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Monday, January 09, 2017

Todd Rokita and the Revival of the Employment-At-Will Doctrine

I'm not sure how I missed this. One of Indiana's members of the House of Representatives (Todd Rokita) has introduced amendments to the Civil Service laws which would, essentially, eliminate civil service protections. (The linked website is a government employees' organization.)
This is apparently language from the proposed legislation:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any employee in the civil service (as that term is defined in section 2101 of title 5, United States Code) hired on or after the date that is 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act shall be hired on an at-will basis. Such an employee may be removed or suspended, without notice or right to appeal, from service by the head of the agency at which such employee is employed for good cause, bad cause, or no cause at all.
This is commentary:
In addition, the bill would
• Deny any pay adjustment whatsoever to workers who fail to receive a performance rating above “fully successful” in a new, management-designed rating system that would inevitably allow subjectivity, favoritism, and politics to influence ratings.
• Allow the government to deny earned pensions to any current or future employee who is convicted of a felony.
• Eliminate an employee’s right to representation at the worksite by no longer allowing union representatives to resolve disputes, address issues of discrimination or retaliation, or propose improvements in the workplace during the workday.
• Allow agencies to continue workplace investigations even after employees have quit or retired.
• Allow political appointees to demote career executives and reduce their pay without cause.
I spent a significant part of my professional life teaching labor economics, and two things I tended to point out a lot were:
1) Labor law in the US was, in the 19th century, essentially what was called the "employment at will doctrine"--the employer "owned" the job, could hire (or fire) anyone at any time using any criteria he (the employers were almost always men) chose. Discipline was at the discretion of the owner. Compensation was set by the owner (subject only to "market forces").
2) A recurrent theme in the first half (say, until 1970 or so) of the 20th century was restrictions on the "employment at will doctrine." Child labor laws, banning "yellow dog contracts" (google that if you don't know what it means), the National Labor Relations Act, minimum wage and overtime pay laws, anti-discrimination laws..
But now it seems as if we are seeing a resurrection of the "employment at will" doctrine. It disturbs me greatly.


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