Workplace Discrimination Against Muslims

It’s a difficult time to be a Muslim in America.  Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Muslim Americans have faced greater scrutiny, with recent global events triggering further anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States and abroad.  According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, 39% of Americans and 49% of Republicans believe that Muslims in America should be subject to more scrutiny than people of other religions.

Anti-Muslim sentiment has translated into a serious issue of anti-Muslim discrimination in the workplace.  After September 11th, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) saw a 250% increase in cases of religion-based discrimination against Muslims.  Since 2002, Muslims continue to make up a disproportionate amount of the commission’s religion-based discrimination charges, hovering over 20%.

While in office, President Obama spoke out against Muslim discrimination on several occasions.  Last July, seen as a response to the growing anti-Muslim rhetoric of then candidate Trump’s campaign, President Obama called discriminatory policies against Muslims an insult to the “values that already make our nation great.”

The EEOC looked poised to further take on discrimination against Muslims in the workplace under President Obama.  Last September, the commission adopted its strategic enforcement plan for 2017 to 2021.  Among other things, the plan added the “emerging issue” of anti-Muslim discrimination to its list of priorities.  Specifically, the plan called for a focus on “backlash discrimination against those who are Muslim or Sikh, or persons of Arab, Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, as well as persons perceived to be members of these groups, as tragic events in the United States and abroad have increased the likelihood of discrimination against these communities.”

It’s not clear how anti-Muslim workplace discrimination will evolve under President Trump’s administration.  The President appointed Commissioner Victoria Lipnic as the acting chair of the EEOC shortly after taking office.  Lipnic, a Republican, voted against the strategic enforcement plan that called for an increased focus on discrimination against Muslims and is expected to move the commission in a conservative direction.

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Today’s News & Commentary — September 21, 2016

On Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing on Wells Fargo’s sham account case.  As the New York Times reports, Wells Fargo employees created nearly two million fake accounts to pad their sales numbers.  At the hearing, senators noted that top executives had faced no real consequences, while the bank’s lowest-paid workers had “borne the brunt of the punishment.”  As Senator Elizabeth Warren put it to John G. Stumpf, Wells Fargo’s chief executive, “Your definition of accountability is to push this on your low-level employees. This is gutless leadership.”

Forbes reports that 21 states have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Labor to block its new overtime rule.  The suit, filed in the Eastern District of Texas, alleges that the rule is in contravention of the Tenth Amendment and the APA.  Most of the states party to the lawsuit have also joined lawsuits seeking to block other Obama administration rules, including the challenge to DACA, the Clean Water Rule, and the Clean Power Plan.

According to Politico, the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. has served as a catalyst for state legislation protecting pregnant workers from workplace discrimination.  In Young, the Court held in favor of a pregnant UPS worker who alleged that she had been denied pregnancy-related accommodations as required by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.  Although the holding was a narrow one, it seems to have prompted legislative action.  Emily Martin, general counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, explained that since the decision, “we’ve seen even more bipartisan support for the notion that pregnant workers … should be entitled to very reasonable accommodations at work.”

A Thai court has found a British labor activist, Andy Hall, guilty of criminal defamation and violating cyber crimes law.  The charges came in connection with his work on a 2013 report accusing Natural Fruit, a Thai-based company, of violating its workers’ rights.  Hall was originally sentenced to three years in prison and fined $4,300, but the judge suspended his sentence.  Still, human rights advocates are worried that the case will seriously hinder efforts to investigate and monitor workers’ rights abuses in Thailand.  Coverage is available at the New York Times, Human Rights Watch, and Jurist.

Weekend News & Commentary — July 23-24, 2016

Hillary Clinton has selected Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate.  The choice has drawn a mixed reaction from liberals.  While some labor groups — including the AFL-CIO and the SEIU — have shown support for Clinton’s VP pick, lauding Kaine for his “strong record on workers’ issues,” others have expressed skepticism.  The Nation writes that Kaine has “a history of breaking with labor and progressives on economic issues,” throwing his support behind the TPP, looser banking regulations, and right-to-work laws.

While Kaine will have the chance to assuage supporters at the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, he might have to share the spotlight with striking workers.  Workers at the Philadelphia airport have announced their intention to strike next week, promising to “cause as much disruption as possible” in order to draw attention to their fight for higher wages.

Also at the upcoming convention, Clinton is expected to voice her support for President Obama’s executive actions on immigration — making clear her opposition to Donald Trump’s aggressive anti-immigration stance.  Politico takes a look at this “deep partisan split” over immigration, arguing that it will make reform more difficult.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles is one step closer to “banning the box,” according to The Atlantic.  “The Fair Chance Initiative” — an ordinance prohibiting employers from asking job applicants about their criminal record — is expected to be considered in the coming months.  If it passes, L.A. will become the second-largest city in the country to embrace the ban-the-box movement (after New York), making it easier for former inmates to find work.


Friedrichs Rehearing Petition Denied

Months after reaching a 4-4 tie in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the Supreme Court has denied the petitioners’ request for a rehearing. The Court waited until its final conference of the Term to vote on the petition, after postponing its decision eight times since April. No opinion was included with the Court’s denial.

While today’s announcement effectively brings the case to a close, the questions presented by Friedrichs — (1) whether Abood v. Detroit Board of Education should be overruled and public-sector “fair share” arrangements invalidated under the First Amendment, and (2) whether it violates the First Amendment to require that public employees affirmatively opt out of subsidizing nonchargeable speech by public-sector unions — may be litigated again and brought back before a (presumably full) Court in the future.

When Will the Republicans in Congress Stop Crying Wolf?

When it comes to the NLRB, Republicans in Congress are long on outrage and short on facts.  In 2011, the NLRB issued a decision in Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center of Mobile that clarified the standard for when the Board will find that a petitioned-for unit of workers must also include an additional group of workers.  Business lobbyists and their Republican accomplices quickly accused the NLRB of creating a new standard that authorized “micro-units.”  Last week, the Fifth Circuit joined the Fourth, Sixth, and Eighth Circuits in holding that, in fact, “in Specialty Healthcare the Board clarified — rather than overhauled – its unit-determination analysis.”

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Weekend News & Commentary — May 28-29, 2016

Will mandatory arbitration survive its most recent challenge?  Now that the Seventh Circuit has struck down a collective-action waiver in an employment agreement, creating a circuit split, the Supreme Court has an opportunity to weigh in on the issue.  Commentators at Politico attempt to read the tea leaves, arguing that “[t]he new composition of the Supreme Court will likely determine whether the Seventh Circuit’s decision wins the day.”  While an Obama or Clinton appointee will likely show deference to the NLRB, a Trump appointee — someone “closer in spirit to the late Antonin Scalia” — will probably stick to the Court’s recent pattern of favoring arbitration.

Strikes in France continue.  Workers have taken to the streets in protest of the government’s proposed new labor law, which will loosen France’s worker protections in hopes of spurring economic growth.  With the bill poised for debate before the Senate next month, unions have ramped up their protests.  But their show of strength belies potential weakness, according to the New York Times.  With membership on the decline — less than 8% of all French workers are unionized — and political fault lines emerging among their leadership, French unions now struggle not only for workers’ rights, but also for relevance.  (Although the proposed bill is not entirely bad news for workers.  The New Yorker reports on one of its more worker-friendly provisions, which grants employees the “right to disconnect” from work e-mail during “off” hours.)

Verizon might have reached a deal with its workers this week, but the effects of their recent strike won’t be forgotten any time soon.  According to Bloomberg, the Verizon walkout pushed the number of striking U.S. workers to its highest in more than four years and could depress job numbers in the Department of Labor’s upcoming May report.

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Today’s News & Commentary — April 26, 2016

Once a friend of the United Auto Workers, Volkwagen has truly become a foe.  The New York Times reports that yesterday “Volkswagen announced that it would go to federal court to appeal a recent victory by the U.A.W.  Late last year, a majority of the Chattanooga plant’s 160 maintenance workers voted to accept representation by the union.”  While Volkswagen had previously been committed to bringing German-style councils to the plan, management turnover and company troubles have resulted in a changed strategy.   The NLRB has called on Volkswagen to begin bargaining with the workers, but the company wants all 1,500 plant workers to vote on unionization.

The court battle over right-to-work continues in Wisconsin.  According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “a Dane County judge declined Monday to put on hold his ruling that found unconstitutional a Wisconsin law barring unions and businesses from reaching labor deals requiring workers to pay union fees,” and attention will now turn to the state’s Court of Appeals.  Notably, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court is “controlled 5-2 by conservatives.”

Not all gig economy firms are fighting organized labor.  Skift notes that Airbnb has been negotiating with the SEIU over the use of organized housekeeping services by hosts.  No agreement was reached, but representatives from the SEIU and UNITE HERE did meet with Airbnb.  The American Prospect has more on how the Uber settlement and “the SEIU-Unite Here brouhaha has created more questions than answers to how unions—and the labor movement more broadly—can effectively combat the harmful consequences of Silicon Valley’s disruption of the employer-employee relationship.”

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