News & Commentary

August 11, 2022

Miriam Shestack

Miriam Shestack is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s news and commentary, California farmworkers march for fair union elections, Uber pays misclassified workers, a group of women suing for sexual harassment must share their names, courts take on caste discrimination, worker deaths at Amazon warehouses, and analysis of the effect of remote work on women.

Today California farmworkers will march 19 miles in 100° F weather as part of the “March for the Governor’s Signature,” a campaign organized by United Farm Workers (UFW) demanding that CA Governor Gavin Newsom sign a new bill intended to protect farmworkers from voter suppression during unionization drives. The Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act (AB 2183) would allow farmworkers to cast a vote on unionization through mail-in ballots or at a drop-off location. Current regulations require workers to cast ballots at in-person-only polling places typically located at worksites where they may face intimidation from supervisors. Today is the day 9 of the march, which is set to culminate in Sacramento on August 26, declared “California Farmworker Day” by Governor Newsom last October.

Uber will pay $8.43 million to a class of California drivers who allege they were misclassified as independent contractors. A federal judge has approved a settlement covering all drivers who used the Uber Rides app in California to transport passengers between Feb. 28, 2019, and Dec. 16, 2020. The period ends when Proposition 22, the controversial ballot initiative permitting a carveout for gig workers to be considered independent contractors. Some 1,006 drivers opted in to the settlement, which provides an average settlement award of more than $8,000. Some drivers stand to receive more than $50,000 in the settlement.

A judge in the District of Nevada has ruled that nine women suing Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Wynn Las Vegas LLC for alleged workplace sexual harassment by former CEO Steve Wynn will have to reveal their true names if the case continues. The ruling comes after a remand from the Ninth Circuit, which on Nov. 23 ordered the lower court to reassess the women’s motion to pursue the case using pseudonyms. The women’s argument that they feared retaliation by Wynn himself, including being sued by him for defamation, did not persuade the court, nor did the women’s concern that they might face retaliation from supervisors. The women all still work at the Wynn Salon or Encore Salon as manicurists or makeup artists 

A California state court will hear a case from a former Cisco Systems Inc. worker who has made claims of caste discrimination. This case is among the first of its kind, as  federal agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have not spoken on this issue, even as caste equity groups have pushed for support. Attorney’s for the Plaintiff are relying on a California antidiscrimination statute that includes protection for discrimination based on ancestry. Although it is not the issue in front of the court in the Cisco case, attorney John Rushing told Bloomberg that caste discrimination potentially could fall under race discrimination on the federal level under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Alternatively, it could be considered discrimination based on national origin. Rushing pointed to the Supreme Court’s landmark 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., which held that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is discrimination “based on sex” under Title VII. In cases of caste discrimination, one can make an analogous argument that a given outcome would not have transpired “but for” the victim’s South Asian background.

Amazon warehouses face continuing scrutiny following the tragic deaths of three workers in a three-week span. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  is investigating the fatalities, a spokesperson confirmed to Gothamist. Nicole Rodriguez, research director at New Jersey Policy Perspective, noted that Amazon is growing particularly quickly in New Jersey. Five years ago, Amazon had 5,500 workers, and now employs 49,000, marking an increase of almost 800%.

How has the move toward working from home affected women workers? Anne Helen Petersen explores the issue in a new essay published by Bloomberg. Many workers, particularly, women with children, find the flexibility offered by remote work indispensable. However, Petersen writes, that same flexibility can open a space for extra caretaking responsibilities that may have been shared more equally between partners before the pandemic, increasing the already disproportionate share of unpaid care work shouldered by women.

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