Today’s News and Commentary – April 24

The New York Times reports that since the NLRB ruled that Northwestern football players have the right to unionize, the University has launched a  “textbook case of how to aggressively battle a union.” The Times describes some of the University’s efforts, including coaches having one-on-one meetings with players, contacting players’ parents, and offering dire warnings about what might happen if the players do choose to form a union.

Meanwhile, Slate reports on lawsuits brought by the cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, and Buffalo Bills against their teams.  The cheerleaders allege various unfair labor practices including that the teams hold the cheerleaders’ wages until the end of the season, pay less than minimum wage, and require as much as 20 hours of unpaid labor a week.  The cheerleaders also describe working conditions that including having to pay fines for gaining weight and to perform “jiggle tests” for coaches.

According to the New York Times, a new study shows that the pay gap between men and women is byproduct of long workweeks rather than men and women opting into different jobs.  According to the study author Dr. Claudia Goldin, if women held the same proportion of higher-paying jobs as men it would eliminate only fifteen percent of the pay gap.  Instead, the disparity in wages between women and men is primarily driven by a wage premium for jobs expect employees to spend more time at the office. Goldin cites the legal profession as an example, noting that lawyers who work eighty hours a week are paid more than twice what a lawyer working forty hours a week makes.

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Today’s News and Commentary — April 23

Pilots at JetBlue Airways have voted to unionize, with 71% voting in favor of joining the Air Line Pilots Association, the Wall Street Journal reports. The pilots had previously rejected unionization in 2009 and 2011. Additional coverage can be found at the Washington Post and New York Times.

Sherpas at Mount Everest “took steps on Tuesday to shut down the mountain for the season, demanding that the government share proceeds from what has become a multimillion-dollar business,” the New York Times reports. The move comes after at least 13 Sherpas were killed last week in an avalanche. Among other things, Sherpas are seeking to raise minimum insurance rates for Sherpas, erect a memorial to lost guides, and create a relief fund to support families of those who died. Additional coverage can be found at Huffington Post.

The Wall Street Journal describes intensifying efforts by the American Postal Workers Union to oppose a partnership between the Postal Service and Staples. Under a pilot program, Staples stores in California, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Massachusetts have been providing postal services staffed by Staples employees. Last week the union protested at Staples stores in 27 states and “recently asked the nation’s biggest teachers unions to urge their members to purchase school supplies through other retailers.”

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Today’s News and Commentary – April 22

The New York Times editorial board called for action on wage theft yesterday. The authors note that although wage theft is commonly associated with low-wage workers, it is a problem that affects workers across the board. For example, software engineers employed by Google, Apple, Intel and Adobe allege that they were robbed of up to $3 billion in wages between 2005 and 2009 when their employers colluded not to recruit one another’s employees in order to suppress wages. The authors call for better funding for the Labor Department and a more active Justice Department.

According to the Washington Post, the Obama administration will announce a new rule on coal dust exposure tomorrow. The rule, which has been in the making for 2.5 years, will aim to reduce miners’ exposure to coal dust, which causes black lung. 

The Supreme Court yesterday declined to hear an appeal of a Ninth Circuit decision barring enforcement of a section of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, the Associated Press reports. The section of the law at issue permitted police to arrest people who harbored undocumented immigrants. Two challenges to Arizona’s immigration law are still pending in federal court. 

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Today’s News and Commentary – April 21

The United Auto Workers Union announced today it is dropping its efforts to force a new unionization efforts at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., reports the New York Times. After the union lost a vote at the plant in February, it asked the National Labor Relations Board to hold a new election, claiming the fairness of the initial election had been compromised by threatening statements from elected officials. The Atlanta regional director for the N.L.R.B. was set to begin hearings today in Chattanooga to collect evidence on this issue. According to Bob King, the U.A.W.’s president, the union decided to drop the appeal based on concern that the N.L.R.B. adjudication process could drag on for months or even years.

The Supreme Court has declined to grant certiorari to an appeal by Florida governor Rick Scott over his plan to require random drug testing for thousands of state workers, according to the Washington Post. More information on the case can be found here and here.

The Wall Street Journal reports on a production slowdown staged by workers at a shoe manufacturing plant in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi, escalating a labor dispute over the distribution of social-insurance payments. The manufacturer, Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings, Ltd., is also facing worker protests over social-insurance payments at its Dongguan plant, in southern China. Yue Yuen makes shoes for Adidas and Nike.

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Explainer: What Does President Obama’s Equal Pay Day Executive Order Change?

On April 8, Equal Pay Day, President Obama signed two orders meant to promote gender equality in pay among federal contractors.  We covered the story at the time.  The first, Executive Order 13665, entitled “Non-Retaliation for Disclosure of Compensation Information,” prohibited federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their salary with coworkers.  The second, a Presidential Memorandum, instructed the Secretary of Labor to collect data from federal contractors about employee salaries, including data by race and gender.

Although the Non-Retaliation order received attention in the press and praise from advocacy groups, it was already illegal to retaliate against employees who share their salary information.  Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer to interfere with an employee’s section 7 right to engage in “concerted activities” for “mutual aid and protection.”  The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and federal courts have long interpreted section 7 to protect an employee’s right to discuss her salary with coworkers—which means it’s generally illegal for an employer to prohibit such discussion, or to retaliate against an employee who does so.  Employees generally have this right to discuss their salaries regardless of whether their workplace is unionized.  In fact, this specific protection is so well established that it’s included as an example of protected activity on the NLRB’s fact sheet for employees.  The NLRA generally covers federal contractors, along with most other private sector employers and employees (although some categories of workers, such as agricultural workers, independent contractors, and domestic workers, are excluded).

So what does this Executive Order change?

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Weekend News and Commentary: April 19-20

On Friday, the Seventh Circuit rejected a challenge to a Wisconsin law that prevents public sector workers from collective bargaining on issues other than base wages.  In Laborers Local 236 v. Walker, Wisconsin’s “Act 10” was challenged as an unconstitutional restriction on workers’ First Amendment free association rights, as well as the right to petition the government. The Circuit court rejected the challenge, arguing that no precedent has established a “constitutional entitlement to collectively bargain with the state.” Reuters reports, and the opinion may be found here.

The New York Times discusses a major Silicon Valley antitrust lawsuit, pitting 60,000 software engineers against their former employers at Google, Apple, Intel and Adobe. The engineers allege that the companies made a pact not to hire employees from one another, and worked to systematically undermine employee advancement opportunities. Plaintiffs claim that the lost wages add up to $3 billion, and current antitrust law would triple this amount were plaintiffs successful. 

Inmates at an Alabama prison have planned a prison-wide work stoppage, protesting pay and prison conditions. The organizers behind the planned stoppage at the St. Clair County Correctional Facility in Springville, Alabama hope to trigger similar movements across the state. Salon reports.

The New York Times Editorial Board urges the Obama administration to improve global cooperation on labor and environmental regulations in upcoming trade deal negotiations. The upcoming negotiations include a major bilateral agreement with the EU, and the multiparty Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. Enforcing better labor standards globally, the Editorial Board argues, will both even “the playing field for American workers and improve the lives of tens of millions of workers in developing countries.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that hundreds of Amazon.com Inc. workers in Germany have walked off the job this week, protesting current wage levels. Over thirty thousand workers at a shoe-manufacturing factory in Dongguan, China continue to strike as well. Bloomberg reports.  

 

Today’s News and Commentary – April 18

In Tennessee, the dispute over the United Auto Workers’s unsuccessful election at a Chattanooga Volkswagen plant continues in the lead up to a hearing before the NLRB on Monday, April 21. TN Attorney General Bob Cooper filed motions yesterday asking the NLRB to revoke subpoenas issued by the UAW to Governor Bill Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwel, and other high ranking officials. NewsChannel5 reports that the UAW has issued the subpoenas to learn more about the governor’s office’s use of taxpayer funds to thwart the unionization effort at a Chattanooga Volkswagen plant. The subpoenas come in the wake of the leaking of internal government documents stating that future support for new VW plants in Tennessee were “subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee.” The Washington Examiner reports that ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Rep. George Miller, sent a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday asking for all communications between the Governor’s office, Volkswagen, and “other third parties” relating to the Chattanooga plant. In additional news, according to the Washington Examiner, the NLRB ruled Wednesday that plant workers backed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation who voted in opposition to the union drive have the right to present evidence before the NLRB at this Monday’s hearing.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a contract agreement between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, which represents New York City’s bus and subway workers. The New York Times reports that the transport workers had been without a contract for two years as the MTA insisted that its long-term future depended on seeing no increase in labor costs over a three year period.

Indiana warehouse workers filed unfair labor charges with the NLRB yesterday, alleging that the Wal-Mart-owned warehouse fired two workers after they asked their colleagues to sign a petition asking for higher wages, a path to full time employment, and safer working conditions. The Chicago Tribune reports that the two fired workers are members of the Warehouse Workers Organizing Committee, which is funded by the United Electrical union.

According to Bloomberg News, Disney has offered to increase its theme-park staff’s wages to $10 an hour in the course of contract negotiations with the Service Trades Council, a consortium of six labor groups. Currently, Disney’s position is offset by its demand to stop offering pensions to hourly employees starting in 2016.

Newsday reports that the New York Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division has reached a $1.7 million settlement with six Long Island restaurants for violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The restaurants were accused of paying their workers below the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, failing to pay overtime, and failing to keep records of hours worked.

In international news, the Associated Press reports that nearly 2,000 workers have ended their two-week strike at the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Also in the Associated Press, the Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions has offered to mediate between striking Chinese workers and Yue Yuen Industrial (Holdings), Ltd., which makes shoes for Nikes and Adidas. The strikers began their protest upon learning that Yue Yuen was not contributing to social security.

DNAInfo reports that lawyers for CareOne Management, a health service provider embroiled in labor disputes with SEIU Local 1199, have subpoenaed two NYU Law School students for their emails after they circulated a petition raising concerns about CareOne’s treatment of its workers. CareOne, which is owned by NYU Law Trustee Daniel Strauss, has faced numerous charges in front of the NLRB, elaborated on in the students’ petition. Following receipt of the subpoenas, student groups issued a petition stating that “forcing students to turn over emails and other private communications in litigation that does not concern them can chill free speech on campus.”

In the opinion pages, David Horsey of the Los Angeles Times writes a piece lambasting executive compensation while lamenting the decline of the labor movement.

In the Washington Post, Catherine Rampel calls for the criminalization of wage theft, the employer practice of deliberately paying employees less than they are owed under the law. This can take the form of cutting hours on a paycheck, not paying overtime, or paying below the minimum. Quoting Michael Rubin, an attorney at Altshuler Berzon, LLP, she explains the underlying forces behind wage theft: “If you keep coming with this directive that labor costs must be lowered, there are only a finite number of ways that can be done, most of which are unlawful. The lawful ways get exhausted quickly.” She ends by calling for harsher penalties, writing, “thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s home can go to jail; the same should be true for thieves caught stealing thousands of dollars from someone’s paycheck.”