News & Commentary

August 3, 2023

In today’s News and Commentary, a National Labor Relations Board ruling overturns a Trump-era employer-friendly standard for assessing workplace rules and employer handbook policies, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and the union representing a majority of Boston transit workers reached a new labor agreement, three former tour dancers have filed lawsuits against pop star Lizzo accusing her of creating a hostile work environment, and Massachusetts voters may have the chance to decide whether ride-share drivers are independent contractors or employees with the right to unionize.

The NLRB issued a 3-1 ruling yesterday returning the Board to a framework for work rules similar to what was in place prior to the Trump administration. The Board considered this issue in Stericycle Inc. and Teamsters Local 628, a case involving a medical waste disposal firm’s policies banning conduct that could harm the company’s reputation. The Board determined that employers can only maintain workplace policies which “advance a legitimate and substantial business interest” and do not interfere with workers’ rights to act collectively. This ruling overturns the 2017 Boeing Co. decision which introduced a balancing test between a rule’s impact on workers’ rights to organize and the employer’s business interests. Under the new framework, an employer’s policies will be deemed unlawful if employees interpret them as reasonably restricting their rights, regardless of the employer’s intent. The dissent argued that it would be virtually impossible for employers to prove that a work rule “advanced a legitimate and substantial interest” that could not be achieved through a narrower policy.

Boston public transit workers are in for a smoother ride as Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 589, the union representing about half of the MBTA’s workforce, reached a labor agreement this week. The proposed 4-year contract includes an 18% wage increase over the life of the contract, the greatest increase in MBTA wages since the 1990s according to Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey. The agreement also expands employee benefits such as parental and bereavement leave and dental and vision coverage for part-time workers. Governor Healey announced the tentative agreement at a press conference yesterday morning, calling the deal “an investment in the world class transit we need for our economy, our quality of life and our environment.” Local 589 President, Jim Evers, called the agreement a “game changer.” The MBTA hopes this agreement will help to address some of the recruitment and retention issues it has experienced over the last few years.

Three dancers who toured with Lizzo have filed lawsuits against the pop star, her production company and her tour’s dance captain. The suit alleges that the defendants engaged in behavior that amounted to sexual harassment and weight shaming. If true, these allegations are particularly damning for the artist, who has built her brand around inclusivity and body positivity. Lizzo and her team have not issued statements on the allegations.

An industry-backed group and a labor union proposed competing ballot initiatives that would allow Massachusetts voters to decide whether ride-share drivers are independent contractors or employees. Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers, a group funded in part by Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash, proposed a ballot question that if passed would define gig drivers as independent contractors entitled to minimum benefits. Labor activists, including SEIU Local 32BJ, filed a competing ballot question that would define these drivers as employees with the right to unionize and collectively bargain. The office of Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell will certify whether these proposed questions meet the state’s constitutional requirements. If certified, the initiatives’ proponents would need to gather thousands of signatures in order for these questions to appear on the 2024 ballot.

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