News & Commentary

March 19, 2023

Will Ebeler

Will Ebeler is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s news and commentary, a Ninth Circuit panel reinstates Uber’s Equal Protection challenge to California’s A.B. 5; a reduction in SNAP benefits could trigger a “hunger cliff;” workers at an Amazon facility in Kentucky kick off unionizing effort; and ex-Google employees ask the company to honor parental leave.

Only a few days after a California appeals court held that at least some parts of Proposition 22 are legal, on Friday the Ninth Circuit reinstated a lawsuit brought against California by Uber, Postmates, and two drivers working on those platforms. The lawsuit claims that California’s A.B. 5 statute violates the Equal Protection Clause. Passed in 2019, A.B. 5 codified the ABC test for determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. The law carves out a variety of industries, including “referral agencies” that connect workers and customers, but it explicitly does not exempt delivery companies like Uber. The Ninth Circuit, applying rational basis review, found Uber had “plausibly allege[d] that the primary impetus for the enactment of A.B. 5 was the disfavor with which the architect of the legislation viewed Uber, Postmates, and similar gig-based business models.” The court found support in the “piecemeal fashion in which the exemptions were granted,” including exemptions for “app-based gig companies that perform errand services” like Task-Rabbit and Wag! However, the panel affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ due process, contract clause, and bill of attainder claims. The case has been remanded to the district court to reconsider whether to grant a preliminary injunction.

Forty-two million Americans receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. In response to the COVID pandemic, in 2020 Congress passed a law authorizing states to issue “Emergency Allotments” that increased benefit amounts for SNAP recipients. Over the past three years, 18 states have ended these Emergency Allotments; however, last December Congress passed a bill terminating the Allotments across the country. March was the first month where benefits across the country were reduced to their pre-pandemic levels. In the 32 states that were still providing Emergency Allotments, SNAP payments have been reduced by an average of $90 per month; some households are losing at least $250 per month. As the Guardian reported on Friday, some experts are predicting that the reduction in benefits will trigger a “hunger cliff.” Food prices have risen almost 10% in the past 12 months and are expected to rise another 8% in 2023. Meanwhile, earnings for low-wage workers have not been keeping up with inflation or the wage growth of higher-earning workers; a New York Times reporter’s analysis of the most recent BLS economic reports shows that wage growth for those earning under $20 per hour is currently at under 5% annually.

On Saturday, workers at an Amazon facility in Kentucky held a rally to kick off a union authorization card-collection campaign. Organizers with Unionize Amazon Northern Kentucky KCVG are demanding a starting wage of $30 per hour, 180 hours of paid time off annually, and union representation for all disciplinary issues. The employees work at the largest Amazon Air Hub in the world. If roughly 30% of workers at the facility sign authorization cards, the NLRB will run an election at the facility to determine whether a local of the Amazon Labor Union will represent the workers.

Finally, a group of ex-Google employees called Laid off on Leave have asked that Google pay them for leave time they began or were approved for before being laid off in January. Early last year, Google announced it would be increasing parental leave for full-time employees to 18 months for all parents and 24 months for birth parents. However, in January it laid off roughly 12,000 employees, or 6% of its workforce. Many of those laid off were on or planning to take parental leave. One woman said she was laid off a week before she was due to give birth; another learned she was laid off hours after giving birth. Google has promised a standard severance payout of 16 paid weeks plus an additional 2 weeks for each year the ex-employee worked at Google. However, it has not clarified whether it would honor accrued time off or approved medical leave; other companies, including Amazon, have said they would pay out remaining leave time in addition to any severance pay. Ex-Google employees have also lost access to their doctors at Google’s on-site medical facility, even those that were receiving ongoing treatment. 

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