News & Commentary

April 4, 2022

Fred Messner

Fred Messner is a student at Harvard Law School.

Almost one year ago, we at OnLabor discussed the Department of Justice’s then-burgeoning efforts to bring criminal antitrust charges against employers who conspire to depress wages whether directly, through wage-fixing agreements, or indirectly, by concluding no-poach contracts with competitors.  Today, two trials are set to kick off in DOJ’s first ever criminal trials over (alleged) labor-related antitrust violations.  Criminal wage-fixing is the focus of United States v. Jindal, in which DOJ is prosecuting the former owner of a physical therapist staffing company for allegedly colluding with competing firms in a conspiracy to directly lower wages.  That case is proceeding in the Eastern District of Texas.  And in the District of Colorado, the government is going to trial in United States v. DaVita, in which kidney dialysis provider DaVita, Inc. is charged with agreeing with competitors to refuse to hire each other’s workers.  As Bloomberg Law explains, the latter case is expected to be particularly hard-fought, given the significant size of DaVita, the severity of criminal penalties under the Sherman Act, and the novelty of DOJ’s legal theory.  These two trials will also serve as bellwethers for future prosecutions of labor-related antitrust crimes.  As one analyst noted, “[i]f this fails spectacularly, this might be all we hear about no-poach, at least in the criminal context.”

Elsewhere, The American Prospect reported on the caucus dynamics that led to the Senate’s rejection of David Weil, President Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.  According to the Prospect, a number of business lobbies—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the International Franchise Association, and the National Federation of Independent Business, among others—“made an all-out push defeat Weil,” pulling away first Senator Kyrsten Sinema and then her colleague from Arizona Senator Mark Kelly, who is facing a close reelection fight.  And “[w]hen Sinema and Kelly decided to sink the nomination, the corporate Manchin went along as well.”  What is less clear is why Majority Leader Chuck Schumer brought Weil’s nomination to a vote, especially a record vote, with Sinema, Kelly, and Manchin’s opposition clear.  The Prospect speculates that Schumer “wanted the faithless Democrats to be put on the record, as a badge of shame,” but this decision will remain a mystery for now.

Finally, Howard Schultz, the returning CEO of Starbucks re-took the reins of the company this morning.  Schultz has expressed hardline antiunion views for decades, and his return comes amidst the ongoing organization campaign across the company’s owned stores.  While Schultz’s personal views are well-documented, the company is facing pressures to moderate its resistance to its workers efforts.  Earlier today, a group of shareholders representing approximately 1% of the company’s market capitalization urged it to adopt a neutral stance towards the growing union—or at least to consider the risks of “antagonizing” its workforce.  Whether Schultz has any plans to adopt a new tone remains unclear.  In one of his first acts as interim CEO, he announced this morning that the company would redirect billions of dollars of capital from share buybacks to “its stores and staff,” potentially signaling a coming investment in increased staffing, higher wages, and better conditions.  Pointing in the other direction, the company just hours later fired Laila Dalton, a Florida shift supervisor and prominent organizer.

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