News & Commentary

January 5, 2023

Anita Alem

Anita Alem is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s News and Commentary, the FTC aims to bar noncompete clauses, the labor market continues to be strong for workers while employers face hiring difficulties; thousands of nurses in New York City could go on strike as early as Monday; the Southwest pilots union blames former CEO for increasing service meltdowns at the airline; Biden re-attempts EEOC Senate nominations blocked by industry opposition; in the UK, Prime Minister Rushi Sunak seeks to pass anti-strike legislation in the ongoing strike waves and Amazon workers in Central England are set to stage a walkout on January 25.

The Federal Trade Commission has proposed a regulation to ban noncompete agreements in employment contracts, which affect from 20 to 45% of private-sector workers in the US and have been documented across various industries. The FTC estimated that wages will increase by $300 billion per year across the nation and previous state-level measures against noncompetes have increased wages by 2 to 4%.

Despite increasing reports of layoffs at tech companies, the Wall Street Journal reports that the labor market continues to be strong as the number of job openings outpaces the number of workers. However, hiring and job openings have decreased since early 2021. Small businesses in particular, with less than 10 employees, have had disproportionately high voluntary quitting rates. More than three million workers have left the job market altogether, including two million who have quit.

The Guardian reports that at least 12,000 nurses in New York City are set to strike if contract negotiations are not successful by Monday, January 9. Nurses have raised concerns regarding staffing shortages, further exacerbated by the pandemic, that have created unmanageable workloads and high patient-to-staff ratios, stressful working conditions, and potentially dangerous conditions for patients. 

Southwest Airlines canceled thousands of flights over the holidays after a major systems failure that will likely face investigation by the US Department of Transportation. Last week, the Southwest Airline Pilots Association, which is engaged in union contract negotiations, called the meltdown “absolutely preventable.” On Tuesday, the union published a letter stating such systems failure have been increasingly frequent over the past several years, and can be traced to poor leadership and a “headquarters-centric cult” that constitutes a “good old boys and girls network.”

President Biden is again attempting to nominate Kalpana Kotagal as EEOC Commissioner and Karla Gilbride as EEOC General Counsel after both nominations failed last year. Kotagal’s nomination process last year was particularly fraught and faced opposition from conservatives and industry groups, as Biden would achieve a Democratic majority on the EEOC commission should her appointment succeed. Although Gilbride was voted out of committee, her nomination was stopped in the last legislation of the year in 2021.

In the UK, as Sarah reported yesterday, a massive wave of strikes began in 2022 and is continuing into 2023, across sectors ranging from healthcare to transportation to civil service. According to the Guardian, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is poised to propose legislation to curb strike power by enforcing “minimum service levels” in certain sectors, including healthcare and rail service. Workers who do not meet service levels may be fired and unions may be sued. Additional tactics under consideration include changing the notice period for strike actions from 14 days to 28 days. The strategy of seeking to pass an anti-strike law is reminiscent of a similar attempt in Canada to prohibit striking, which failed miserably in the face of mass, nationwide protest, as Professor Doorey details in his piece

Amazon workers in a Central England warehouse facility have stated they are planning to walk out on January 25 due to a pay dispute, joining the wave of strikes in the UK. The strike is expected to include around 300 workers.

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