News & Commentary

April 7, 2021

Courtney Brunson

Courtney Brunson is a student at Harvard Law School and member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.

Three weeks after the deadline set by President Biden’s executive order on COVID-19 OSHA guidance, Bloomberg Law reported yesterday that Labor Secretary Marty Walsh has paused the release of the COVID-19 emergency temporary standard to “update [it] based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis and the latest information regarding the state of vaccinations and the variants.” A spokesman from the Labor Department explained that Secretary Walsh’s efforts will ensure that the released materials reflect the latest scientific information available about the disease. The rule will likely mandate that employers create infection control and prevention plans that follow CDC guidance. Reports indicate that the guidance could also cover other areas like the payment of quarantined workers and guaranteed return of workers after their coronavirus related absence.

According to the Associated Press, the Mexican government has finalized agreements with businesses and labor groups over the outsourcing of jobs within the country. Data from the U.S. Labor Department in 2018 found that the country’s outsourced workforce has more than quadrupled to 4.6 million from 1 million in 2003. Though Mexico’s minimum wage is $5.50 a day, the government requires that companies provide generous benefits, including employer payment into employee health and retirement plans, annual year-end bonuses, and profit-sharing. As a result, companies have been avoiding hiring workers as full-time employees. An explanation of how this works was illustrated through the example of a Cancun hotel that had more than 800 workers but only registered two of them as employees. The vast majority were hired through multi-month contracts. These shorter contracts prevent the accumulation of seniority and benefit contributions employers would have to make. The agreement stipulates that the outsourcing of personnel to third-party firms is prohibited, except for specialized work outside a company’s main economic activity and the implementation of a new profit sharing model.

Following the state of New York’s passage of the New York State Cannabis/Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act, Forbes wrote about the implications that this bill could have on workers and places of employment. Though the bill does not deprive the employer of their right to prohibit the workplace as a place for the use, possession, sale, or transfer of cannabis, it does reduce barriers to employment for marijuana users. Through the amendment of Labor Law Section 201-d, the law prohibits discrimination based on workers’ use of cannabis when “off-duty, outside of the employer’s facility, and when not using the employer’s equipment or other property.” Exceptions to this amendment include the worker’s marijuana impairment during the work day and the disqualification of employers from federal contracts or funding due to their employee’s marijuana consumption.

Isaac Reese wrote an op-ed in the Daily Utah Chronicle about the necessary alliance environmentalists and labor unions should form to achieve each other’s goals, including divesting from fossil fuels, building green energy, and creating well-paying union jobs. Though these two groups could be seen as opposed on these issues, Reese argued that there are several opportunities for their priorities to overlap. One example is through the passage of the BUILD GREEN Infrastructure and Jobs Act, a bill that requires public transit systems and the infrastructure associated with public transit be transitioned to renewable power sources. The legislation contains specific provisions that help workers, including that workers on these projects receive fair pay and time off and companies receive incentivizes to hire local labor.

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