News & Commentary

April 16, 2024

Sunah Chang

Sunah Chang is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s news and commentary: the EEOC publishes a final regulation implementing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, Volkswagen workers in Tennessee gear up for a union election, and the First Circuit revives the Whole Foods case over BLM apparel at work. 

Yesterday, the EEOC issued its final regulation to implement the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), a law passed in December 2022 that requires employers with at least 15 employees to provide “reasonable accommodations” for workers’ limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The EEOC’s final regulation lays out what these reasonable accommodations may entail, listing examples like additional water and food breaks, a stool to sit on while working, time off for medical appointments, temporary reassignment, telework, among other accommodations. Most notably, the regulation also states that abortion is included in the definition of “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” covered by the PWFA. Accordingly, under the PWFA, employers are required to allow their workers time off for abortion procedures and recovery. In response to public comments objecting to the abortion-related accommodations on religious grounds, the EEOC’s final regulation states that the EEOC will consider religious objections to providing PWFA accommodations on a case-by-case basis. 

Over in Tennessee, workers in Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga will begin casting ballots in an election to join the UAW tomorrow. Riding on the momentum of its historic wins against the Big Three automakers, the UAW has been active in organizing workers in Chattanooga and winning supporters ahead of the election. However, some conservative politicians in Tennessee have been aggressive in voicing their anti-union sentiments. US Senator Bill Hagerty recently urged Chattanooga workers to vote no on the union, arguing that a union would harm the plant’s competitiveness with auto factories abroad. Tennessee state senator Bo Watson has also denounced the union efforts, warning that “voting against the UAW is protecting Tennessee’s values.” On the other hand, Republican Congressman Chuck Fleischman, whose district encompasses Chattanooga, has remained agnostic on the issue, stating that he wishes to “let the workers decide.” 

A union victory in Tennessee is poised to make history. If the workers vote to form a union, Volkswagen Chattanooga would represent the first auto plant in the South to unionize through an election since the 1940s. It would also represent the first foreign automaker plant in the US to form a union.

Lastly, the First Circuit has reopened a case by a former Whole Foods employee who claimed that she was unlawfully fired for wearing Black Lives Matter masks to work. As Julio reported back in January, a Massachusetts district court granted summary judgment in favor of Whole Foods for all three of the workers who originally brought suit. On appeal, the First Circuit vacated the district court ruling for one of the plaintiffs, Savannah Kinzer, and affirmed Whole Foods’ summary judgment win over the other two plaintiffs. As a result of the First Circuit’s decision, Kinzer’s claims will be re-litigated in the district court.

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