News & Commentary

April 26, 2018

The Arizona teachers strike begins today.  As we previously reported, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey already promised a 20 percent wage increase for teachers by 2020, but his proposal depends on an optimistic economic forecast in future years as he seeks to avoid raising taxes.  Under the banner of the #RedForEd movement, teachers are demanding an immediate raise not only for themselves, but also for substitute teachers and school support staff.  Teachers are also pressing the state to increase funding for textbooks and classroom supplies.  This morning The New York Times published an op-ed video of Republican teachers in Arizona discussing their working conditions and urging the state to raise taxes to adequately fund public education.

With the NLRB’s December 2017 Hy-Brand decision vacated, management-side attorneys are hoping the Board will pick another case to reverse the Obama-era Browning-Ferris decision and relax the National Labor Relations Act’s joint employer standard to the benefit of employers.  A Freedom of Information Act request filed by Law360 revealed three pending cases applying Browning-Ferris that are potential contenders.  Management-side attorneys also say that NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb can readily put one of the cases before the Board because all three concern unfair labor practice allegations, not union elections.  One open question is whether the NLRB Inspector General’s finding that Board Member William Emanuel improperly participated in the Hy-Brand decision should be understood as barring Emanuel from ruling in any case challenging Browning-Ferris.

Next Tuesday the California Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Troester v. Starbucks Corporation, a case that will decide whether the de minimis doctrine applies to wage and hour claims pursued under the California Labor Code.  The de minimis doctrine presently serves as a defense for employers against claims for compensation for short periods of work time often at the start or end of an employee’s shift.  Troester, a former Starbucks supervisor, sued the company in California state court in 2012 for unpaid work he performed closing and securing the store each evening after he clocked out.  Starbucks removed the case to a federal district court, which later entered summary judgment in favor of Starbucks.  Troester appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which in turn asked the California Supreme Court to rule on the state law question it will now decide.

The Boston Globe reported this week on efforts by construction trades unions across the country to diversify their membership, shining a particular spotlight on new recruitment by Boston’s IBEW Local 103.  Women and people of color are underrepresented in the trades, which creates a hurdle for unions as state and local governments increase their diversity benchmarks for development projects.  While women only hold 9 percent of construction jobs nationwide and only 3 percent of jobs in the trades rather than office positions, women who do work in construction typically earn about 96 percent of what men make, the lowest gender wage gap of any leading industry in the United States.

Management at the Chicago Tribune declined to voluntarily recognize the Chicago Tribune Guild, the union of its newsroom employees, in time for a deadline set by the Guild.  Publisher and editor-in-chief Bruce Dold announced that management would instead opt for an NLRB election.  Meanwhile, the Guild announced this week that over 85 percent of employees had signed cards in support of unionization.

Yesterday thousands of union members in South Africa descended on Johannesburg to protest a proposed 20-rand ($1.60) per hour minimum wage, claiming that the new floor is insufficient.  The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), a year-old labor federation, organized the Johannesburg protest along with five other marches around the country.  The unrest is an early test for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, a former leader of the National Union of Mineworkers who took office in February.  The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the country’s largest labor federation and an ally of Ramaphosa, supports the new minimum wage and has not joined the protests.

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