Worker Rights




Paid Sick Leave

According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24% of US civilian workers, roughly 33.6 million people, do not have access to paid sick leave. The bureau’s 2019 National Compensation Survey found that 92% of workers in the top quarter of earnings (hourly wages greater than $32.21) have access to some form of paid sick leave, compared to 51% of workers earning wages in the lowest quarter ($13.80 or less). Of those at the lowest-earning tenth (wages at $10.80 an hour or less), only 31% have paid sick leave.

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the gaps in paid leave coverage and brought on a new wave of concerns for investors when it comes to the safety and protection of a company’s employees. Between March 2020 and February 2022, workers missed out on an estimated $28 billion in wages and had an increase of 50% in absences due to illness, childcare, family, or personal obligations according to the US Census Bureau and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Less than half of all absences during the first two years of the pandemic were paid.

In 2022, a group of 150 investors and their representatives published a letter sent to over 40 companies, including such companies as CVS, Disney, Home Depot, and McDonald’s, making the case for a permanent paid sick leave benefit for all workers. A subset of the group also filed related shareholder proposals at CVS, Kroger, Target, and TJX.

Worker Health and Safety

The meat and poultry processing plants are some of the most dangerous hot spots in the US for Covid-19, with multiple factories having to close down due to the high number of infected workers and a US Executive Order designating meat processing plants as critical infrastructure that must remain open. The meat sector workforce lacks access to paid sick leave and heightened employees’ risk of losing their jobs, calling in sick, loss of wages, and speaking out against managers who ignore the law.  

In March 2020, an Investor Statement on the Coronavirus Response, endorsed by 322 global investors, made the case for enhanced worker protection during Covid-19, pushing that board directors are held accountable for long-term human capital management strategy. Processing companies, such as Hormel, Sanderson Farms, Tyson Foods, and more, need to demonstrate how they will fix the challenges of maintaining meat production while protecting employees’ health and safety from here on out. 

Countries that produce low-cost goods often have employees who work in unsafe labor conditions and are paid low wages, such as Bangladesh. In November 2012, the Tazreen garment factory fire occurred killing 117 people and injuring over 200. In April of the following year, tragedy struck again in the Rana Plaza building collapsing killing over 1500 people. As of the end of May 2021, the original Accord has expired and has been replaced with the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry. 177 companies have agreed to the new Accord, including Adidas Group, AEO Inc. (American Eagle and Aerie), Fruit of the Loom, Hanesbrands, O’Neill, PUMA, and Tesco. Much still needs to be done since only 36% of the over 1,600 factories have installed fire adequate detection and prevention systems and 50% have yet to complete worker safety training, in the previous Accord.

Pay Equity and a Living Wage

Pay equity is the notion of paying employees who have similar job functions with equal pay, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or other status. It is important to have pay equity in a workplace, because it prevents discrimination lawsuits, observes equal pay regulations, improves productivity, reduces turnover, and attracts new employees. In the early 60s, two federal laws were enforced to ensure equal pay for equal work between men and women (Equal Pay Act of 1963) and prohibit discrimination based on gender, race, color, religion, and nation of origin (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964).

On average, a family with two children will spend 25% of their household income on child care. The government suggests that families spend no more than 7% of their income on child care. The rankings show that during the pandemic, the lack of affordable child care forced parents out of work and took a blow to child care providers.

Gender Equity in the Workplace

Despite progress since the early 70s, women in the US still earn 20% less per hour than men in 2019. Some economists suggest that women tend to have less continuous work experience, fewer hours per week, enter less-paying jobs, and prefer more rewarding commitments, like family care, than men.

A new report, 2022 County Health Rankings, found that women, particularly women of color, continue to experience steep pay gaps. On average, women earn a little over 80 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same work. To earn an average salary of a white man, $61,807, an Asian woman must work an extra 34 days. To earn the same salary, a white woman must work an extra 103 days, a black woman 223 days, an American Indian/Alaska Native woman 266 days, and a Hispanic woman 299 days.

Freedom of Association

Freedom of association ensures that every person is free to organize, form, and participate in formal or informal groups. This also includes the right to seek and receive resources, and peacefully promote and protect human rights.

Amazon faces increasing labor protests and has fought unionization drives in its US warehouses. They have engaged in employee intimidation, retaliation, and surveillance over the past year. Investors have urged Amazon to issue a report analyzing how its human rights policies and practices are protecting employees’ rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining. As of July 2022, 326 Starbucks locations have filed union election petitions. Employees have said unions could help increase wages, promote health and safety conditions and protect employees from understaffing situations. Starbucks Workers United, a group supporting the movement, has faced challenges in organizing shops with fewer employees than in a typical workplace.

Worker Rights in the Gig Economy
(i.e. Uber, Grub Hub)

US lawmakers proposed a law that would exclude gig workers (Uber, Lyft, Door Dash, GrubHub), and other work on-demand workers, from earning minimum wage and overtime pay. The “Worker Flexibility and Choice Act” would permit “worker flexibility agreements” that exempt companies from providing minimum wage and overtime to their workers if they turn down work from their firm and seek work at competing businesses.

These independent contractors are not covered by federal or state wage and hour, anti-discrimination, health and safety, collective bargaining, or other worker protection laws. They also do not receive healthcare or retirement benefits, they do not qualify for paid sick or family leave, and are not eligible for unemployment insurance. Studies have shown that 16–36% of the workforce work in the gig economy. A survey, from the Economic Policy Institute, shows that about 1 in 7 gig workers (14%) earn less than the federal minimum wage, with underpayment as low as $2.17 per hour (roughly $3,400 annually).

How to Reach Us

SRIC is an exempt organization as described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code; our Tax ID is 74-2846727. All contributions are tax-deductible. For more information, please contact Anna Falkenberg, PhD, Executive Director:

285 Oblate Drive
San Antonio TX 78216