The Obama White House has been on a roll lately, throwing its weight behind a few big causes championed by workers’ rights and labor activists. The Obama administration, for example, recently came out in support of a ban on non-compete agreements for certain industries and employers. Before that, the President has been vocal in his support for paid sick leave. As a man in the twilight of his presidency, Obama is taking a firm stand on issues he previously remained quiet on. It’s a common tactic for politicians on their way out the door.
But the President and his team aren’t stopping there. For an administration that presided over the worst economic disaster in modern history, and managed to successfully get things turned around (though there are still issues, to be sure), Obama knows that Americans are still hurting. As a part of his final act, his team is releasing a brand-new tool for American workers who feel they’re being screwed by employers.
It’s a new government website: worker.gov.
The idea was to create a website that can be used as a resource to workers who feel that they’ve been stiffed or screwed, and who are unfamiliar with their rights or labor laws. People have all sorts of issues at work and often can feel apprehensive about asking or exercising their rights for fear of retaliation. Worker.gov’s goal is to help those folks out.
Worker.gov: A Useful tool?
“We’re removing the guesswork, and providing workers access to critical information about their rights under the major labor statutes in a way that makes sense for them,” wrote Sharon Block of U.S. Department of Labor in a press release. “Worker.gov recognizes the simple truth that people do not think about having an ‘FLSA’ or ‘FMLA’ or ‘Title VII’ problem. They just know that they have an unfairness-on-the-job problem.”
The statement continued: “Worker.gov reflects what we learned from listening to workers about what information they need and how they want to receive it.”
The question, however, is whether the site is actually useful. We don’t quite know yet — it’s still in beta phase. The idea is that it will evolve and grow more useful with time. “The most important innovation is that we’ll constantly be collecting feedback and improving the site. In other words, the more workers use worker.gov, the better it becomes,” Block said.
So, at this point, we don’t know how big of an impact the site will have. It isn’t difficult to see the demand for it; almost everyone has had a question regarding the rules and regulations governing their workplace. This should make it easier to navigate those laws.
Labor laws and workers’ rights
Again, this is yet another bone the Obama administration is tossing to the country’s workers. Along with worker.gov and his support for paid sick leave and non-compete bans, he’s also issued executive orders relating to the minimum wage for government contractors and overtime rules for salaried workers. Though a good portion of the electorate still dislikes him, the President has really gone out of his way to stick up for the working public.
Of course, his opponents in Congress and in the media have lobbied hard for the repeal of several of these actions. Opponents argue that he’s overstepped his authority with the use of executive orders. Others simply don’t like the uptick in rules and regulations. But it seems that overall, things are getting better for the working class. Along with state legislation (like minimum wage increases), Obama’s presidency has seen the fastest increase in household incomes in decades.
We can’t credit the President for that completely. But it’s hard to deny that things have improved. And now, worker.gov is up and running. Potentially, it’s a valuable new tool in the hands of workers. We’ll have to see if workers actually use it, though, before any real judgments can be made.