Posted June 3rd, 2021.
By Mike LaSusa
After more than a year of pandemic-related stress and upheaval, attorneys could be looking forward to this summer’s opportunities to unwind. Here, Law360 looks at six books wage and hour attorneys recommended for colleagues looking to kick back with a good read.
“Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about It)” by Elizabeth Anderson
Readers eager for thought-provoking fare might enjoy University of Michigan philosophy professor Elizabeth Anderson’s exploration of the employer-employee relationship, said Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP partner David Tracey, who represents workers in employment suits.
Anderson likens the dynamics of the workplace to those of government, with the employer acting much like a dictator in the exercise of its authority over workers, Tracey said.
“Her argument highlights why employer abuses — including wage theft and scheduling abuses, among many others — are so pervasive, and why our current regime of employment laws so often fails to deter such practices,” he said.
“Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid
Those looking for a quick and easy read should check out this fictional account of a young Black woman working as a babysitter for a well-off white family, said Julia Solorzano, a staff attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center who is also a member of the National Employment Lawyers Association.
The debut novel from Kiley Reid portrays a protagonist conflicted between deriving enjoyment from her work but also frustration at the minimal protections and benefits she’s offered as a worker.
“The employer spends much of the novel awkwardly trying to create a personal connection with the babysitter rather than giving her what she actually needs in a job,” Solorzano said. “The novel does a great job of exploring the ways in which progressive white people project their own needs and desires onto employees of color rather than listening to them or offering solutions that would meaningfully improve their employment.”
“Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace” by Nikil Saval
The evolution of the white-collar workspace is the focus of this informative but snappily written “pop history,” said Sanford Heisler associate James Hannaway.
The book by Nikil Saval, a writer turned Democratic politician who was elected last year to Pennsylvania’s state Senate, examines the development of the concept of the office in pop culture as well as in practice, including a story that stuck with Hannaway about the inventor of the cubicle.
“He thought he was inventing a dynamic workplace environment to free people up to be creative and have more autonomy at work — and that’s not what we associate with the cubicle today,” Hannaway said.
“Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive” by Stephanie Land
Multiple attorneys recommended Stephanie Land’s memoir focusing on the experience of low-wage housekeeper work.
The autobiographical account might hit home with wage and hour attorneys, said NELA member Paula Brantner of PB Work Solutions LLC.
“There are lots of stories of independent contractor work with no protections, juggling eligibility for public benefits with income received and being paid barely above minimum wage,” Brantner said.
Sanford Heisler partner Kate Mueting called the book “sad” but “eye-opening.”
“The author writes honestly about not only the degrading nature of her cleaning work, but also about how she was openly degraded and judged due to her poverty,” Mueting said.
“The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins” by Kirstin Downey
History buffs might enjoy learning more about the woman who was the force behind the most significant reshaping of employment laws in America in the last century, said Michal Shinnar, an attorney who will soon start a new role as senior counsel at plaintiffs firm Joseph Greenwald & Laake PA.
Shinnar said former Washington Post reporter Kirstin Downey’s book delves into many themes familiar to wage and hour practitioners, including unemployment insurance and the minimum wage.
It’s “an excellent and very readable new biography of Perkins and her accomplishment, as well as a window into the historic struggles to enact the New Deal,” he said.
“The Help” by Kathryn Stockett
A 2011 film adaptation brought wider attention to this novel about the relationship between a white journalist and Black maids in 1960s Mississippi, but NELA member David Kern of Kern Law Firm recommends fellow attorneys give the book a try.
“It’s well-written, impactful, and contains meaningful, perception-altering truths about low-wage workers and economic injustice in America,” he said.
The novel also spawned a real-world legal twist. A Mississippi woman sued author Kathryn Stockett claiming the author unfairly used her story as inspiration for the supposedly fictional work, though the case was dismissed as time-barred.
–Editing by Tim Ruel.