News & Commentary

April 5, 2018

Emily Miller

Emily Miller is a student at Harvard Law School.

The Washington Post recently commented on the long delays faced by federal employees alleging sexual harassment in the workplace, with some lawyers and federal officials feeling that the federal government is lagging behind the private sector in terms of addressing harassment complaints. According to a recent study, 1 in 5 women at large federal agencies say they have been subjected to inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace, but less ten 8 percent of surveyed employees believe corrective action has been taken against their harassers.  One possible reason is that federal workers face different roadblocks than their private sector counterparts when filing harassment suits, including a shorter filing window, time-consuming administrative requirements and damages caps if the government is ultimately found liable.  According to Chai Feldblum, a commissioner on the EEOC, “[t]he biggest problem is that it takes way too long to get relief…. in harassment cases, the delay can be devastating.”

The U.S. has begun to shift its focus in NAFTA talks with Canada and Mexico to labor, pushing for more protective workers’ rights standards, such as a requirement that certain parts of imported vehicles may not cross the U.S. border duty-free unless they come from a zone paying $15 an hour or more to its workers. According to the Wall Street Journal, the proposal is intended to bring more jobs back to the US while simultaneously encouraging better standards abroad.  U.S. labor unions have long backed proposals for NAFTA to require more stringent labor standards, although representatives of Mexico’s private sector have voiced strong opposition to “any plan that imposes prices controls on labor or salaries.”

The New York Times published an op-ed drawing attention to the use of forced labor in deportation facilities by private prison companies. Two of the largest private prison companies, GEO and CoreCivic are currently facing lawsuits alleging violations of the 13th Amendment, state minimum wage laws, and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.  According to the author, individuals held in deportation facilities are paid 1.25 to 6 percent of the federal minimum wage for obligatory 8-hour shifts.  Last month, 18 members of the House of Representatives wrote to the departments of Labor, Justice, and Homeland Security warning that if they do not intervene in the detainees’ lawsuits, “immigration enforcement efforts will be thwarted.”

The Seattle City Council is considering setting minimum base fares for Uber and Lyft rides in a move that opponents say will boost driver wages. Seattle would be the first city to set a minimum base fare for ride-sharing services.

As the Department of Labor begins to roll out its pilot program allowing employers to voluntarily self-report minimum wage violations, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman vowed to continue prosecuting wage violations under state law, even where businesses participate in the federal program. The program, which Schneiderman labeled a “Get Out of Jail Free Card,” allows employers to avoid penalties if they self-report wage violations to the federal government.

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