News & Commentary

February 16, 2023

Anita Alem

Anita Alem is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s News and Commentary, California and Nevada advance bills to remove involuntary servitude exceptions from their state constitutions, Howard Schultz declines invitation to testify before the Senate, the Third Circuit hears oral argument as to whether college athletes are employees under the FLSA, and German airport workers plan massive strikes.

California and Nevada are among dozens of states with movements to remove exceptions from state constitutions that permit forced labor as part of criminal punishment, a form of involuntary servitude. Incarcerated people are paid less than $1 per hour to work in prisons, including work that may be dangerous, such as cleaning and disinfecting a person’s cell following COVID infection, and fighting forest fires. Legislation has advanced in California and Nevada, and each would require further approval from voters in 2024.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has refused an invitation to testify in front of Congress regarding ongoing unionization efforts by Starbucks Workers United. Senator Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and ten other senators on the committee had asked Schultz to speak to Starbucks’ union-busting efforts in a public hearing on March 9. Workers have successfully voted to unionize at more than 250 Starbucks locations, and the NLRB regional offices have issued more than 70 complaints against Starbucks for engaging in illegal practices against workers’ organizing efforts.

On Wednesday, the Third Circuit heard oral argument in a case brought against the NCAA alleging that college athletes are employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act. According to Bloomberg, the panel appeared skeptical of the NCAA’s arguments that the athletes are not employees, considering the level of control that schools exert over them. 

Finally, the German trade union Verdi has stated that workers at seven different airports in Germany plan to engage in a 24-hour strike on Friday, February 17. The strike has been predicted to have significant impact, particularly because it coincides with a security conference that will feature global leaders.

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