Today’s News & Commentary — July 22, 2016

The EEOC is getting serious about the right to use a bathroom that conforms with your gender identity. A new fact sheet lays out requirements for workplace bathrooms, and makes it clear that employers who fail to provide access to bathrooms that align with employees’ gender identities are engaging in gender discrimination that violates Title VII. Read a summary of the fact sheet here.

Today, Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto will be in Washington, D.C. to continue his conversation with President Obama about trade, immigration and security. In The Huffington Post Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, outlines three points he hopes the Presidents will discuss.

While it felt like everyone was glued to the #RNCinCLE (Republican National Convention in Cleveland) hashtag on Twitter this week, a number of groups hosted an interesting and informative Twitter discussion about the minimum wage yesterday using the hashtag #MinWageChat. And on that note – Minneapolis just got one step closer to a $15/hr minimum wage

And the Department of Justice submitted a request for the Supreme Court to rehear the case  U.S. v. Texas, once they have a full 9-person bench next term. The deadlocked decision in the case means that the lower court’s injunction on  President Obama’s far-reaching immigration plans, expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and creating Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, still stands. In their request to the court, the DOJ writes that this is a matter of such “great national importance” that the nation deserves a clear ruling from the Supreme Court.  Even if the court agrees, there is no guaranteeing that the next term will see a full 9-Justice panel to hear the case.


Today’s News & Commentary — July 21, 2016

While most eyes were on the Republican Convention yesterday, the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, garnered a new labor endorsement from UNITE HERE.  The labor organization is one of the last remaining unions to endorse Clinton.  With more than 270,000 members, the union is largely composed of women and people of color.  In its statement of endorsement, UNITE HERE cited Hillary Clinton’s commitment to ending the “Cadillac tax,” or excise tax on health benefits, and her support for comprehensive immigration reform.

The New York Times reports that the French labor overhaul has cleared Parliament. The law loosens rules governing hiring, terminating employees, and work schedules and has been the subject of protests since March.  For the third time in the labor overhaul’s legislative history, the government employed a special constitutional provision, which allows the government to move the law forward without requiring a majority.  Recent polls suggest that 70 percent of the French people disagree with the labor reform law.

This week, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik heard arguments in a challenge brought by the U.S. Chamber of Congress over a city of Seattle Ordinance allowing Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize.  A decision in the case is expected in the first half of August.  Read more about the ordinance here at OnLabor.

Also in gig economy news, the New York Times highlighted a different kind of gig enterprise, one in which the workers are part owners.  The article focused on, a cooperative stock photo site, as an example of a worker-owned start-up. The 900 photographers who contribute to the site are part owners and voting members of the cooperative.  Last year, revenue reached $7.9 million, and Stocksy dispersed $4.3 million in royalties and dividends equaling $200,000 to its members.  Although the article pointed out the disadvantages of competing with more established gig economy businesses, it also suggested that there was room for both types of companies in the market.

Today’s News & Commentary — July 20, 2016

The Republican Party has officially nominated Donald Trump for president, but many are still concerned about his penchant for making false statements on the campaign trail. Writing for The Nation, Richard Trumka suggests that union elections can offer important lessons about regulating Trump’s lies. Trumka highlights an important divergence between the way federal courts and the NLRB regulate false representations during government and union election campaigns, respectively. Both the Supreme Court, in the 2012 case United States v. Alvarez, and the NLRB, have upheld the free speech rights of all parties—candidates, employers, and unions—when they lie during elections. However, unlike the Supreme Court, the NLRB treats “appeals to racial prejudice” differently from ordinary campaign propaganda, because such statements are not intended or calculated to encourage the reasoning faculty.” Trumka suggests following the more interventionist NLRB model when it comes to the necessary measure of regulating Trump’s calls for “racial, ethnic, and religious exclusion.

The Republican National Committee also released its party platform this week. Politico highlights the main labor and employment positions, which are: 1) a proposed national right to work law, 2) a commitment to regulating the minimum wage at the state and local level, 3) a call for the repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, 4) a pledge to prohibit TSA employees from unionizing, and 5) a commitment to curtailing NLRB authority on Indian land. Conspicuously absent is any firm position on the TPP. The RNC suggests only that “significant trade agreements should not be rushed.” Read about the labor items in the Democratic platform hereContinue reading

Today’s News & Commentary — July 19, 2016

Walmart organizes its business on a global scale, and now its workers are following suit.  According to Reuters, “OUR Walmart and the Wal-Mart Chinese Workers Association (WCWA) discussed strategy for recent strikes in China on a Skype call last month using a translator.”  OUR Walmart consists of American Walmart employees.  The two groups are “discussing joint strategies to address challenges that workers in both countries face, including work schedule changes.”  International collaboration between labor movements is rare, but may continue as the groups “also agreed to support each other’s actions, have follow-up calls and link via social media.”

Verizon may have labor peace for the foreseeable future, but its chief competitor is facing difficulties in negotiating a new labor contract.  Fortune reports that “a group of more than 40,000 unionized workers in AT&T’s wireless business rejected a proposed benefits contract, marking the first contentious labor negotiation at the telecom giant in several years.”  Representatives of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) had previously negotiated the contract with AT&T.  Negotiations will continue.  AT&T has not faced a major strike since 2012.

Union organizing in the South can be extremely difficult, as a new video shows.  Writing for The Huffington Post, Dave Jamieson describes a video showing how police officers in Georgia disrupted lawful attempted organizing of truckers by three Teamsters last month.  One of the Teamsters said “the truck drivers were generally receptive to their message and cordial in their encounters with the organizers.  But the citations by police, he said, would make drivers nervous about talking with union representatives in the future.”  He also said “the encounter epitomized what it’s like to do union organizing in union-unfriendly pockets of the South.”

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Today’s News and Commentary– July 18, 2016

The National Labor Relations Board is expected to issue a ruling this summer on whether graduate students are employees with the right to unionize, reports the Wall Street Journal.  Many expect the Board to rule in favor of the graduate students, which would overturn their 2004 decision that graduate students are not employees.  Universities have taken a firm stance against graduate students’ ability to unionize, arguing in a brief to the NLRB that collective bargaining agreements may hinder educational quality.  The AFL-CIO, on the other hand, has argued that graduate students, who provide essential services to universities, are employees who should be entitled to unionize.

The New York Times published an editorial this past Friday on a class action lawsuit against McDonald’s that was recently certified in California, lauding the decision as “another step forward in the battle for fair pay for low-wage workers.”  The lawsuit alleges wide-scale wage theft through unpaid overtime, misrecording of time cards, and failure to pay the minimum wage.  The missing pay is estimated to be tens of millions of dollars for over 500 employees.  McDonald’s maintains that its franchisees, rather than the McDonald’s Corporation, are solely responsible for pay and working conditions.

Fox Searchlight has reached a preliminary settlement with a group of unpaid interns, according to JD Supra.  The case, which began in 2010, resulted in a 2013 decision by the Second Circuit applying the “primary beneficiary” test to determine whether an intern is an employee.  The plaintiffs have said the test “presented “significant risk to [them] on the merits and with regard to certification.”  The settlement, which would pay out $495 to anyone who interned with Fox for at least two weeks from 2005-2010, is awaiting approval by Judge William Pauley.


Weekend News & Commentary — July 16-17, 2016

With Wal-Mart poised to settle the last remnants of a proposed nationwide class action alleging gender discrimination on behalf of 1.6 million women, six workers have sought permission to intervene in the lawsuit and certify a regional class centering on California.  The intervenors argue that by settling the case, the named plaintiffs no longer adequately represent the interests of a potential class denied certification in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes decision.  Though the Ninth Circuit previously refused to hear an interlocutory appeal of that denial, the intervenors propose taking the case to a final judgment so that the denial can be appealed as a matter of right.

The New York Times reports on recent efforts by progressive advocacy organizations to expand Social Security benefits, especially for workers who have taken time off to care for family members.  The article takes note of a recent shift in rhetoric from concerns about the program’s financial stability toward bipartisan support for at least some benefit increases, though identifying additional revenue for the Social Security trust fund remains crucial to most proposals.

Just over two weeks after their previous contract expired, the largest union representing municipal workers in the City of Philadelphia agreed on a new four-year contract.  Avoiding the controversies that often attend the renegotiation of pension contributions, the deal found workers agreeing to a compromise system of tiers in which higher-paid employees contribute more to the retirement fund.  All workers will receive a raise compounding to 12% over the life of the contract, far exceeding the recent average increase in similar public sector negotiations.

Moving quickly to address the potential trade consequences of Brexit, new British Prime Minister Theresa May began negotiations this week on fresh deals with the United States and Australia.  While a member of the European Union, the United Kingdom had been prevented from signing separate agreements.  Despite trade and its impact on workers being a divisive issue within both campaigns in the American presidential race, Republicans in Congress have already begun to pressure to the Obama administration to move quickly to avoid disruptions in the economic relationship between the two countries.

Today’s News & Commentary — July 15, 2016

Donald Trump has selected Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his vice-president.  Unions are unlikely to be happy with the choice.  Pence’s administration successfully defended in court Indiana’s right-to-work law, passed by Pence’s predecessor.  Pence also repealed the state’s common wage for construction projects. But Pence departs from Trump’s views on one of the issues dearest to Trump.  Pence supports the TPP.  In fact, as governor Pence urged Indiana’s members of Congress to support “fast-track” trade negotiation authority for President Obama.  Pence’s record shows his commitment to free trade in other contexts.  Before he became governor, Pence was a member of Congress, where he voted for every free trade agreement that came before him.

The House Appropriations Committee spent Wednesday and Thursday marking up the labor and health spending bill that emerged from subcommittee.  The House bill includes provisions that block many major NLRB or Labor Department rulings of the past few years, including the DOL’s new overtime rule, the DOL’s new fiduciary rule, the NLRB’s new joint employer standard, and the NLRB’s rule to speed up union elections.  It also seeks to allow H-2B visa employers to use their own private wage surveys to determine the prevailing wage they must pay workers.

The NLRB will begin reporting allegations of labor law violations by government contractors to a federal database, pursuant to President Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order 13673, signed on July 31, 2014.  The NLRB will not report just any unfair labor practice charge however; it will only consider the allegations of a NLRB regional director.  The NLRB also will not report the charge if the employer settles the case before the issuance of a complaint.  Contracting agencies will use the federal database to assess a contractor’s eligibility to bid on new contracts or to continue work on future contracts valued at more than $500,000.