News & Commentary

September 11, 2023

Morgan Sperry

Morgan Sperry is a student at Harvard Law School and also serves as OnLabor's Social Media Director.

In today’s news and commentary, workers at REI’s SoHo store walk out, Minnesota unions and worker centers develop a construction industry code of conduct, and New York passes three landmark workers’ rights bills. 

This weekend, workers at the REI store in SoHo (the first REI in the U.S. to unionize) walked out to demand that the co-op rescind a pay cut and bargain in good faith. The action comes after a year and a half of stalled negotiations between leadership and the store’s employees, who voted to unionize in March of 2022. Workers are seeking “a living wage and good hours” in the face of severe resistance from the purportedly progressive co-op. 

Labor unions and worker centers in Minnesota have joined forces to develop a code of conduct with the goal of raising wages and improving safety practices in the construction industry. The coalition calls upon Minneapolis-area developers to join the Building Dignity and Respect Standards Council, thereby pledging to ensure that their contractors and subcontractors comply with a code of conduct that calls for a $20 minimum wage, paying time-and-a-half for overtime, paying workers’ comp and unemployment insurance taxes, not misclassifying workers and never threatening workers or using child labor. While Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and local prosecutors have been bringing wage theft and misclassification cases against individual contractors, worker advocates argue that only developers and general contractors can ensure that workers are being treated fairly. 

Last week, New York passed three landmark workers’ rights bills. The first bill functionally bans captive audience meetings by prohibiting employers from retaliating against workers who refuse to participate in them for “political and religious” reasons, including supporting the union. A second bill makes wage theft a larceny, empowering prosecutors to impose stronger penalties on offending employers. Third, and finally, New York has increased workers’ compensation benefits. Starting in 2024, the minimum benefits for permanent or temporary partial disability will be $275 per week, which will be increased to $325 in 2025 and then to one-fifth of the state average weekly wage in 2026.

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