News & Commentary

September 29, 2022

Anita Alem

Anita Alem is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s News and Commentary: Incarcerated workers in Alabama go on labor strike; the Tenth Circuit hears oral argument regarding Biden’s $15 minimum wage plan for federal contractors; under pressure from employee Activism, Amazon raises wages; and Governor Newsom signs laws increasing pay transparency and bolstering farmworkers’ union access.

The New York Times reports that thousands of incarcerated people in Alabama are on strike from prison labor positions to protest inhumane, overcrowded, and dangerous conditions and to demand improved parole process and oversight. Incarcerated people typically perform labor necessary to run the prison such as cooking and cleaning. The group Both Sides of the Wall estimated that up to 80% of the 25,000 prisoners will participate in the strike. The Department of Justice has found that Alabama prisons are at 182% of the capacity and incarcerated people are under risk of homicide and rape. Alabama Prison Advocacy and Incarcerated Families United organized the strike through Zoom visits and word of mouth. 

On Wednesday, the Tenth Circuit heard oral argument regarding a legal challenge to President Biden’s proposed $15 minimum wage for federal contractors. Biden implemented the increase, which also included other changes such as indexing minimum wage to inflation and eliminating the tipped wage,  by executive order as of January 30. During oral argument, plaintiffs and states fighting against the law argued that Biden’s move is invalid under the major questions doctrine, which Chief Justice Roberts has explained is a presumption that “Congress intends to make major policy decisions itself, not leave those decisions to agencies.” 

Amazon is raising hourly wages for front-line and transportation workers, after facing pressure over the past several years from union drives at multiple facilities, reports of workplace safety issues, and inhumane working conditions for drivers. Amazon, the second largest private employer in the United States, will reportedly spend $1 Billion on the wage increases.

In California, Governor Newsom has signed two significant bills for workers’ rights over the past week. First, Newsom signed a pay transparency law that requires California companies with 15 or more employees to publicly disclose salary. Additionally, companies with 100 or more employees are required to provide race and gender-based pay information and contractor salaries. Several other states are also pursuing pay transparency as a measure to achieve greater pay equity. Second, under pressure from the UFW as well as President Biden, Newsom signed a bill to enable farm workers to vote by mail in union elections and ease the threat of employer retaliation, especially when many farm workers are undocumented. The bill aims to help revive unionization in farm work. 

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