News & Commentary

March 20, 2020

Minnie Che

Minnie Che is a student at Harvard Law School.

The agriculture industry is facing labor shortages at farms and food processors as a result of covid-19. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico has announced that it would suspend visa processing for Mexican guest workers, which will prevent seasonal and migrant agriculture workers to enter the United States through the H-2A visa program. American agriculture producers have relied on immigrant labor to plant and harvest fruits and vegetables to meet demands for food. If the guest workers are not able to come in May to plant, there will be significantly fewer crops to harvest in October. The Department of Agriculture is currently working with the State Department to acquire an emergency designation for H-2As to allow guest workers entry into the country. For now, new visas will not be processed but returning seasonal workerswill still be able to enter the United States. But these workers only make up 40% of the labor needs on farms. Particularly in California, which has a $50 billion agriculture industry and recruited over 23,000 H-2A workers last year, a suspension of immigrant labor will lead to devastating effects for domestic fresh food supply.

Serious unemployment is also predicted for hospitality workers around the country who are out of work due to the current pandemic. A leading hospitality labor union, Unite Here, recently announced that it expects up to 90% of its 300,000 members to be out of work. These workers may face loss of health care and food and housing insecurity. The union’s membership is primarily made up of women working in hotels, airports, and casinos. Hospitality businesses and tourism industries across the country have been hit hard by government mandated-shutdowns. The hotel industry expects 4 million jobs to be lost as occupancy rates have fallen from 66% in 2019 to below 10% in the past month. In Seattle, up to 4,500 of the 5,500 members of the local Unite Here chapter have been laid off. In Pennsylvania, 121,000 people have filed for unemployment because of the waivers for workers due to covid-19. Some employees in the hospitality industry do not believe that the emergency relief package passed by the House is enough. Unite Here leaders are calling on Congress to take further action to provide health care and more emergency aid to industries in distress.

The National Football League’s (NFL) business year ended on March 18, 2020. Just days before, the NFL players voted in favor of a new 10-year labor deal. It was approved by a slim majority, with 1,019 players voting in support of it and 959 voting against it. The new deal includes an increase to the salary cap and an additional regular season game, expanding the NFL season for the first time in more than four decades. The closing of this deal is a victory for team owners, although some players are dissatisfied with the outcome of the collective bargaining agreement. Players are concerned with the health risks of a 17th game and believe their increase in percentage of the league’s revenue, an extra three-tenths of a percentage point, is disproportionate with the 120% increase in broadcast revenues from that extra game. The rise in minimum salaries may be minimal because teams may push rookie players to sign “split contracts,” which provides one salary for when they are on the active roster and a much lower one for weeks when they are injured. This also exposes the disparate interests between higher and lower income-earning players. Lastly, the new deal decreases players’ disability benefits by offsetting the amount players receive from Social Security. Because of the nature of the sport, hundreds of players apply for disability annually and will be affected by the new policies.

On March 18, 2020, The Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) formally proposed a rule to make it easier for federal employees to stop paying union dues. In an effort to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the FLRA voted to change the process by which agencies collect dues. In Janus, the Court held that public sector unions could not charge public employees who do not wish to be dues-paying members monthly “agency fees.” Currently, a federal employee who agrees to join a union and pay dues does so for a full year. There is a 15-day window during which employees may choose to end their union membership. The new proposed rule will allow an employee to cancel their dues at any time they wish after the first one-year period mandated by statute. Dissenters argue that this new rule aims to hurt the financial position of unions. The new rule will overturn almost four decades of labor law precedent. The National Treasury Employees Union have already filed a petition for review of the FLRA’s decision with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.