News & Commentary

February 13, 2024

John Fry

John Fry is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s news and commentary, union representatives look to aid OSHA inspections; the AFL-CIO calls for a ceasefire in Gaza; Trader Joe’s appeals its trademark suit loss; and Starbucks continues to violate labor law.

The Biden administration has begun its final review of a new OSHA regulation allowing union representatives to accompany government officials during workplace inspections. More specifically, the rule would allow non-union workers to authorize a union to help inspect their workplace, on the basis that the “skills, knowledge, or experience” of the union could make inspections more effective. For example, union representatives may have more experience monitoring their workplaces for safety hazards, and as third-party inspectors, they may be less afraid to point out violations than the non-union employees themselves. Meanwhile, business groups worry that the inspections will open the door to union drives at non-union workplaces.

The AFL-CIO has called for “a negotiated cease-fire in Gaza.” While several unions, including the United Auto Workers and the National Education Association, voiced support for a ceasefire in December, the AFL-CIO is the largest group yet to endorse the demand. The war in Gaza has generated considerable activism and debate among union members, reflecting a generational shift in the labor movement’s political attitudes.

Trader Joe’s has asked the Ninth Circuit to revive its trademark suit against Trader Joe’s United, the union representing its workers at four stores. The company claims that the union’s logo is too similar to the store’s logo, creating possible confusion among customers. As I reported last month, a federal district judge not only dismissed these claims, but warned Trader Joe’s that it was “dangerously close” to deserving sanctions for filing a frivolous lawsuit. Unions and employers across the country will monitor the appeal closely, as the outcome could have ripple effects on similar suits at Starbucks and elsewhere.

Starbucks has violated federal labor law yet again, according to an administrative law judge’s decision released on Friday. The judge ruled that the company illegally fired two union supporters at a Wilmette, Illinois store after they initiated a union drive and spoke to their coworkers about joining Starbucks Workers United. These violations are part of a pattern: since SWU began organizing at Starbucks, the company has been found to violate the law in 98% of its hearings before the National Labor Relations Board. In September, one ALJ noted Starbucks’ “demonstrated proclivity for violating the [National Labor Relations] Act,” citing 31 prior cases as grounds for imposing a “broad and extraordinary” cease-and-desist order against the company.

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