Today’s News & Commentary — May 17, 2017

At the New York Times, Gary Rivlin discusses the question of free college, and suggests that the first two years of college should be free for anyone attending a public school (i.e. community college or the first two years of a four-year state school).  The idea comes from Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab, who first laid out her theory in a 2014 paper co-written with Professor Nancy Kendall.  In it, Goldrick-Rab and Kendall proposed the following: “If you complete a high-school degree, you can obtain a 13th and 14th year of education for free in exchange for a modest amount of work while attending school.” The authors pinpointed large sums of federal money, including billions of dollars in Pell grants that have ended up going to for-profit colleges, that could be used to fund their plan.  The proposal is not without its critics, and as Rivlin puts it, “Two years of free college is not a panacea.” However, it “would give more people hope, at least, in an economy that now pretty much requires skills well beyond the ones taught in high school.”

WNYC reports that Rodney Frelinghuysen, the most powerful congressman in New Jersey, wrote a fundraising letter to a board member of a local bank in which he warned the board member about the political activities of one of the bank’s employees. The letter asked Frelinghuysen’s supporters to donate to his next election because he is under attack, and included a handwritten asterisk positing that “One of the ringleaders [of the groups attacking Frelinghuysen] works in your bank!”  Attached to the letter was also a news article quoting the employee, Saily Avelenda, who was later confronted by her boss with both the letter and the article.  According to Avelenda, “I had to write a statement to my CEO, and at my level as an assistant general counsel and a senior vice president, at this employer it was not something that I expected.”  Coverage is also available at the Washington PostNPRand Slate.

Moreover, as a result of Frelinghuysen’s actions, the Campaign for Accountability has filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics.  According to The Hill, the Campaign for Accountability “noted that that the House Ethics Committee has warned lawmakers that communicating with private businesses could be construed as ‘pressure to take action in order to please the Member.’ ”

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Today’s News & Commentary — May 4, 2017

The New York Times reports that Apple plans to create a $1 billion fund for the advancement of manufacturing jobs in the United States. In an interview with CNBC, Apple’s chief executive Timothy D. Cook noted, “Those manufacturing jobs create more jobs around them because you have a service industry that builds up around them.” The company hopes to announce its first investment from the new fund sometime this month.

The House Rules Committee will meet this week to discuss an amendment to the FLSA. The Working Families Flexibility Act is a Republican-sponsored bill that would create the option for employers to offer one-and-a-half hours of paid time off in lieu of one hour’s worth of time-and-a-half overtime wages. The bill recommends capping the paid time off hours available at 160. A blog post notes that the House Education and Workforce Committee approved the bill last week.

The Circuit Court for the District of Columbia reversed an NLRB decision last week in the case of Bellagio LLC v. National Labor Relations Board, finding that the Bellagio Hotel and Casino did not interfere with a bellhop’s “Weingarten rights” under the NLRA. Weingarten rights assert that employees have the right under the NLRA to have union representation during any investigatory interviews. This right must be affirmatively requested by the employee, after which an employer may (1) grant the request, (2) end the interview, or (3) offer the employee the option between holding an interview without representation or not having an interview.

Following a complaint from a hotel guest about the bellhop, Bellagio management attempted to interview the bellhop, Gabor Garner, who requested union representation. Bellagio suggest Garner contact a union representative on his own, but he refused. The hotel then attempted to find a representative, but was unsuccessful. Upon returning to the interview room where Garner was waiting, management asked Garner if he would like to make a written statement instead, which he also refused. Management then ceased the interview and placed Garner on paid suspension pending investigation until Garner returned the following day with his union representative to conduct the interview. Continue reading

Today’s News & Commentary — March 9, 2017

Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) stood in solidarity with rallying crowd of women for International Women’s Day. According to Politico, labor unions such as the American Federation of Teachers and National Nurses United were in attendance. Rep. Schakowsky addressed the protestors, stating, “American women still earn far less than men 50 years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act.”

The Huffington Post reports that the number of deportations of undocumented workers under the Trump administration, alongside the regime’s immigration policies, begs the question of how reporting standards in immigrant labor will shift. Chicago attorney Christopher Williams, who specializes in immigrant wage theft cases, notes, “There’s a lot of fear out there, and it’s driving workers further underground. I honestly think it’s creating an incentive to hire more undocumented workers, because now they’re even more vulnerable to being exploited.” So far, the Labor Department has not issued a press release detailing wage and safety investigations since Trump’s presidency commenced.

Meanwhile, the D.C. Circuit has issued its opinion in Scoma’s of Sausalito. Scoma’s involved an employer’s withdrawal of recognition of UNITE HERE Local 2850 based on the employer’s belief that the union no longer enjoyed majority support of the bargaining unit.  The Board held that the withdrawal was illegal and issued a bargaining order. The D.C. Circuit agreed that withdrawing recognition was an unfair labor practice, but refused to enforce the Board’s bargaining order remedy. Instead, the court of appeals sent the case back to the Board and ordered the Board to come up with a less “extraordinary” remedy for the illegal withdrawal of recognition.

In other NLRB news, the Board has ordered a Regional Director to revisit its decision that NBCUniversal workers in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles were part of a single nationwide bargaining unit.

Gig News: Brazilian Judge Finds Uber Driver Is Employee

A labor court judge in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil has found that an Uber driver there is an employee of the company, taking the debate over the classification of drivers to another country.  The Brazilian newspaper Zero Hora reports that the decision is the first in Brazil to recognize Uber as an employer of drivers.  According to Reuters, the judge “ordered Uber to pay one driver around 30,000 reais ($10,000) in compensation for overtime, night shifts, holidays and expenses such as gasoline, water and candy for passengers.”  Uber announced that it will appeal the decision.  The ruling only applies to a single driver, but could open the door to more challenges.

Brazilian news portal G1 notes that the judge applied a multi-factor test for employment status under Brazilian law.  Key factors included that a) users are assigned a driver by Uber, unable to select from options; b) Uber (not the passenger) pays drivers at the end of each week after withdrawing a percentage, thus going beyond simple mediation of passenger-driver business; c) transport is Uber’s primary business, as partially evidenced by its investment in automobiles vehicles; and d) Uber drivers are submissive to the company, forced to comply with strict rules in order to drive for the company.

Zero Hora also emphasized that the judge found that drivers were encouraged to drive regularly despite flexibility, and that Uber engaged in a hiring process by approving drivers.

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Guest Post: A Third Category Is Not The Right Path for Gig Workers – A View From The UK

Hannah Reed works on employment and labour law policy for the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC).  She is currently attending the Harvard Trade Union Program

The recent Uber case in the UK was hailed by unions as a monumental victory, securing basic ‘worker’ rights to rest breaks, paid vacation time and the national minimum wage for 30,000 Uber drivers in the UK.

The decision is certainly welcome and may have useful implications in the US.  But no one should presume that the issue of rights for gig workers is now settled or that legislators are off the hook. The case will be appealed.  Uber continues to argue its drivers are self-employed and that the tribunal decision would require it to adjust its business model.  The current ruling is also not binding for other groups of gig workers.

The intense media interest in the case has, however, helped to reignite policy debates on who should qualify for which statutory employment rights and whether protections should be extended to those working on the edge of the labour market.

Following pressure from unions, think tanks and civil society groups, the UK government has commissioned a review into modern employment practices.  The House of Commons Business Committee has similarly launched an inquiry into the Future World of Work and Rights of Workers.

The central question for both reviews is the whether the law needs to be modernised to respond to the new ‘gig economy.  Despite the rapid expansion in temporary, insecure employment and complex supply chains, UK employment law remains wedded to the notion that permanent, stable employment is the norm.  Those that do not meet this norm are simply not protected.

But whilst some US commentators are advocating the creation of third category of worker in response to the growth of the gig economy, the opposite debate is starting to take place in the UK.

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Guest Post: Uber Retirement

Paul M. Secunda is Professor of Law and Director, Labor and Employment Law Program at Marquette Law School.

Although by no means a new question regarding retirement, the noteworthy growth of gig companies in the sharing economy has renewed concerns that even more American workers will lack access to employment-based retirement plans.  Although some argue that the gig economy offers workers advantages including more independence and flexibility, company-sponsored retirement saving is not one of them.  This is a dangerous state of affairs, as employment-based retirement plans make up a critical part of an individual’s strategy for retirement security.

Such retirement plans, like the nearly-ubiquitous 401(k) plans, provide a necessary bulwark against destitution in old age, especially given that Social Security provides only partial income replacement and few Americans have put away much in private savings.  Yet, independent contractors, which is how most gig companies classify their workers, are approximately two-thirds less likely than standard employees to have access to an employer-provided retirement plan.

Much academic and judicial ink has already been spilt over whether Uber drivers and other members of the sharing economy are members of the so-called “contingent” workforce or “precariat” (part-time, leased, temporary, and per diem workers), not entitled to receive retirement benefits as part of their employment.  Whether these employees are statutory employees is of utmost importance because it largely determines whether gig workers are covered by employment laws, as most such laws center on the employer-employment relationship.

What all these jobs have in common is that the work activity is happening outside of the traditional safety net of employment and are highly unstable.  Whereas statutory employees are covered in the United States by numerous labor and employment law statues that provide security and protection in the workplace, workers in these alternative work arrangements are not.  Once stable employment relationships have given way to relationships that are much more arms-length, regardless of whether it is a contractor situation, temporary employment, or a one-time encounter.

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Uber and Progressive Federalism

As Jon reported last night, an individual arbitrator has issued an award finding a California Uber driver to be an independent contractor rather than an employee.  The award is wrongly decided. I won’t engage in a complete analysis here, but, to find employee status, the arbitrator relies primarily on four California cases, three of which involved FedEx drivers. The arbitrator concludes that the facts of the Uber case resemble previous cases in which workers were found to be independent contractors. She holds:

Uber drivers are not supervised; supply the cars they drive; do not wear Uber uniforms or signage; can drive simultaneously for any competitor, including Lyft, Uber’s biggest competitor; are paid for each ride and have the unfettered option to work as little or as much as they want and whenever they want in the geographical location assigned to their platform.

But to find independent contractor status on this basis, the arbitrator has to ignore some other highly relevant cases, including a 2006 California decision involving drivers who worked for a courier company, JKH Enterprises, Inc. v. Dep’t of Industrial Relations. In JKH, the court found that the drivers were employees despite the following:

[T]he drivers are free to decline to perform a particular delivery when contacted by the dispatcher, even if the driver has indicated his or her availability for the day . . . .  All drivers [] use their own vehicles . . . They pay for their own gas, car service and maintenance, and insurance . . . . The drivers’ cars do not bear any JKH marking or logo. And the drivers themselves do not wear uniforms or badges that evidence their affiliation or relationship with JKH.  Some of the drivers perform delivery services for other companies as well . . . .  The drivers receive no particular training. . . . All drivers set their own schedules and choose their own driving routes.  Their work is not supervised.  Indeed, JKH only has a vague idea of where its working drivers are during the business day. . . . The drivers take time off when they want to and they are not required to ask for permission in order to do so.

So, this particular Uber arbitration award is wrongly decided. Of much broader importance, however, the award brings home something critical about progressive federalism: namely, progressive states need to clarify that gig workers, like Uber drivers, are employees within the meaning of state employment law. Continue reading