Today’s News & Commentary — April 20, 2018

Published April 20th, 2018 -  - 04.20.185


Uber whistleblower Susan Fowler announced a groundbreaking bill in the California legislature to end the use of forced arbitration to cover up workplace sexual harassment. AB-3080 would prohibit employers from requiring workers or prospective employees to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement waiving their right to bring a lawsuit for sexual harassment, discrimination, or violations of other California employment laws. Under forced arbitration agreements, workers who experience sexual harassment or other forms of workplace abuse are barred from pursuing their claims in court — instead, they’re forced into a closed-door arbitration process that can often favor employers and disadvantage harassment victims. Mandatory arbitration has expanded rapidly in recent years: more than 60 million American workers are now subject to the agreements, which also frequently prevent workers from participating in a class-action lawsuit. #MeToo has exposed how many employers — including Uber, where Fowler was harassed — rely on forced arbitration to silence sexual harassment victims and cover up systemic discrimination. The bill would also prohibit California employers from requiring either employees or independent contractors to sign overbroad non-disclosure agreements that keep them from reporting sexual harassment that they experience or witness.

New Jersey hotel workers won a contract that protects immigrant workers and hotel guests alike by guaranteeing that none of the 40 hotels covered in a master agreement will not collaborate with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).The five-year agreement covers some of New Jersey’s biggest hotel chains, including the Hyatt, Hilton, and the Marriott, and guarantees they will provide hotel workers with annual raises of $1 an hour on average, on-site voter registration, and panic buttons if they are sexually harassed by hotel guests. UNITE HERE, who organized the agreement, has also pushed for panic buttons in Chicago, Seattle, and New York after a survey of Chicago housekeepers found that a staggering 58 percent of hotel workers reported being sexually harassed by a guest.

A new analysis from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that a Republican plan to impose strict new work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), would cause more “than 2 million people —particularly low-income working families with children — to lose their benefits or have them reduced.” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway’s proposed farm bill would require able-bodied SNAP recipients to prove they are working at least 20 hours a week. But if a person receiving SNAP can’t comply, they and their family would be locked out of the program for a full year.

Connecticut’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) issued new guidance Thursday warning employers that blanket policies against hiring veterans with less-than-honorable discharges could run afoul of civil rights laws. Connecticut is the first state to take the position that such policies can violate existing prohibitions on race, disability, and anti-LGBTQ discrimination because of a disparate impact on those groups. CHRO’s guidance notes that a 2017 study found that black service members were twice as likely as white service members to be disciplined, veterans with undiagnosed disabilities (including PTSD) receive unfavorable discharges because of their disability, and that due to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, more than 100,000 service members received less-than-honorable discharges simply because they were LGBTQ.

The Senate lifted its long-standing ban against bringing children onto the Senate floor on Wednesday night, after Tammy Baldwin became the first sitting U.S. senator to give birth while in office. Senator Baldwin may just be one working woman. But the change is an important recognition that workplaces need to be responsive to the needs of working parents.

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