Shaun Richman

Shaun Richman is an expert on workers rights and Program Director of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies at SUNY Empire State College.

Recent Articles

Company Towns Are Still with Us

And as unions’ difficulties in organizing auto plants make clear, where a company dominates the town, unionization is really hard.

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
On a May morning in 1920, a train pulled into town on the Kentucky–West Virginia border. Its passengers included a small army of armed private security guards, who had been dispatched to evict the families of striking workers at a nearby coal mine. Meeting them at the station were the local police chief—a Hatfield of the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud—and several out-of-work miners with guns. The private dicks and the local militia produced competing court orders. The street erupted in gunfire. When the smoke cleared, ten men lay dead—including two striking miners, the town mayor, and seven of the hired guns. The striking miners had worked for the Stone Mountain Coal Company, in mines located outside the city limits of Matewan. There, they rented homes that were owned by their employer, shopped at a general store that was owned by their employer, and paid in a company-generated form of “cash” that could only be spent at that company store. When they...

Want to Really Help Workers? Protect their Speech!

Americans’ First Amendment rights should apply to American workers. 

AP Photo/Mike Groll
When does free speech stop being free? At the entranceway of one's job, apparently. That was the implication of a ruling this month from the Eighth Circuit Court, which found that the sandwich conglomerate Jimmy John’s was within its rights to fire six employees for making signs that protested the company’s policy of forcing workers to come to work when ill. While the decision came as a surprise to many, the logic underlying it—that employees have few, if any, free speech protections on the job—has had devastating impacts on American workers for decades. Indeed, the dramatic drop in union representation is due in part to the fact that our court system regulates employees’ ability to organize by the impact of their organizing on businesses’ bottom line, devoid of any concern for the free speech or civil rights of workers. Until we ensure that freedom of speech extends to the workplace, workers and the labor movement writ large will continue to suffer...