West Virginia Record

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

WVU professor explains why worker's rights should involve natural human rights

By Kacie Whaley | Jun 13, 2017

| pixabay.com

MORGANTOWN – Anne Marie Lofaso, a professor of law at West Virginia University College of Law, released a thorough article in April titled "Worker's Rights as Natural Human Rights" that introduces the idea of injecting natural human rights in the workplace and challenges the way labor is viewed in the United States.

To lay the foundation that reveals why changes need to be made in the country's workforce, the University of Miami Law Review article delves into the background of where the United States has stood on labor laws for the past century up until today. Lofaso, who specializes in labor and employment law, jurisprudence and comparative labor law, affirms that the country's labor force is moving in a problematic direction that is dictated by both neo-liberal ideologies and problematic aspects of capitalism.

"The primary reason U.S. workers are in bad shape (lower real wages, less jobs, poor benefits) is, in part, due to deficiencies in the neo-liberal model, market failures, in particular, and the failure of our politicians on both sides to engage in meaningful debate over our society’s problems," Lofaso told The West Virginia Record. "These problems are not unique to the U.S. but are endemic to all advanced capitalist societies. Armed with ideology rather than facts and logic, policymakers across the developed world bicker between regulation or no regulation."

Lofaso pulls from past political philosophers such as T.H. Marshall, who focused on workers as citizens, and John Rawls, famous for his "veil of ignorance" theory, to build on her own improved workforce model. This model is ultimately the joining of worker rights with natural human rights, with the goal of creating a more collectivist, fair, and easy-flowing workforce.

"A human rights approach to workers’ rights would create a higher floor of rights below which labor standards could not dip," Lofaso said. "This floor would be comprised of a variety of substantive labor rights including a just-cause standard for job dismissal, a living wage, flexi-time and flexi-place scheduling, health care, low-cost public education and retirement benefits."

The natural human rights approach would be based upon two essential human values: autonomy and dignity.

"To inject autonomy and dignity into the workforce, employers could decide only to fire for cause. This would give workers job security. As discussed above, secure workers are often more loyal, more dependable and more productive. Second, employers can give more voice to workers by giving them more input into their jobs.

"Third, workers need excellent health care. Fourth, workers need to be educated. Employers could offer educational benefits to workers and their families. This would remove the strain of rising educational costs. Fifth, employers can create more flexible schedules so that workers could have time off to see their kids in ball games and school activities."

Though Lofaso argues for an improved system, she wants to clarify that she views these labor changes as an upgrade to a capitalist or mixed economy, instead of seeking a complete overthrow of the nation's current political structure.

"My article does not argue for a socialist society," Lofaso said. "It talks about what we can do to improve workers’ lives within a capitalist or mixed economy. Sometimes the solution is government. Sometimes the solution is private industry. But we will never come to any solution so long as politicians continue to vote along party lines, pander to caricatures, take money from special interests and refuse to engage in problem solving."

Lofaso is currently preparing to release additional journal articles, including a piece on the legacy of late Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia.

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