Three recent stories I’ve read paint a very ugly picture of labour relations on this continent.

The Manitoba human rights commission just rejected the application of a former Winnipeg waitress who was fired for shaving her head. When Stephanie Lozinski shaved her head as an act of support for an uncle with cancer, she soon found herself out of a job, on grounds of “dress code” reasons, even if she wore a headscarf or wig. And apparently, since her choice to shave her head was voluntary, the decision to fire her was entirely legal.

In the farm fields of California, where 90% of labour is provided by precarious farm workers with few if any rights, Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a pregnant 17-year-old immigrant labourer died of heatstroke in the summer of 2009. She was one of six California farm workers to die from overheating that summer. After an investigation, her employers were found guilty and fined $1000.

The average low wage worker in New York City loses $58 each week, or over $3000 a year to wage theft. Both in New York and America as a whole, stolen wages are becoming an epidemic which underfunded regulators can only struggle to keep up with. Some studies are suggesting that 9 in 10 workers experience this and that more than half had seen it in the last pay period.

For many, if not most who work for a living, there are no rights at work. Some exist on paper – most of those are rarely enforced, if ever. If you know one or more working class person, you’ve probably heard a million stories already – whether they work on farms, in factories, on construction sites or even coffee shops. People put up with this abuse because they need their wages to survive. Though for some this is a high-stakes game, for far more it’s a struggle simply to exist.