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Celebrating Martin Luther King Day in 2019

By Leah Kessler and Crismelly Caso

Martin Luther King Jr. Day (or “MLK Day”) is a federal holiday observed on the third Monday of January each year to celebrate the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr., an influential American civil rights leader.

Dr. King’s sustained political activism has influenced and improved our country in countless ways, including the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“CRA”), which in turn created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”)—a federal agency that administers and enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination.  As a result, in 2017, 84,254 individuals filed charges with the EEOC, seeking legal recourse against employers subjecting them to work environments in which they were demeaned and dehumanized.  He was closely involved in the passage of the National Labor Relations Act—which established the right of all workers to form unions and bargain collectively with their employers regarding their working conditions and wages.

In 2018, 50 years after his assassination, American citizens have watched, among other momentous events, Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation battle with Christine Blasey Ford, who recounted her sexual assault in front of over 20 million people (which we blogged about here); the Parkland shooting, during which seventeen students and staff members were killed and another seventeen were injured; a migrant family separation policy, during which 2,342 children have been separated from 2,206 parents at the US-Mexico border (or 65 children a day) between May 5 and June 9 ; and now find themselves in the midst of the longest government shutdown in history.  Many of these federal employees still work although they are not receiving any wages, and many of them cannot protest and get their voices heard throughout the nation. While numerating these events is a bleak and simple exercise, doing so highlights how the ills of our nation are still bound to the same violent oppressive systems of racism, sexism, and classicism Dr. King worked to overthrow in his lifetime.

In hopes of changing a country fueled by these unrestrained systems, Dr. King stressed the importance of labor and employee-rights. In his last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” King told the crowd in Memphis, “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs—decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community.”  In line with Dr. King’s activism, effective January 1, 2019, 20 states across the U.S. have increased their minimum wages.  In New York City, the minimum wage for companies with 10 employees or fewer is now $15 per hour. Moreover, after the last election cycle, there will be more women, women of color, openly LGBT members, and millennials serving in the House than ever before. From New York, we have the youngest U.S. representative in history, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Hispanic descent. We had two U.S. representatives, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who are both Muslim and were sworn into the office with a Quran.  With all the negative things going on, we are still seeing change in the country.

If you believe your legal rights have been denied by your employer, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.

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