Nevada’s Labor Laws Fall Short For Women

Dec. 7 2018 || By Michelle Baker

It was one of those emails that you’d read a hundred times over before you could decide on a definite emotion. It yearned to be personal and reasoning with Marie Jackson* (name has been changed to ensure anonymity), yet it was blatantly obvious that it was a template, an email sent numerous times before and after she would be receiving it, to countless other women, losing its fidelity with each read through. It went through the emotions of an unhealthy relationship — apologetic, complimentary, and then unreasonably demeaning and uncomfortably honest. Just fill in the recipient’s name at opening and closing lines to make it complete with intimacy and empathy, and surely, one day, we will all get past this, right?

Photo: Michelle Baker

But how is an employee supposed to react when she receives an email, from an indirect boss, informing her that it has been brought to her attention by Jackson’s coworkers that she has gained weight, urging her to return to her “leaner” self?

Jackson, who works through a production company at a local casino as a performer, confided in her friends as to what she should do next. Should she quit? Should she pretend like nothing happened? Was this even legal?

“I considered saying f*** you, and quitting. I considered not showing up for my next shift. The first would have made me look unprofessional and the second would have only negatively affected my coworkers who would have had to work alone that night,” Jackson stated.

“I’ve always struggled with body image, and to have someone tell me that they’re concerned that I’ve put on weight is an extra special slap on the face.”

Women of Nevada

Historically, women have arguably been the allure to and of Nevada — the exotic go-go dancers and their shows, the provocative cocktail waitresses at casinos, the legal prostitution that Nevada uniquely offers. Flash forward to present day where women’s liberation is afoot, the glass ceiling is being broken, the #MeToo movement is triumphing with steam, and Nevada is the second ranking state in percentage of women in legislature in 2018 . While women have been promoting their sexual attraction as a means of bringing people to the state for over a century, the drawl to this industry still exists and thrives, yet Nevada’s laws haven’t reflected any progress on that front. Women performers as sex workers, go-go dancers, and in other industries are legally discriminated towards, frequently held captive to their own industry, due to lack of access to unionization and diligent worker’s rights in the state.

The Trifecta of Legal Discrimination in Nevada

There is a combination of ways that employers can legally be discriminatory towards these performers in Nevada, but the easiest and most common way for employers to get away with this behavior legally is by not actually hiring an employee to do the work, by means of independent contracting.

There are numerous monetary benefits for employers to hire freelancers and independent contractors. Overall costs associated with an independent contractor are much lower than that of a regular employee because the employer doesn’t have to pay Social Security, Medicare, or unemployment taxes because they are not an official employee of the company, And although there may be a handful of positive aspects of being an independent contractor, they are fall short of the negatives — they have little to no bargaining rights, in part due to having zero representation in the workplace, and because they do not have a contract with these employers, they can be fired at any time, and once they’re fired they aren’t entitled to any sort of unemployment compensation. They also don’t receive overtime pay or have any rules that mandate a 40-hour work week.

At-Will Employment

Beyond scheming a legal way to evade taxes for work done, the law that allows employers to rid any independent contractor OR employee already exists, and it’s called At-Will Employment. Every state in America besides Montana has At-Will employment laws, which make it perfectly legal for an employer to fire an employee, without having to produce any just cause, without having to provide any notice, albeit that the reason for firing is not illegal. It also gives employers the right to change the duties, wages, and benefits of employees that have already been agreed upon, without having to give any sort of notification to the employee, beforehand or after the fact.

Dr. Johnson Makoba, a sociology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, studies organizations and bureaucracies and understand what these terms really mean.

“[At-Will Employment] makes it seem like workers have a choice, that they can decline the work,” he states. “Not really, but that’s the idea behind it.”

Dr. Makoba went on to explain that these laws don’t hold their face value, and although they are seen to protect workers, it’s more likely that they “pretend” to protect the rights of workers.

Although there are three major exceptions to this law (an example being you can’t fire employees for refusing to do something illegal because of public policy) that the majority of states implement, these laws allow employers to fire their workers for any reason that does not conflict with existing laws. Unfortunately, employers have found a weak spot in the discrimination laws in the workplace, proving these laws are not far reaching enough to protect the most vulnerable. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the twelve types of discrimination that are prohibited by law in the US are: age, disability, equal pay/ compensation, genetic information, harassment (including sexual harassment), national origin, pregnancy, race/color, religion, retaliation and sex. The state of Michigan is the only state that has laws prohibiting discrimination towards overweight people.

Right to Work

If these workers were able to have more bargaining power in their positions as either employees or independent contractors, they could use that representation to fight for things like proper wages, strong contracts, and could more easily sue a company if they felt like they had been wrongfully terminated. Nevada, being a “Right to Work” state, gives employers even more power over their workers, and it’s no accident — businesses small and large has been trying to pass right-to-work laws in states for over 70 years. In essence, right-to-work laws have been decimating unions since the National Labor Relations Act, aka the Wagner Act, was signed in 1935, which established employee’s rights to organize, gain federal recognition, and bargain for fair contracts, wages, and benefits.

In order to make unions inclusive to all, unions legally had to bargain for and uphold a contract with any eligible employee, union member or not. A comprehensible example of this is when unions bargain for higher wages at a company, for example, the Postal Service, everyone with that position will get those higher wages, not just the people who have joined that union, which is why everyone pays a small “agency” fee. This is where business owners saw an opportunity to pass legislation known as Right-to-Work laws that would slowly dismantle unions altogether, by attempting to eradicate their funding by giving employees the option to opt out of union membership and dues at a unionized workplace. If there are less people in a union, the union becomes increasingly less effective.

In short, the union covers everyone at least a little bit, and in order to avoid free riders from scamming the whole system, requires everyone to pay their “fair share” costs, which is why in states that don’t have right to work laws it may be mandated to pay union dues as part of becoming employed. These dues go to negotiating contracts that include wages, benefits, passing legislation, making political contributions, and overall gaining more prestige and power. Union workers make 20% more than nonunion workers, and compensation including wages and benefits increase by 28%, according to Economic Policy Institute, so it’s not surprising that employers are ones who benefit from lack of unionization.

To Each Her Own

When it comes down to it, Reddicks and Jackson alike both understand their line of work.

“Working as a performer, I’m coming to terms with the reality that my body is literally my business. It’s also up to my judgment of what I’m comfortable and happy with.” Jackson stated.

She continues to work for her company, and has embraced a body positive mindset, refusing to let the critiques stop her in her tracks.