News & Commentary

November 3, 2022

Miriam Shestack

Miriam Shestack is a student at Harvard Law School.

A Department of Labor (DOL) report issued on Sunday found that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) enforcement activities did not sufficiently protect workers from Covid-19.

The report highlights continuing issues since the start of the Covid, especially concerning which Covid cases OSHA requires employers to report. The inspector general’s report also noted the lack of a Covid-specific rule for all industries. The report notes that OSHA should have required all employers to report all worker Covid infections regardless of whether employees were infected on the job. OSHA’s recordkeeping rule limits recording of an injury or illness to only work-related cases. As Bloomberg explains, OSHA’s requirements for employers to track and report Covid cases has been a source of friction between the agency and employers, and OSHA’s requirement have shifted over time.

Workers at Apple’s unionized retail store in Maryland are filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after the store was excluded from some benefits.

Last month Apple announced a range of perks for retail and corporate employees in the US, including new medical benefits, prepaying for a portion of tuition for outside education, and free access to a premium Coursera subscription. However, the company withheld the benefits from the unionized store in Towson, a suburb of Baltimore, indicating that any new benefits must be negotiated as part of a collective bargaining agreement. That move sparked Wednesday’s complaint, which was filed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union representing the store. Apple’s actions mirror the approach taken by Starbucks Corp., where about 250 cafes have voted to unionize over the past year.

As Bloomberg points out, both cases highlight the murky legal terrain that employers with a mixture of union and nonunion workers face when changing benefits. Federal labor law generally prohibits companies from altering job terms without bargaining, but the NLRB may consider it unlawful discrimination to exclude union workers from new benefits extended to other employees.

A reform movement has come to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), inspired by union democracy movements in the Teamsters and United Auto Workers. UFCW is one of the biggest unions in the country. Grocery workers represent more than two-thirds of the union’s total membership, with about 835,000 grocery workers—or about half of the 1.5 million grocery workers in the US—in its ranks. Jonah Furman profiled the emerging movement for Labor Notes ahead of the UFCW convention this coming April. On its website, Essential Workers for a Democratic UFCW lays out 11 resolutions designed to “transform the UFCW International into the union that essential workers need and deserve.” They are calling for direct elections of national officers and new investments in new organizing and coordinated bargaining. The latter is especially salient as a grocery mega-merger looms.

Around the world, the UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP27, will begin in Egypt on November 6. World leaders will gather at the conference to discuss climate change. A delegation from the global labour movement, including IndustriALL Global Union, aims to raise the concerns of workers at the meeting. The delegation’s priorities include: achieving meaningful just transition, demanding reparations for damage caused by climate change, and climate finance which demands that those who caused the crisis pay for it. The International Labour Orgaization (ILO) will also advocate for a Just Transition at COP27.

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