News & Commentary

January 12, 2023

Miriam Shestack

Miriam Shestack is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s News and Commentary: NYC nurses return to work, NLRB rejects Amazon’s attempt to overturn union election at JFK8, Tesla fails to derail a workplace discrimination suit, and the CA Supreme Court is asked to weigh in on minimum wage for non-convicted inmates.

Nurses at two major New York City hospitals returned to work today after ending a 3-day strike and agreeing to a new contract guaranteeing higher staffing levels and wages. Nurses’ unions and hospitals have clashed over staffing levels, with nurses arguing that facilities have underinvested in bedside care, leading to high turnover and compromising patient safety. Nurses also say that their safety concerns went unheeded as the city confronts the so-called tripledemic of Covid-19, flu and RSV infections. Bloomberg reports that more than 7,000 nurses went on strike Monday after their contracts expired at the end of December, forcing hospitals to reduce care, cancel some elective procedures, and transfer some patients to other nearby facilities. “Mount Sinai nurses will walk back into the hospital this morning at 7 a.m. after winning wall-to-wall safe staffing ratios for all inpatient units with firm enforcement so that there will always be enough nurses at the bedside to provide safe patient care,” New York State Nurses Association President Nancy Hagans said in a statement this morning.

Yesterday, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rejected Amazon’s attempt to overturn a historic union victory at the warehouse known as JFK8 on Staten Island, removing a key obstacle to contract negotiations between the union and the company. As the New York Times reports, the regional director found that there was a lack of evidence to support Amazon’s claim of election improprieties and that its objections to the election should be overruled. In particular they found that the evidence Amazon presented either did not establish that the board or the union acted improperly or that it did not show that their actions altered the outcome of the election. The company said it intended to appeal the decision to the labor board in Washington.  This decision comes on the heels of another favorable ruling for the union at JFK8. In mid-November, 2022, a federal judge in New York issued an injunction requiring Amazon to “cease and desist” from firing workers for exercising their labor rights. The judge also forced company officials to read her order to workers at the warehouse.

Meanwhile in California, Tesla Inc. failed to stop a lawsuit by the California Civil Rights Department accusing the company of engaging in a pattern of racial harassment and bias at its main factory, Bloomberg reports. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo issued a ruling on Wednesday that throwing out the company’s counter-claims that the department’s 2022 suit is unlawful. Tesla had claimed state officials did not provide adequate information about the civil rights allegations or engage in efforts to resolve the dispute before going to court. The court said that Tesla may revise and refile its claims by February 3. California officials alleged that they found widespread evidence of Black workers subject to mistreatment, including harassment, unequal pay, and retaliation, at Tesla’s Fremont plant over the course of a three-year investigation. This suit is one of several workplace discrimination suits that Tesla now faces.

The California Supreme Court will consider whether inmates awaiting trial without conviction at an Alameda County jail should be paid for work they performed for an Aramark Corp. subsidiary. The court on Wednesday granted a request from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to consider whether the inmates can make a claim for minimum wages and overtime payment under California law. As Bloomberg explains, the legal question at hand stems from Aramark Correctional Services LLC and Alameda County’s challenge to a federal district judge’s 2021 ruling that declined to dismiss the inmates’ class action filed under state wage law. The lawsuit was filed in federal court because it also involved claims under the US Constitution and a federal anti-slavery law.

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