News & Commentary

September 8, 2022

Miriam Shestack

Miriam Shestack is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s News and Commentary: a court ruling threatens employee access to HIV-prevention, restaurant owners push back against a new California law, railway labor contract negotiations, baseball players join the AFL-CIO, and a tragic anniversary for workers in Pakistan.

A federal judge in Texas ruled Wednesday that the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) process for determining what kinds of preventive care must be fully covered by private health insurance is unconstitutional. The ruling took explicit aim at the H.I.V. drug regimen known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, which is recommended for people who are at high risk of H.I.V. infection — primarily men who have sex with men, but also intravenous drug users, some transgender individuals, and some cisgender women.

Plaintiffs, including Dr. Steven F. Hotze, owner of Braidwood Management, and other Christian business owners and employees in Texas, argued that the preventive care mandate violates their constitutional right to religious freedom by requiring companies and policyholders to pay for coverage that goes against their faith. The New York Times explains that Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the Preventive Services Task Force — a volunteer panel of experts that recommends what kinds of preventive care must be covered under the law — violated the Constitution because its members are not appointed by the president or confirmed by the Senate, yet its recommendations become binding. The ruling does not take effect immediately, and the Biden administration will likely appeal.

National restaurant and franchise business groups are making moves to reverse a new California law affecting labor standards in the fast-food sector. The law was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 7th—Labor Day. Opponents of the law want to take the issue to voters in a referendum in 2024. Bloomberg reports that The National Restaurant Association and International Franchise Association has kicked off an effort to circulate a statewide petition to invalidate the law (A.B. 257). Supporters of the new law, backed by labor unions, said they’ll fight the proposed referendum.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh attended a meeting with unions representing roughly 80,000 railway workers and major freight companies in Washington, D.C., Wednesday. Unions and employers are working to reach an agreement to prevent a potential strike that could disrupt U.S. supply chains. Several rail unions and carriers will meet with the National Mediation Board this week to discuss recommendations issued by a Presidential Emergency Board last month to resolve the ongoing contract dispute. Rail unions and carriers will have until Sept. 16 to accept or reject the non-binding plan from the emergency board. If the plan is rejected, workers will be free to strike at the conclusion of a second 30-day period, but Congress can intervene by passing legislation to require the parties to extend talks, or even to force an agreement.

The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBA) plans to join the AFL-CIO labor federation, the HuffPost reports. This move puts one of professional sports’ top unions, including many high-earning members,  in a formal alliance with other labor groups. Tony Clark, former player and current union director, announced the affiliation at the National Press Club in Washington on Wednesday. He was joined by Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, which includes 57 other unions representing more than 12 million workers.

This coming Sunday, September 11, marks the tenth anniversary of one of the world’s deadliest industrial fires at Ali Enterprises, a readymade garment-manufacturing factory, in Pakistan. More than 250 people were killed and over 50 were injured in the fire. The Maquila Solidarity Network explained last year that the first took place only three weeks after the factory was certified as safe by a commercial social auditing firm. Research shows that simple safety measures would have been enough to ensure that the workers could have exited the factory safely. The International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted a code of practice on safety and health in textiles, clothing, leather, and footwear industries in October last year.

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