When States Empower Workers, It’s an “Accident”

Published: NYT, July 2, 2004

RICHMOND, Va., July 1 – On Saturdays and Sundays, rain or shine, locals and visitors fill the restaurants, boutiques, bookstores and coffee shops of Carytown, a popular residential and commercial district here. At night, restaurants bustle, and the line for the second-run movie theater wraps around the block. But thanks to an unnoticed clerical error in a new state law, some here fear that could all change.

Even after the bill’s sponsor, Senator Frederick M. Quayle, a Republican from Chesapeake, said unequivocally that the bill was in error, the mistake has Virginia’s business community reeling back to colonial times, when working on Sunday was a crime. Under the state’s new “day of rest” law, employees in the private sector can refuse to work on Sunday or their chosen Sabbath, leaving Virginia employers to wonder how they will continue to do business on weekends. The ensuing brouhaha has the governor and attorney general at loggerheads as to who should solve the problem, and how.

Meanwhile, in the midst of vacation season, frenzied Virginia employers are flooding government offices with phone calls, trying to determine just what their rights are. No one seems to have answers.

Employer mindset: “If we can’t force them to work when we say, we’ll go out of business.” Notice they are all “flooding government” with frantic phone calls demanding the return of their power to coerce but no one is saying, “Well, we’ll just offer to pay them double-time like we used to on Sundays.” What I find disturbing is the attitude that coersion is a necessary business tool and that they refuse even to think about alternate strategies like, say, raising the poverty-level wages they pay to a reasonable level for one lousy day a week.

This is the business mindset that’s been fostered over the past quarter-century by Republican governments that are wholly-owned subsidiaries of corporate interests: workers are slaves; what’ll we do if you free them, even a little tiny bit, one day a week?

Well, you’ve got chance to find out. Use it.

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