Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
A Shameful Business

A Shameful Business: The Case for Human Rights in the American Workplace

James A. Gross
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 264
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    A Shameful Business
    Book Description:

    In a book that confronts the moral choices that U.S. corporations make every day in the treatment of their workers, James A. Gross issues a clarion call for the transformation of the American workplace based on genuine respect for human rights, rather than whatever the economic and regulatory landscape might allow. Gross questions the nation's underlying fabric of values as reflected in its laws and our assumptions about workers and the workplace.

    Arguing that our market philosophy is incompatible with core principles of human rights, he forces readers to realign the country's labor policies so that they conform with the highest international human rights standards. To make his case, Gross assesses various aspects of U.S. labor relations-freedom of association, racial discrimination, management rights, workplace safety, and human resources-through the lens of internationally accepted human rights principles as standards of judgment.

    His findings are chilling. "Employers who maintain workplaces that require men and women and sometimes even children to risk their lives and endanger their health and eyes and limbs in order to earn a living are treating human life as cheap and are seeking their own gain through the desecration of human life," Gross argues, and such behavior should be considered as crimes against humanity rather than matters of efficiency, productivity, or morale.

    By revealing how truly unacceptable management's "best practices" can be when considered as human rights issues, A Shameful Business encourages a bold new vision for workers, whether organized or not, that would signify a radical rethinking of social values and the concept of workplace rights and justice in the courtroom, the boardroom, and on the shop floor.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5868-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    The concept of workers’ rights as human rights has emerged recently in discussions concerning the state of U.S. labor relations, but it has not influenced the making and implementation of labor policy at any level. Labor relations in this country, particularly union-management relations, is thought of as just another kind of power struggle between special interest groups.

    Increasingly around the world, however, the right to form labor unions and to bargain collectively, the right to workplace safety and health, and the right not to be discriminated against in employment are considered human rights—not merely rights granted by statutes or...

  4. 1 Justice and Human Rights
    (pp. 8-23)

    In a land of compromisers, deal makers, and lobbyists where accommodation and expediency drive the political and economic systems, talking justice can be at best a nuisance and at worst dismissed as unrealistic. Yet, justice is universally invoked by all manner of people with all manner of grievances and objectives, all convinced (or claiming to be convinced) that their causes are just. As one philosopher put it, justice has proved “sufficient motivation for the most sublime sacrifice as well as the worst misdeeds.”¹

    Despite this professed dedication to justice, history is proof enough that human life is readily sacrificed, diminished,...

  5. 2 “Without Distinction of Any Kind”: Race and Human Rights in the United States
    (pp. 24-42)

    On March 7, 1965, the nation witnessed on television Alabama State Troopers clubbing, bullwhipping, teargassing, and riding horses into peaceful civil rights demonstrators marching from Selma, Alabama, to the state’s capital in Montgomery. They heard Sheriff Jim Clark shouting, “Get those goddamed niggers” and “Get those goddamed white niggers.” For some reason, the events of that Bloody Sunday, as it came to be known, were less tolerable to an American public that previously had read of and seen beatings of demonstrators, unleashing of attack dogs on them, and driving them back and punishing them with gushing water shot from high-pressure...

  6. 3 The Market Economics Values underlying U.S. Labor Law: Property Rights over Workers’ Rights
    (pp. 43-65)

    Every economic system and every legal system are sets of rules and regulations. Without agreement on rules, a civilized society presumably would degenerate into anarchy and the strong would take what they want from the weak. The fact is, however, that the strong do take from the weak even with economic and legal rules and regulations in place. That fact alone confirms that justice and legality are not necessarily synonymous. Justice demands, therefore, that we identify the values underlying all these rules and determine who is benefited and who is burdened by those rules and what those rules say about...

  7. 4 Property Rights over Freedom of Association Rights: Congressional and Judicial Value Choices
    (pp. 66-83)

    Before the Great Depression and the Wagner Act, business in this country dominated almost every aspect of American life, not only factories and the government but also the society’s values. Employers identified business values with the larger society’s “traditional” American values of consumption, material possessions, and individualism. The widespread suffering during the Great Depression, however, generated and spread different values of social justice, equal rights, economic equality, industrial democracy through collective action at the workplace, government regulation of business, and a government on the side of the powerless rather than the powerful.

    This crisis of faith was an even more...

  8. 5 Expanding the Zone of Management Control: Devaluing the Freedom of Association
    (pp. 84-103)

    Employers’ freedom of enterprise, freedom of contract, freedom of property, and freedom of speech and workers’ freedom of association inevitably result in a clash of rights and values. Although portrayed in the abstract as freedoms, when these freedoms are exercised in the workplace they cause a struggle for power—on employers’ part to retain sole control of the enterprise including the workplace, and on workers’ part to reallocate power not only to prevent or limit the employer’s control but also to secure control over their own workplace lives. Choices have been and must continue to be made to determine how...

  9. 6 Violations of the Human Right to Life and Limb: Safety and Health at U.S. Workplaces
    (pp. 104-126)

    Whether understood as having divine, moral, or legal roots, the concept of human rights has at its core the sacredness of every human life. No aspect of human work is so directly and intimately associated with the sacredness of human life than the safety and health of men, women, and children who labor. There is no more basic or fundamental right: “It is in fact the right to life that we are talking about when we talk about worker safety.”¹ Occupational disease and injury are not merely economic inefficiencies—they kill people.

    In addition, the protection and promotion of human...

  10. 7 The Value Choices of Courts, OSHA, and Labor Arbitrators: Management Rights over Workers’ Human Rights
    (pp. 127-159)

    Callous disregard for human life at work has persisted in this country from its earliest days to the present time. It amounts to gross immorality and violation of fundamental human rights. Human life has been used merely as another resource and commodity in the marketplace. This gross immorality is a crime. Over thirty years ago, during an OSHA hearing to set standards for fourteen carcinogens, a union representative deplored the toleration of unnecessary deaths and suffering caused by exposure to those chemical agents:

    Sir, in a truly civilized society we would hold personally responsible those who participate in this crime,...

  11. 8 Surreptitious Violations: Human Resources and Workplace Human Rights
    (pp. 160-192)

    To achieve their business objectives, employers always have needed to control their employees. That control, whatever form it took, was intended to get workers to conform “with management’s stereotype of the ideal employee: efficient, disciplined, willing, cheerfully obedient and loyal.”¹ Although every period in U.S. history had its own “best practices” form of control, it is clear from a historical perspective that the form of control considered best by any employer in any period was the one that increased productivity and profits. Some employers found the use of coercive power applied through a military-like hierarchy of authority (with workers at...

  12. 9 Crimes against Humanity: Concluding Thoughts about Choosing Human Rights
    (pp. 193-214)

    The greatest evil in the world is the destruction or suppression of the humanity of human beings. In great part, this book is about how that evil is practiced at workplaces in the United States. Employers who maintain workplaces that require men and women and sometimes even children to risk their lives and endanger their health and eyes and limbs in order to earn a living are treating human life as cheap and are seeking their own gain through the desecration of human life. Those who engage in racial supremacy and other similar forms of discrimination treat others as if...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 215-242)
  14. Index
    (pp. 243-252)