Today’s News & Commentary — March 31, 2015

Fast food organizers driving the Fight for $15 campaign say they are expanding the scope of their campaign to other low-wage workers, including workers in airports, on college campuses and domestic workers laboring in homes across America, AP reports. The Fight for $15, which has been extensively covered here, started in 2012 with a battle for $15 hourly wages and unionization without retaliation for fast food workers. The campaign now “has morphed into a low-wage worker movement and is now shifting into a social movement with the involvement of “Black Lives Matter” groups joining in the April protests” says SEIU organizer Kendall Fells. This event celebrating the expansion of the movement will be kicked off by a day of action on April 15, which will include actions on about 170 college campuses, as well as cities around United States and abroad. Of the event, organizers said, “home health care aides, airport workers, adjunct professors, child care workers and Wal-Mart workers will be among those turning out in April.” More than 2000 groups, including Jobs with Justice and the Center for Popular Democracy, Black Lives Matter, and many unions are slated to turn out and show their support.

McDonald’s is a victim of a union-orchestrated attack on its brand. At least, that’s what their lawyer says. At the NLRB hearings that began yesterday involving the company, the central question being considered is “when does a corporate brand owner like McDonald’s become jointly responsible for labor violations at its franchisees.” This case and question has been extensively covered here. But a side issue that “flared” up during the hearing on Monday according The Wall Street Journal was “whether McDonald’s should be allowed to subpoena firms retained by the union to help investigate and promote the worker-rights campaign.” It is the company’s argument that it “has the right to know more about the motives behind the campaign.” Implicit in this contention is that there are secret, possibly malicious reasons behind the workers rights organizations’ “attack” on McDonald’s. “’We believe we have the right to defend our company from these relentless attacks,’ Jones Day partner Willis Goldsmith, who represents McDonald’s, told Judge Esposito.” Lawyers representing NLRB’s General Counsel and SEIU and companies hired to assist the workers’ campaign argued that McDonald’s had no right to the subpoenaed documents. Judge Lauren Esposito, the former NLRB field attorney hearing the case, has yet to rule on the motion.

In the last week of Women’s History Month, Latifa Lyles, director of the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor calls for a celebration of powerful and impactful women in labor history. Women spotlighted include Francis Perkins, Dolores Huerta, Mary Anderson, and Ester Peterson. Lyles calls on us to reflect on the strides we have made toward equality and fairness in the workplace that are in large part thanks to the efforts of these dedicated women leaders and others like them. “We are now more likely than men to graduate from high school, college and graduate school. Women have grown from one-third to almost one-half of the workforce . . . and are almost half of all union members . . . Women helped bring about the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Equal Rights Amendment and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.” While she invites us to rejoice in the successes, she calls on Americans to “recognize that huge challenges remain, including the lack of paid leave policies, the ongoing struggle of minority women for racial as well as gender equality, the continued wage gap between women and men, and occupational segregation by gender.”

Continue reading

Today’s News & Commentary – March 30

The New York Times published letters in response to a March 18 editorial on “E-Verify” and H.R. 1147, a proposal in Congress that would require that every new hire in the United States be electronically verified.  Gabriel Camacho, the Immigration Programs Coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee, writes that “E-Verify would harm employers, workers and the economy,” while Kerry Martin, an intern at Migrant Justice, writes that “[t]he proposal is more valid as a potential opportunity for bipartisan consensus than as an actual solution to unjust, unrealistic immigration policy.”

The Boston Globe writes that NBA Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts is “optimistic that not only a new deal [between the NBA players and the League] could be reached without another work stoppage, but perhaps prior to the current CBA expiration.”  When asked whether a deal could get done before 2017, Roberts said, “Sure. Wouldn’t it be great for everybody, the players, for the owners, and God knows the fans, if we could say these were the major issues that we knew we had to deal with and we saw no reason to wait until 2017, so we got them done? Not only is there not going to be any opting out, but we’ve agreed to these new terms and an extension of the CBA. Wouldn’t everybody just be delighted? It would be great for the game.”

This weekend, thousands of Italians marched through Rome to protest Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s labor market reforms.  Reuters reports that the march was organized by Italy’s main engineering union, the FIOM, whose leader Maurizio Landini is trying to unite the fragmented political left into a “social coalition” against Renzi.  Renzi, who has said that he wants to “revolutionize Italy with institutional and economic reforms,” has thus far “shown scant regard to numerous strikes and protests against his year-old government by workers, students and opposition parties.”

The Hill reports that on Monday, a NLRB administrative law judge will begin weighing whether McDonald’s should be responsible for “what employees say are poor working conditions and low pay at many of its franchise restaurants.”  As covered previously by On Labor, this decision could be the first time that a major franchisor would be found culpable for labor violations at individual chains, following a finding last year by the NLRB’s lead attorney that McDonald’s should be treated as a “joint employer.” Continue reading

Weekend News & Commentary – March 28-29

Governor Jack Markell of Delaware wrote a letter to the New York Times urging other states to follow in Delaware’s footsteps and “eliminate the arbitrary loss of driver’s licenses for drug crimes that don’t involve automobiles” because “a valid driver’s license is essential to earning and keeping a job, but wrongheaded policies too often take it away.”  Governor Markell said that “everyone should work to pay back what he owes, but we must reserve automatic suspension of licenses for only the most serious of circumstances.”

Bloomberg Business reports that on Sunday, South African government and the country’s public service unions failed to reach agreement over wages, thereby increasing the risk of a strike.  “Our analysis is very simple: The government want a strike so they can unilaterally implement the offer that is on the table and that won’t be accepted,” said Mugwena Maluleke, general secretary for the South African Democratic Teachers Union on Sunday.

The Baltimore Sun writes that the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) approval of a “long-disputed” labor contract in Baltimore sends a message to shippers that the city’s port is “open for business,” according to Wilbert Rowell, the trustee in charge of Baltimore Local 333.  Port officials said the new Local 333 contract will strengthen the port’s position as a major employment center in the region.  Rowell “purged the local’s membership rolls” after the Local’s rejection of a similar local contract in February.  Two of the elected officials ousted under the trusteeship have “vowed to challenge the approved contract as part of an existing lawsuit that claims Rowell’s trusteeship is illegal.”  Their lawsuit claims as many as 500 workers were removed from the union, and 86 are named as co-plaintiffs.   Continue reading

Today’s News & Commentary — March 27

A jury has dismissed gender bias claims against Silicon Valley venture capital giant Kleiner Perkins. Plaintiff Ellen Pao had brought a suit against Kleiner Perkins alleging that she was not promoted due to her gender, and that she experienced retaliation — culminating in termination — for complaining. Jurors were found to be a vote short on dismissing one retaliation claim, however, and have been sent back to continue deliberation. The New York Times reports.

In the Senate, 61 senators approved a budget amendment that would allow employees to earn paid sick leave. Though budget resolutions are not binding, Lydia DePillis of The Washington Post notes that the rising bipartisan support for paid sick leave is promising. As Depillis writes, “nationwide, paid sick leave is tremendously popular, with large majorities of voters in both parties in favor. The percentage of private sector workers who have access to paid leave has increased since the early 1990s, with the passage of several state laws that require it. But U.S. employers’ paid leave policies — both sick days and parental time off — still lag far behind those in other developed countries.”

A new report from the AARP details the problem of long-term unemployment among the elderly. “Although the general unemployment rate is falling, that can be misleading for people who are 55 and older who are long-term unemployed,” said Gary Koenig, an author of the  report. As the report details, 73 percent of those who told the AARP they were unemployed had been out of work for six months or longer. Read more at The New York Times.

A federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked the extension of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rights to same-sex couples in the state.  Following the Supreme Court’s U.S. v. Windsor decision, the Labor Department had implemented a rule extending all FMLA benefits to same-sex unions. Texas, which has a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, has filed a suit against the Labor Department over the rule. Reuters reports.

Continue reading

Today’s News & Commentary — March 26

On Wednesday agribusinesses will begin negotiations with the coalition of Baja California farmworkers who are on strike, the Los Angeles Times reports. After more than 200 people were arrested in last week’s protests, 1,000 police and soldiers have been sent to the area. Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights have also sent observers to Baja California in response to complaints of unlawful arrests and police mistreatment.

Microsoft is requiring contractors that do business with the company to provide workers with 15 days of paid sick leave, the New York Times reports. Bradford L. Smith, General Counsel for Microsoft, said, “the research shows that employees who do get these kinds of benefits are far likelier to be happier, have higher morale and are far more likely to be productive.” Workers’ rights advocates have increasingly expressed concern about contract workers. In the tech industry full-time workers often earn six figures and enjoy generous benefits while contract workers make poverty-level wages and do not receive benefits. Under pressure from workers and labor groups, other tech companies have also implemented worker-friendly policies. Apple and Google have hired security guards as full-time employees rather than contract workers, while Facebook agreed to substantial wage increases after its shuttle drivers unionized. Lydia DePillis, in the Washington Post, also covers the development.

Politico reports that the White House will launch a “Lead on Leave–Empowering Working Families Across America” tour. Senior administration officials will meet with employers, workers, and officials to discuss the benefits of paid sick leave. According to polls, there is widespread national support for mandatory paid family leave.  Continue reading

Young v. UPS: A Backgrounder and Case Review

Today, the Supreme Court announced its ruling in Young v. UPS, coming down 6-3 in favor of former UPS employee Peggy Young. The question at the center of the case was whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to offer accommodations to pregnant workers if they already do so for non-pregnant workers with similar limitations in their ability to work. This piece is a backgrounder on Young v. UPS, and will cover the relevant law, the facts of the case, the District and Fourth Circuit court decisions, petitioners’ arguments before the Supreme Court, and the Court’s decision.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the basic American civil rights law prohibiting workplace discrimination. Under Title VII, it is unlawful “to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” After the passage of the Act, employers continued to discriminate against pregnant workers, arguing pregnancy was a status or class unprotected under the law. Women’s rights advocates argued that even if pregnancy itself was not specifically protected against in the statute, this treatment of pregnant workers was a blatant form of sex discrimination by employers. When the issue reached the Supreme Court in General Electric v. Gilbert (1976) this argument was struck down, because, as Justice Rehnquist wrote in the majority opinion, “pregnancy . . . is not a gender-based discrimination at all.”

In a reaction to this Supreme Court ruling, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to prevent employers from treating women less favorably because they become pregnant. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, added in 1978 to Title VII, provides:

“The terms “because of sex” or “on the basis of sex” include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; and women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-­related purposes…. as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”

Essentially, the law has two clauses: the first “says that pregnancy bias is a form of discrimination based on sex, and the second says that women workers who become pregnant must get equal treatment with other workers who can handle the same kind of job.”

Facts of the Case

Peggy Young was employed as a UPS driver in Virginia. In 2006, she requested a leave of absence to undergo in vitro fertilization in an effort to become pregnant. Those procedures were successful and Young became pregnant soon thereafter. In her early pregnancy Young’s medical practitioners advised her not to lift over 20 pounds to prevent risk of harm to her and her pregnancy. Following this advice, Young informed her employer of her medical situation and requested a lighter work detail. UPS denied her request, stating that it was the company’s policy to provide light-work detail only in three limited situations: for those employees that were injured on the job, had temporarily lost their federal certificate to drive a commercial vehicle, or had a condition that was covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Continue reading

Today’s News & Commentary — March 25

The Los Angeles Times reports that negotiations are set to resume in the Baja California farmworkers’ strike that has “all but stopped the winter harvest, right at its peak.”  Mexican authorities have sent more than 1,000 police and military personnel to the region, and protesters have “complained of unlawful arrests and police mistreatment.”  According to local labor leaders, growers in the region “haven’t given raises in years, refuse to pay overtime and government-required benefits, and allow crew bosses to sexually harass female workers.”  The striking workers are asking for a substantial increase in wages, as well as a commitment to comply with all labor laws.

Public-sector unions in Illinois have won an initial victory in their fight against Governor Bruce Rauner’s executive order blocking the collection of fair-share fees, according to the Chicago Tribune.  After unions sued to challenge the order, the Governor sought to remove the case to federal court.  But the U.S. District Court held that the suit should be decided in state court.  As the Tribune notes, “Unions contend that Rauner is deliberately choking their resources in an attempt to weaken their position as they head into negotiations for a new employment contract, which is supposed to take effect July 1.”

Writing in the Washington Post, political science professor Matt Buehler describes how labor unions in Morocco took advantage of the political climate of the Arab spring, when “popular protests . . . created exceptional opportunities during which political movements could vocalize demands, pressure regimes and force concessions.”  In Buehler’s account, the unions, “[f]orcing the hand of the regime,” won significant concessions including an increase in wages for all public employees and a “70 percent increase in retirement pensions.”

In further international news, the Washington Post reports on an Associated Press investigation on the use of slave labor in the global seafood trade.  The investigation focuses on a number of Burmese men who were “brought to Indonesia through Thailand and forced to fish.”  According to the report, the complexity of global markets makes it extremely difficult to accurately determine when seafood has been caught with slave labor; the “intricate web of connections [that] separates the fish we eat from the men who catch it . . . obscures a brutal truth: Your seafood may come from slaves.”