America Arrests Working Mom. Good Job, America!

80s McDonalds WorkerWelcome to the US of A, where you can get arrested for letting your nine-year-old play in the park while you go to work at McDonald’s. Spluttering with indignation? Let Conor Friederdorf of the Atlantic articulate your outrage for you. His skills are well-honed.

By arresting this mom (presumably causing her to lose her job) and putting the child in foster care, the state has caused the child far more trauma than she was ever likely to suffer in the park, whatever one thinks of the decision to leave her there. Even if the state felt it had the right to declare this parenting decision impermissible, couldn’t they have given this woman a simple warning before taking custody?

Also, even though it is against the law for your boss to tell you not to discuss your salary with your coworkers, odds are your boss will either not know that or not care. For that matter, you may well not know your rights, either. Let’s go over them, shall we? 

Here’s a handy site: WorkplaceFairness.org. It covers benefits, leaves, harassment, unions, privacy, and lots of other fun stuff. Though the answers aren’t always heartening — for example, yes, your employer can legally require a drug test – information is power. The laws you don’t like, you can work to try to change.

But yeah, again, you know what’s not legal: telling your employees not to talk about what they make. And yet it happens all the time.

Given their illegality, why are gag rules so common? One answer is that the NLRA is toothless and employers know it. When employees file complaints, the National Labor Relations Board’s “remedies” are slaps on the wrist: reinstatement for wrongful termination, back-pay, and/or “informational remedies” such as “the posting of a notice by the employer promising to not violate the law.” At the same time, ignorance of the law can just as easily fuel gag rules. Craig Becker, general counsel for the AFL-CIO, used to serve on the National Labor Relations Board. He told me that workers who called the NLRB rarely were aware that their employer’s pay secrecy policy was unlawful. …

And many workers are, in fact, getting stiffed—especially women and people of color. Recall the story of Lilly Ledbetter, the inspiration of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which gives workers a longer period of time to file pay discrimination suits against their employer. Ledbetter was told that she would be fired if she talked about pay with her coworkers, but after nearly three decades of work with Goodyear, someone slipped her a note saying that she was underpaid. Ledbetter’s case shows how pay secrecy can cause the pay gap between men and women, a gap that widens between men and women of color. More than 50 years after the Equal Pay Act, study after study show that women are still paid less than men for the same work.

My first job out of college, I was told not to discuss benefits or bonuses with my coworkers and I nodded solemnly, eager to be a good girl. And both of my parents are lawyers! Of course most of us don’t know our rights. We aren’t taught how to be workers by anything except sitcoms, and no one ever mentions gag rules on Frasier. 

The nine-year-old situation steams my windows even more, possibly, because I feel so bad for the mother, and all the other mothers forced to leave their kids in cars and make other impromptu, high-stress decisions because we refuse, as a nation, to invest in affordable childcare. We talk so much about how we want people to work rather than rely on welfare and government handouts. Well, when parents work, what are their kids supposed to do? Especially during the summer, when school is out?

When did we decide fourth- and fifth-graders need constant adult supervision, anyway? My first date was in fifth grade. I can assure you my parents had no idea where I was. (In Hardee’s, and then a dollar store, and then in his laundry room having my first kiss.) It was not child neglect; it was life, and it was great.

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10 Comments / Post A Comment

OH MAN thank you for posting this. Also, as soon as the link shows up for me, I would highly recommend everyone listen to the Morning AMP’s Council of Feminist Thought this morning on this story because they are just SPOT THE HELL ON. Because yes, anec-datally, in the fourth grade I was definitely latchkeying it up and doing things on my own. Although: I was just coming off of an incident where I managed to “scam” the home for lunch system and had been punished for it due to some handwringing snitchery.

As to the idea that these suburban (read: white) parents were so concerned they had to call 911, why on earth could their concern not extend to, oh, I don’t know, thinking about what would happen to this child? and her mother? Why couldn’t they have gone out to the park and spoken to her? Or to her mother? People were talking this morning about how they were concerned for safety in this “different” and “changed” world, and how this child was more at risk. And all I can think is that what is different is that these concern trolls who called 911 apparently have no concept of eyes on the street or how to actually care for children in the world. If the logic is that, then I am just crushingly sad.

(PS: If anyone wants to hear said “snitchery” story, I am obviously still chapped by it twenty years later, so!)

MissMushkila (#1,044)

I started babysitting when I was in 4th grade! Mostly for neighborhood families with toddlers, and often while one of the parents was at home and working. But I’d frequently take the kiddos down to the local park or to the local ice cream place down the street by myself.

This was a little over 15 years ago…Stories like this make me concerned about having children today, bc I think the “adult supervision AT ALL TIMES” is bullshit and actually kind of harmful.

Kimberly Alison (#4,465)

While I agree that the state’s response was overkill, I can’t believe how many people think it’s okay to leave a nine year old alone for hours at a time in an unsecure location. Yes, my mother left me home alone all the time when I was nine, but that was in a secure location where there weren’t strangers milling about and she had a reasonable idea of where I was at all times.

Leaving your child in a public place for hours at a time unsupervised is irresponsible.

jalmondale (#6,721)

@Kimberly Alison
Why is it irresponsible? Or more specifically, what’s the standard for irresponsible? It seems like there are 3 ways to decide that:
1) Leave it up to the parents, who actually know their child, and who presumably are more genuinely interested in their child’s welfare than the average passer-by
2) Decide ex post facto: if something went wrong, then the parent was being irresponsible
3) Come up with clear guidelines – 3 states currently have ages at which a child can be left alone (Maryland – 8, Oregon – 12, Connecticut – 14).

1 & 2 work well most of the time, but do fail in particular cases (child neglect & freak accidents, respectively). Some combination of 1 & 3 seems like a better system than what we have now (2 & what judgemental, usually white, strangers think).

From my perspective, this 9 year old in this situation seemed completely fine, but there are probably other 9 year olds in other situations who wouldn’t be.

Allison (#4,509)

@Kimberly Alison I don’t think there’s really such a thing as a secure location, and there are pros and cons to a kid being by themselves surrounded by people and literally by themselves.

@jalmondale Not to be a pain in the ass, but as a Connecticut child protection lawyer, I feel like I should point out that Connecticut law sets no age, except when the child is left in a car or place of public accommodation, and even then, the child has to be left there “for a period of time that presents a substantial risk to the child’s health or safety.”

jalmondale (#6,721)

@Josh Michtom@facebook Thanks for the correction =) Naturally, I now can’t find the website that gave me that info, but it looks like it may have been incorrect/out-of-date in other ways as well. For the curious, what looks like a more complete list is here: http://www.latchkey-kids.com/latchkey-kids-age-limits.htm (and agrees that Connecticut doesn’t have a minimum age, so more complete and more accurate). It ranges from minimum alone age of 6 in Kansas to 14 in Illinois.

Allison (#4,509)

Man, when I was 9 I’d walk a couple of miles to the local movie theater by myself – without even my older brother. It was not always the best plan because once I got a killer blister and way over heated but it was fine in the end.

@Allison Oh I love this.

I was nine or ten when I started taking the subway by myself in 1980s New York City, where crime was high and cell phones hadn’t been invented yet. Once, when I was eleven, I was in Prospect Park with another kid and some teenagers beat us up and took his watch. Then, ten years later, I was with the same friend two blocks away when some teenagers pulled a gun on us and took my money. Moral of the story: bad stuff sometimes happens to people and people mostly end up OK. Also, teenagers are the source of most of our miseries, no matter how old we are.

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