editorial positions. Always got good to excellent performance reviews. Always received merit raises when they were available. Never had any disciplinary issues or warnings under university policy. Always got along with colleagues in the workplace. If anyone should have "owned" his job, it was me.

But what happened? In June 2007, I started this blog about judicial and political corruption in Alabama and beyond. I started it because of an experience my wife and I had with being cheated in state court here in Shelby County, Alabama. About five months later, strange things started happening on the job, including harassment from a boss I had known and gotten along with for pretty much my entire time at UAB. In May 2008, I was fired, less than a year after starting a blog--which I produced on my own time, with my own resources--because my reporting upset someone in Alabama's conservative power structure.

That's not a guess on my part. This recorded conversation with a UAB human-resources official named Anita Bonasera proves I was targeted because of my blog and its content about the Don Siegelman prosecution:

Audio: UAB and the Cost of Blogging About the Siegelman Case

I have a lawsuit that is ongoing in federal court. But I've seen clear signs that a federal judge named William M. Acker Jr., an 83-year-old Reagan appointee, is repeatedly ruling contrary to law, cheating me in order to favor the powerful elites behind UAB.

So tell us again, Newt, how is it that we can "own" our jobs?


Anonymous said...

Did you see where a person and I can't think of his name is trying to get UA to hire Condi Rice as their Chancellor? Did she not cause enough trouble in the SHRUB ERA???

legalschnauzer said...

Wow, I had not heard about it, and the thought had never even occurred to me. But it makes some sense. She was at Stanford before joining Bush admin and might be back there at times now--not sure. Would make quite a splash for UA to hire her. My guess is that they might float her name and wind up hiring someone else. Not sure the UA BOT really wants to hire a black, female chancellor--even a conservative like Rice. Probably will be a white male, but who knows. Hiring Rice would take attention from some of the sleazy board members, and they might see that as a good thing.

jeffrey spruill said...

learn someday to own the job

study of meaning in language: the study of how meaning in language is created by the use and interrelationships of words, phrases, and sentences.


I think the elitist Mr. Newt-who has done EXTRAORDINARILY well as a lobbyist for Fannie May & Freddy Mac- after being run out of Congress for ethical violations means---- "own the company."(Do you think he might be alluding to all that offshore money of Mitt Romney & Bain Capital?)

Anonymous said...

On some level, Gingrich is really spelling out an un-written truth about conservative policy; until and unless you own the business you work at, We're only interested in your vote, but working for your interests is out of the question..........

jeffrey spruill said...

I thought some money launderer like Ralph Reed or Grover Norquist might want to comment on my spelling of Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac.

e.a.f. said...

I watch Newt and think more, performance art. I can't believe this man is for real, but then I look again and he really is running to become the Pres. of the U.S.A. Stephen Colbert looks better than Newt for that role.

Now here in British Columbia, Canada we have had a few "wonders" run sucessfully for Provincial office (translation--state office) but we haven't had some one like Newt run for Prime Minister.

It must be embarrassing to have to consider this man wants to be on the world stage. O.K. maybe he'd be o.k. with the former Italian prime minister but you couldn't have him in the same room with the prime minister of Japan, France, President of Germany, etc.

What is most disconcerting is it appears he actually believes what he is saying. He also appears to have a few character flaws. not the stick to it type I'd say.

Now on to his comments regarding "own their jobs". Right. When I saw that I started to laugh. You don't own a job, you may own a company, etc. but a job, no. Some one else owns it and you work for that person.

The closest we get to job security is a legal agreement such as professional athletes or CEOs have or a highly unionized work enviornment; where the employer clearly understands if they try firing a person unjustly, the union will see them in court and give them a "wild cat strike" for good measure.

I do take exception to Newt's condescending attitude, like he is going teach people how to get a job. that should be entertaining. Lets see him hold a few work shops about job search and resume writing. How to get to a job interview without transportation, no child care, no appropriate clothing.

I wonder why none of the "questioners" followed up with, how can a person find a job if there are no jobs. From information in the press I understand S. C. has a 9% unemployment rate. usually that means its about double. They just don't count the people who have given looking or have been looking for more than a yr.

With a country of a population of about 350 Million, is this the best the Republican Party can do?

enjoyed the column.

Anonymous said...

Such a small think. ;-) But such a great idea

jeffrey spruill said...

Ralph Reeds & Grover Norquist's "Faith & Felony Alliance" money laundering machine & Obama's DOJ won't touch the crooks!

Don't you wish you had that much political clout Mr. Schnauzer?

jeffrey spruill said...

Why does Obama's job czar- Jeffrey Immmelt - provide protection for these money laundering thieves?


jeffrey spruill said...

Obama's DOJ won't touch these thieves 'cause the DOJ are a bunch of criminals!

jeffrey spruill said...

I was ALWAYS wondering why Judge Henry Coke Morgan split the statute into separate offenses Aug.3,1995 violiating the 5th Amendment Grand Jury clause-- while the prosecutor was acting completely flummoxed--she was waiting for the party the feds ultimately throw for her for doing their dirty work:

jeffrey spruill said...

The chances of an Obama Administration investigation with teeth seems unlikely. Their Justice Department has strong ties to the big banks and mortgage companies and a very poor record of prosecuting fraud cases.