News & Commentary

May 7, 2024

John Fry

John Fry is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s news and commentary, Condé Nast workers reach a deal; Congress considers narrowing forced arbitration; and Starbucks withholds information during bargaining.

Condé Nast workers struck a last-minute deal after threatening to disrupt yesterday’s Met Gala. The union has been seeking a contract for over a year and a half and has vocally opposed the proposed layoff of 5% of Condé Nast employees. The tentative agreement includes terms governing those layoffs as well as increased parental leave and salary. While a picket line at the Met Gala would likely have irked Vogue, whose executive Anna Wintour organizes the event, A-list celebrities have shown a willingness to cross picket lines before: in 2022, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and other stars attended an Oscars afterparty at the Chateau Marmont despite the pleas of striking workers there.

Congress will soon consider narrowing the scope of forced arbitration agreements to allow more age discrimination claims to be heard in court. While the Federal Arbitration Act (and the generous interpretation the Supreme Court has given it) ensures that most arbitration clauses imposed by employers are enforceable, the #MeToo movement did lead to the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act in 2022, which made it easier to sue over work-related sexual misconduct. The new proposed bill, which has both Democratic and Republican sponsors, would similarly exempt certain age discrimination claims from mandatory arbitration. Meanwhile, Senator Cory Booker has proposed a ban on the forced arbitration of racial discrimination claims.

Starbucks illegally refused to bargain over the effects of its decision to temporarily close a unionized store, according to an NLRB decision last week. When Starbucks Workers United asked for data regarding scheduling and past store closures, the company took nearly 12 weeks to respond. Last week’s decision reflects an ongoing tension: the relationship between Starbucks and SWU has become somewhat less acrimonious this year, and as Esther covered, the parties resumed bargaining last month. But at the time this détente began, there were still roughly 700 ULP charges pending against Starbucks. The parties’ rapprochement could lead to the settlement of some cases, but this decision shows that it could still take a long time to process the backlog.

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