Feminist Majority "Supreme Court in Peril" Chat Series of 2003
Cecelie Counts, AFL-CIO
Cecelie Counts is the new director of the AFL-CIO Civil, Human and Womens Rights department. Ms. Counts has had a distinguished career, having worked for TransAfrica, the Childrens Defense Fund and the NAACP. For the past six years she has had a number of important responsibilities at AFL-CIO, including the Common Sense Economics program, and most recently as a lobbyist working on a wide range of issues. She is a graduate of Howard University and the Harvard Law School.
Cecelie Counts: Thank you for the opportunity to talk to folks today about this important subject of the relationship between employment protections and the law. We are talking about things that people take for granted--paid vacation, maternity leave, 40 hour work week, unemployment insurance. These are things that were quite controversial until the court ruled them legal.
posted:6/30/2003 1:57:00 PM CST
Dolores: What is the connection between labor rights and reproductive
Cecelie Counts: There are several. There was a time when it was legal to discriminate between people who were pregnant. There was a law passed that outlawed such behavior, but at times this law is not protected today, especially abroad and in lower paying jobs. For example, many women still have to take pregnancy tests to get or maintain their jobs. Similarly, the Family and Medical Leave Act applies to anyone who needs time to care for family members--these are rights that allow people to take time of and keep their jobs. Such laws are crucial to minimize workers burdens.
posted:6/30/2003 2:01:00 PM CST
Harry: What labor issues can we expect the next Supreme Court to rule
Cecelie Counts: We know one of the most troubling areas, in Texas for instance, is state employees. The Court is moving to remove state employees from many workers protections, as in the Age Discrimination and Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Acts. It was ruled that these acts do not apply to state workers. We expect that there will be further attempts to limit the power Congress has to protect worker discrimination.
posted:6/30/2003 2:05:00 PM CST
Peter: How is Bushs record on labor rights? What are some examples?
Cecelie Counts: Bush has a terrible record on labor rights. For example, he has an effort under Executive Branch regulations to exclude millions of workers from overtime protection. As the law stands today, there is a well established 40 hour work week which allows workers to receive time and a half over 40 hours. He is trying to exclude many groups from receiving these benefits. Also, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protects workers from work-related injuries. Bush has now made changes limiting the scope of what can be considered work-related.
posted:6/30/2003 2:09:00 PM CST
Ashley: What kind of work is the AFL-CIO doing to promote womens equality
in the work place?
Cecelie Counts: AFL-CIO represents unions. These unions negotiate equal pay for equal work. Today, most women make $0.73 for every $1 men make. This is a fundamental issue on which AFL-CIO organizes. Also, women who are forced to work in low-paying jobs tend to need the most protection. This is also of high concern to AFL-CIO.
posted:6/30/2003 2:13:00 PM CST
Pam: How are the Democratic presidential hopefuls on labor rights?
Cecelie Counts: We are currently in the process of questioning the candidates and are awaiting their responses.
posted:6/30/2003 2:16:00 PM CST
Beth: The Supreme Court has not been supportive of labor rights in recent
years. How would a new addition to the courts right wing worsen the situation?
Cecelie Counts: It could make things much worse if another judge like Clarence Thomas, who views the minimum wage laws as undue burdens on employers, is appointed. Federal minimum wage laws provide a floor on which employees stand and such laws need to be maintained.
posted:6/30/2003 2:17:00 PM CST
vicky: why has bush been able to raise so much money so quickly? dont
dems have the support of wealthy individuals too? how should dem presidential
hopefuls expect to compete in the next election, given the wide resources
Cecelie Counts: Democrats do have the suport of some wealthy individuals. However, big business and corporations have a vested interested, as the Bush adiminstration is exceedingly pro-business rather than pro-worker.
posted:6/30/2003 2:20:00 PM CST
Aviva: Are there many conflicts within the labor movement involving
workers who are more conservative politically and oppose their unions
taking a stand on reproductive rights?
Cecelie Counts: AFL-CIO is a coalition of labor unions. Those unions represent workers who view the job of unions as taking care of their members on the job. The question of what members do off the job is not central to our work, assuming that people work without being engaged in reproductive activities. Hence, the issues are not of fundatmental concern to AFL-CIO. However, we do make sure that our members have basic health care services, which is a fundamental need of everyone, regardless of members stances on reproductive health.
posted:6/30/2003 2:24:00 PM CST
Jeremy: Are there any important labor rights cases coming before the
Supreme Court or lower courts? How will Bushs nominations impact them?
Cecelie Counts: There are certainly many unresolved issues in the courts. We are finding that the rights we have need to be protected and can be threatened. We can take none of these rights for granted, as the people who oppose us want to turn back the clocks on workers rights. The kind of people Bush nominates are quite hostile to workers rights. Some of the worst candidates need to be filibustered so they dont come to votes. In case of Priscilla Owen, we have a nominee who has opposed the right of injured workers to take their cases to a jury of their peers. She views it okay for employers to enter into agreement with employers in order to waive workers rights to sue in exchange for other benefits. Confirmation of a judge like Owen would bring her danderous point of view to 3 states on the fifth circuit.
posted:6/30/2003 2:27:00 PM CST
vicky: Why is substantial paid vacation such a foreign concept in the US? Typically, workers here get 2 weeks/year. Elsewhere (e.g. Europe and China), workers get at least 3 weeks and oftentimes months off!
Does the US maintain a stingier policy because of harsher productivity
Cecelie Counts: NO, we argue that workers get stronger benefits when they are more organized. The European countries have a longer history of militant union action and worker solidarity. Their governments tend to be more supportive of unions efforts. In this country, there is a general belief that we are more productive. However, with todays technological advances that is not true. Their are many productive EU countries with strong worker benefits. However, in other parts of the world like South Asia and Africa, even the slightest worker benefits do not exist.
posted:6/30/2003 2:32:00 PM CST
Clara: What are some of the things the AFL-CIO has done to ensure judicial
nominees are pro-labor?
Cecelie Counts: We work very hard to elect Democrats to the Senate. Unfortunately, we were not successful in 2002. However, we are working to educate our members to pressure their senators, of both parties, to oppose nominees who demonstrate hostility to workers rights.
posted:6/30/2003 2:36:00 PM CST
Nicole: In terms of labor rights, which minority group would you consider
Cecelie Counts: The group that is most disadvanted in terms of workers rights is the group of workers labeled undocumented--people who are in this country working, but do not have legal immigration status. They are prone to exploitation and abuse. Last year in the Hoffman Plastics case, the Court ruled that undocumented workers whose employers violate the law in terms of workers rights do not have to pay damages to undocumented workers. Many workers in the farmering and meat packering industries, for example, are unable to protect themselves because of their immigration status.
posted:6/30/2003 2:38:00 PM CST
Carrie: Texas is a right-to-work state. Do you think that has colored
the views of the President and his administration on labor issues? How
Cecelie Counts: Absolutely! The facts that Texas is not a labor union friendly state and that Bush is a product of Harvard business school, a place that teaches people to maximize profit, are a bad combination. The role of government should balance the two forces of employees and employers, but the trend continues to be to lower benefits in order to lower costs.
posted:6/30/2003 2:42:00 PM CST
Susy: Besides doing this chat, is the AFL-CIO working with other organizations
to ensure judicial nominees protect our rights? Is it true that if a
nominee is bad on one progressive issue he/she tends to be bad of issues?
Cecelie Counts: Yes. We are part of a broad coalition made up of civil rights organizations, as well as environmental and womens groups. Many of these nominees we have opposed are terrible on not just one, but numerous issues.
posted:6/30/2003 2:45:00 PM CST
vicky: What are your thoughts on criticisms filed by students at prestigious
universities like Harvard and Yale regarding their campus sexual assault
posted:6/30/2003 2:47:00 PM CST
jhon: what are the main issues threatening womens choices today.
Cecelie Counts: One of the main issues facing women today is the issue of time. Whether they have families or not, women must work to maintain themselves. Many jobs are not conducive to these demands placed on women. For example, women who are unable to find work and are on welfare are being told that they must find any sort of job if they are to continue to receive assistance. In addition, the unemployemnt rate is higher than its been in years. Hence, women are increasingly without power to protect themselves to unfair work demands. This is especially true for women with lower economic and educational status.
posted:6/30/2003 2:48:00 PM CST
Lizzy: Have you faced obstacles as a woman in the labor movement? How
has your experience differed from your male counterparts?
Cecelie Counts: Many of the obstacles women face in the labor movement have been eradicted because of the work of the people who came before me. The battles fought by women before me have made it easier for this generation. Icreasingly the leadership of labor is becoming female and womens labor concerns are becoming better understood.
posted:6/30/2003 2:53:00 PM CST
Harriet: Thanks for doing this chat! How can we get the younger generation
involved in protecting worker rights?
Cecelie Counts: We must make sure to teach younger people about labor history. They must understand that it took a strong and power movement to get the laws we have today. When the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938, a militant labor force was pushing for a 30 hour week. This is how we ended up with the 40 hour week and the weekend. A victory we thought was won in 1938 is now in jeopardy because of the actions of our executive branch. The younger generation must learn to value their rights before they are lost.
posted:6/30/2003 2:56:00 PM CST
Jessica: What can I do to help with the fight to protect the courts
from Bushs right-wing nuts?
Cecelie Counts: Contact your senators and make sure they know how important the issue is to you. More importantly, talk to your friends so more people are aware of the issues. We need to match the right-wing energy and understanding. Finally, we need to make sure every candidate for Senate has a clear stance on what types of candidates should be appointed to the Supreme Court.
posted:6/30/2003 3:00:00 PM CST
Moderator: Thank you for joining us today. I hope that you will be inspired
to get involved in this very important fight to protect our rights. For
more information about judicial nominations and getting involved visit
either the AFL-CIO website at http://www.aflcio.org or the Feminist Majority’s
Million4Roe campaign site at http://www.million4roe.com. We hope you
will join us Wednesday for our final chat in our series, “Supreme
Court in Peril.”
Cecelie Counts: I would like to remind people that the Supreme Court once ruled that Congress did not have the power to restrict child labor. Today we would consider that unthinkable, but if we continue to place hostile nominees in the position to have lifetime positions, it could happen again.
posted:6/30/2003 3:02:00 PM CST