News & Commentary

June 23, 2024

Otto Barenberg

Otto Barenberg is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s news and commentary, the Teamsters president will speak at the Republican National Convention; the Supreme Court will weigh in on overtime exemptions; and Honda faces an unfair labor practice complaint.

On Friday, Teamsters President Sean O’Brien accepted Donald Trump’s invitation to speak at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Milwaukee next month.  The move is “truly unprecedented,” a Teamsters spokesperson said, “since it will be the very first time a Teamsters general president has addressed the RNC.”  The Teamsters, who backed President Joe Biden in 2020, have not yet made an endorsement in the 2024 presidential race and have been careful to clarify that O’Brien’s RNC appearance does not necessarily mean they will back Trump.  O’Brien has also asked to speak at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), whose speaker list remains unfinalized.  But the Teamsters, who represent 1.3 million workers, are nonetheless a major outlier among large unions, most of which have already endorsed Biden—including the AFL-CIO, the UAW, and the National Education Association.  

O’Brien drew harsh criticism from union leaders and members of his own executive team when he met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago earlier this year.  John Palmer, the Teamsters International Vice President, wrote a letter at the time condemning Trump as “a known union buster, scab, and insurrectionist.” Palmer argued: “we should never entertain dialogue with a candidate with such an anti-union record.”  Union leaders and Democratic strategists are concerned O’Brien’s RNC speech will erode Biden’s increasingly tenuous advantage among union members.  Whereas Biden won the union vote in 2020 by eight percentage points in the six closest swing states—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—some polls now show him tied with Trump among union members.

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to clarify the burden of proof in federal overtime exemption cases.  The Justices will review a recent Fourth Circuit decision that requires employers to show “clear and convincing evidence” that their employees are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime protections.  In contrast, the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits apply the more employer-friendly “preponderance of the evidence” standard.  The case, E.M.D. Sales v. Carrera, arrives on the heels of a Department of Labor rule expanding overtime protections to an additional four million workers and a subsequent flood of legal challenges to those changes.

On Tuesday, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional director accused Honda of violating the rights of unionizing workers at an Indiana plant.  The United Auto Workers (UAW) initiated the complaint against the Japanese automaker, alleging Honda committed unfair labor practices (ULPs) by ordering workers to remove UAW insignia from their hardhats and disciplining union supporters.  The Honda facility in Greensburg, IN is one of over a dozen the UAW is targeting in its campaign to organize 150,000 workers across the South and Midwest.  Honda is the fourth major foreign automaker against which the UAW has brought ULP charges in recent months, along with Mercedes, Volkswagen, and Hyundai. 

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