Dignity Takings and Wage Theft
21 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2017 Last revised: 28 Feb 2018
Date Written: November 28, 2017
This essay argues that Professor Bernadette Atuahene’s hybrid property-tort claim of “dignity takings” underscores the need for labor and employment law (herein referred to as “work law”). Atuahene’s concept of “dignity takings” makes us especially aware of the need for work laws that protect the rights of workers to act concertedly for their mutual aid and protection. The essay builds the argument from two stories of wage theft that the author drew from ethnographic fieldwork in a worker center, Arise Chicago. The stories show how employers who fail to pay wages owed to workers – wage theft – may also attempt to infantilize workers to subordinate them and exert control. The taking of workers' property, the wages, and infantilization would result in a dignity taking. However, workers’ concerted activities for mutual aid and protection, protected by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, may preclude employers from always exerting such control over workers and, therefore, from committing dignity takings. In this fashion, effective work law protects workers from suffering dignity takings.
Keywords: dignity takings, labor and employment law, work law, wage theft, worker centers
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