Thursday, October 6, 2022
Tracing the Racial and Gendered Origins of Exemptions to Labor Standards
Daiquiri Steele, Enduring Exclusion, 120 Michigan L. Rev. (2022)
Economic justice has long been a part of the civil rights agenda, and minimum labor standards statutes play a crucial role in eradicating the exploitation and subordination of historically marginalized workers. While statutes establishing labor standards are characterized as “universal,” their effect has been anything but universal. Racial and ethnic minorities, women, and those at the intersection experience disproportionate violations of labor standards laws concerning minimum wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health.
Through legislative maneuvering dating back to the New Deal era, Congress carved out many female workers and workers of color from core protections of minimum labor standards legislation. Due to the vigorous advocacy of civil rights groups, amendments to these statutes expanded coverage, making these statutes more inclusive of marginalized workers. Nevertheless, the exclusionary legacy of these New Deal era-laws lingers today. Black, Latinx, and female workers are more likely to be retaliated against for asserting rights or reporting employer misconduct pursuant to these statutes.
Tracing the racial and gendered origins of exemptions to labor standards statutes from the early twentieth century to the present, this Article argues that, despite expanded coverage, female workers and workers of color remain largely excluded from “universal” workplace protections. Although anti-worker forces previously sought to thwart creation of legal rights for marginalized workers, contemporary anti-worker campaigns seek to gut marginalized workers’ protections through actual and threatened retaliation. Examination of the traditional rationales for employer retaliation reveals that the retaliation disparity is incongruent with these conventional motivations. This Article argues that securing compliance with both minimum labor standards and anti-retaliation reform should be integral parts of the civil rights agenda.
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