Today's News and Commentary — June 19
The Boston Herald reports that state lawmakers passed the Massachusetts Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights yesterday. Massachusetts is the fourth state to pass legislation increasing labor protections for domestic workers, following New York, Hawaii, and California. Of the legislation, Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston said, “This will ensure that workers who make all other work possible are protected, respected, and treated with dignity. The labor of our domestic workers has been undervalued for far too long and it is time that we extend to them important labor protections against discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation.” The Bill guarantees domestic workers, defined as a range of individuals who provide in-home services, 24 hours off per 7-day calendar week, limited sick days and vacation time, meal and rest breaks, notice of termination, and protections from sexual harassment, discrimination, eviction without notice, and illegal changes in food and lodging. Massachusetts-based labor advocacy groups and worker centers including the MA Coalition for Domestic Workers, MataHari: Eye of the Day, and the Brazilian Immigrant Center supported the bill’s passage at a grassroots level. The bill will now go to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk.For more details on the fight for domestic worker’s rights throughout the country, see Rachel Homer’s excellent explainer, “What’s Happening with Domestic Worker’s Rights?”
The New York Times has published a case study of a home health care agency in California navigating new employment and labor law regulations, including the state’s Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, the extension of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act to non-medical caregivers, and the coming increase of California’s minimum wage.
In more Massachusetts news, yesterday the House also passed a bill that would raise the minimum wage in increments from $8 an hour to $11 an hour by 2017. The Associated Press states that the measure was already passed by the Senate last week and now requires only a procedural vote in the Senate followed by Gov. Patrick’s signature.
In further coverage of minimum wage increases across the nation, FoxNews reports the International Franchise Association has sued Seattle over its recent law raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The law varies the rate at which employees’ wages will increase based on the number of a business’s employees. Employers who have over 500 employees are categorized as ‘Schedule 1’ and are required to increase wages at a faster rate than those with less than 500 employees, designated as ‘Schedule 2.’ The Association argues that individual franchise owners, for example owners of a single McDonald’s store that employs less than 500 workers, have been wrongly categorized as ‘Schedule 1’ employers due to their affiliation with larger corporations.
Reflecting on recent municipal increases in the minimum wage, the Courier-Journal explains that Indianapolis is unlikely to see a comparable hike. Indiana is one of fourteen states that bars local municipalities from passing their own minimum wage laws. This law does not extend to municipal governments’ ability to raise their own employees’ wages.
In immigration-related news, a federal judge has ruled on Utah’s immigration law, modeled on Arizona’s controversial “show me your papers” legislation. The Los Angeles Times reports that the split ruling upholds the law’s provision requiring officials to verify the immigration status of individuals arrested for felonies and certain misdemeanors. However, the order also blocked key provisions of the law. The ruling prevents police from holding individuals longer than normal to check their immigration status and also prohibits warrantless arrests based on suspicion of status. Jennifer Chang Newell, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project who argued the case,said, “The court’s message is loud and clear: state and local police may not stop, detain, or arrest someone solely for immigration purposes.”
The New York Times reports that Border Patrol allowed reporters access for the first time to processing centers holding the “sudden stream of unaccompanied minors” crossing into the United States. Minors will be sent to juvenile detention centers and then released to relatives living in the country, as long as they agree to cooperate with deportation proceedings.
In an opinion piece, Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee argues that proposed anti-wage theft legislation in California could subject “reputable business people to harassment.” Last month, the California Assembly passed AB 2416, which is awaiting a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill would permit employees to impose leans on employers’ property, including their personal homes. He argues that though workers should be paid for their work, liens could be extortionate and that the state should instead expand its authority to impose penalties on employers.
In further wage theft related news, KWQC reports that protestors affiliated with the Quad City Federation of Labor gathered outside of four Iowa Outback Steakhouses last night to protest wage theft. They allege that Outback hired a contractor, Sandpiper Maintenance and Repair, to clean the restaurants and that the contractor did not pay one worker for over fifty days of work. Although Outback has since fired the contractor, it has not compensated the employee.
Princeton, New Jersey’s Town Topics reports that the city council has introduced a new ordinance requiring landscapers to register with the town and acknowledge awareness of federal and state wage and hour laws. The ordinance was introduced out of concern for undocumented workers becoming victims of certain employers’ “pernicious practices.” If the ordinance passes, landscapers found to be in violation of the law would be barred from operating within Princeton.
In Detroit, public sector unions and city officials have negotiated a hybrid pension plan. According to the New York Times, the plan could be a model for other cities facing budget crises, as long as it survives legal challenges.
The Washington Post reports that the Internal Revenue Service will propose new guidelines limiting the political activities of tax-exempt non-profit advocacy groups called 501(c)(4)s. The proposals may restrict the overall percentage of political activities the tax-exempt groups may participate in. Such a change would have important implications for organizations across the political spectrum, and may limit the activities of some labor groups and worker centers.
SILive.com reports that yesterday in New York City, thousands of members of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East joined “informational picket lines” outside of nursing homes, hospitals, and clinics to educate the public on ongoing contract disputes with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes. 1199 represents over 250,000 healthcare workers in New York State while the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes represents most private hospitals and clinics in the southern part of the state. The union is pushing back against attempts to cut caregivers’ health benefits. 1199 has launched a new webpage, CareForNY.org to provide more information.
Philly.com explains that the Building and Construction Trades Council of Philadelphia, a coalition of the city’s building-trades unions, has agreed to cut wages and benefits by twenty percent when working on construction projects for the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Supporting the decision, Pat Eiding, secretary treasurer of the Council and president of the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO stated that the building trades, “haven’t had a hell of a lot of work in the last couple of years.” As part of the agreement, the Philadelphia Housing Authority pledges to engage only with contractors who hire union labor.
In international news, the Wall Street Journal reports that Iceland’s Air Mechanics Union, which represents aircraft mechanics employed by Icelandair, have called off strikes. Iceland’s government had threatened legislation altering strike laws in advance of the protest. The Air Mechanics Union is involved in ongoing contracts negotiations with their employer. Iceland’s opposition parties protested the legislation, arguing that it would seriously erode the rights of workers across the island nation.