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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Confronting the Gloves-off Economy: America's Broken Labor Standards and How to Fix Them

  • Author(s): Martelle, Scott
  • Editor(s): Bernhardt, Annette
  • Boushey, Heather
  • Dresser, Laura
  • Tilly, Chris
  • et al.

Over the last three decades the lowest rungs of American labor have endured a quantum shift in working and living conditions as many employers, aided by lax enforcement, have made a lucrative game of flouting labor and employment laws. But the erosion of protections hasn’t been limited to the working poor. Well before the current economic downturn, the sweatshop ethic expanded broadly throughout the economy, with a wide range of business owners and managers adopting a “gloves-off” approach to their own employees. In the best cases they have simply turned a blind eye to the shenanigans of subcontractors, in effect outsourcing their moral and legal responsibility. In the worst cases employers have directly engaged in inhumane acts, cheating their staff out of hard-earned pay and blithely ignoring codes meant to ensure their health and safety.

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