News & Commentary

October 15, 2014

The Department of Labor is offering nearly $1.4 million in funding to support enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in Mexico. According to the agency, “the goal is to increase compliance with the expanded protections against labor discrimination under Mexican labor law, with a specific focus on combating gender discrimination, forced pregnancy testing, sexual harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation. The [winning] project will focus on improving enforcement of these protections by labor inspectors, increasing employer participation in government social compliance programs that incorporate best practices to combat labor discrimination, and raising public awareness of the recent legal reforms on labor discrimination.” Applications are due November 7th.

According to the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, two independent groups formed by labor unions and Western retailers have found safety hazards in all of the 1,100 Bangladeshi garment plants they have inspected, and have recommended that several plants be entirely shut down. Labor unions and consumer groups pushed the apparel retailers to conduct the investigations after an eight-story factory building collapsed in Bangladesh in April 2013, killing 1,129 workers. While identifying the safety problems is the first step towards addressing them, it remains unclear who will pay for the upgrades, which could cost up to $250,000 at each factory.

In fast food worker news, The Huffington Post received a copy of a Jimmy John’s Sandwich Shop employment agreement that included a “non-competition” clause. While such agreements are typically reserved for high-level management, the agreement at Jimmy John’s applies to low-wage sandwich makers and delivery drivers as well. According to HuffPo, the agreement states that the worker agrees not to work at one of the sandwich chain’s competitors for a period of two years following employment at Jimmy John’s. However, the definition of a “competitor” is incredibly broad, including any business that’s within three miles of a Jimmy John’s location and that derives more than 10 percent of its revenue from sandwiches. The non-compete agreement is now part of a proposed class-action lawsuit filed this summer against Jimmy John’s and one of its franchisees, which accuses the company of engaging in wage theft by forcing employees to work off the clock. The case, Brunner v. Jimmy John’s Enterprises, Inc., is ongoing per an amended complaint filed in mid-September.

The New York Times followed up on the Jimmy John’s story, stating that, strangely enough, the practice of requiring employees to sign non-competes is not uncommon in fast-food and other low-wage jobs. The author argues that these practices, combined with the low wages already being paid to American workers, allow employers to extract increasingly more value out of their workers while providing fewer protections.

According to the Washington Post, home health-care aides have officially joined fast food workers in a campaign for a $15 minimum wage. Backed by the SEIU, the effort seeks to replicate the “Fight for 15” movement for fast-food workers through coordinated, high-profile strikes in nine states. Home health-care workers are 91 percent female, 56 percent non-white, and the nation’s fastest-growing workforce. However, the effort will differ from the fast-food worker campaigns, as healthcare workers are more often battling the state rather than large corporations, and they cannot simply walk off the job without harming their patients.

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