News & Commentary

August 10, 2022

Jason Vazquez

Jason Vazquez is a student at Harvard Law School.

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, a $369 billion investment in clean energy and arguably “one of the single biggest investments ever made on climate in the world,” passed the Senate on Sunday along a narrow party-line vote, as Fred, Kevin, and Hannah documented over the last few days, and yesterday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) affirmed that she will urge lawmakers in the lower chamber to approve the sweeping legislation as is, as soon as Friday, when representatives briefly reconvene during a summer recess.

The final bill is moderate in many ways, failing to include some of the more transformative aspects of President Biden’s original, ambitious Build Back Better legislative program, including the $2.1 billion in enforcement funding slated for distribution among the National Labor Relations Board, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—indeed, the union that represents employees at the NLRB published a series of tweets on Tuesday blasting congressional Democrats for “deliberately ignore[ing]” an opportunity to increase the labor board’s funding. The Board’s annual appropriation has not increased since 2014, which, in light of inflation, effectively amounts to a severe budget cut; consequently, Board staffing levels have dropped 39 percent in the last two decades, leaving the agency, according to the NLRB Union, “in a crisis.” “The Inflation Reduction Act was proposed, debated, and passed in the Senate without a mention of the NLRB or its budgetary crisis, despite other agencies getting funding boosts,” the union declared in another tweet, concluding the thread by once again calling upon Congress to increase the NLRB’s funding through the appropriations process, “the only solution” remaining.

On Monday, a three-member panel of the NLRB rejected Starbucks’ challenge to the Board’s standard for determining whether to conduct a representation election by mail, as set forth in the 2020 case Aspirus Keweenaw. In Aspirus, the Board outlined five COVID-19 related circumstances that, if one or more is present, will “normally” permit a regional director to order a mall-ballot election. The Starbucks case, Case 19-RC-297142, involved a representation election in North Bend, Washington, in which the union prevailed 12-2, and the coffee conglomerate requested that the NLRB revisit the Aspirus factors, which the Labor Board promptly denied. The election in North Bend was the 267th at a Starbucks store, of which Starbucks Workers United has won 80 percent.

New York City reached a $20 million settlement with Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., to be distributed to nearly 13,000 current and former workers at the burrito chain, which is the largest worker protection settlement in the history of the Big Apple. Under the terms of the agreement, any individual employed as an hourly worker at a Chipotle location in New York City will receive $50 for each week he or she labored for the company from November 26, 2017 to April 30, 2022.

The New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protections, the city agency authorized to enforce the relevant law, originally sued Chipotle in 2019, alleging that the company owed workers more than $150 million for nearly 600,000 violations of the Fair Work Week Law, an ordinance enacted by the City Council in 2017 requiring that, among other things, fast food and retail employers must give workers regular schedules, provided two weeks in advance, and pay a premium for schedule changes or so-called “clopenings.” New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced the settlement yesterday, recognizing that “restaurants and fast food outlets,” which are “a critical part of our economy and our daily life,” “cannot exist without the hard-working people who are cooking and serving and delivering our food.” Mayor Adams proclaimed that the settlement “sends a strong message” that the Big Apple “won’t stand by when workers’ rights are violated.” In addition, Adams expressly thanked SEIU 32BJ for uncovering and reporting many of the violations alleged in the lawsuit—indeed, SEIU 32BJ filed the original complaint that prompted the City’s investigation, demonstrating the power of organized labor to not only demand better wages and working conditions, but to improve enforcement of existing employment law protections.

Vox Media published a video on Tuesday exploring the steady decline in unionization occurring in the United States during the past few decades, “dig[ging] into a few key drivers of low union density in the US relative to other wealthy countries” and reasoning that “if we can make sense of the historical decline, we might understand what it would take to reverse it.” The 10-minute video first notes that union density has decreased across the globe, meaning that at least some of the decline reflects international economic trends, such as globalization and automation. But the video proceeds to find that most of organized labor’s decline can be attributed to something else, including union complacency during the postwar economic boom, intense corporate resistance, and changes in American labor law that have favored management. Vox’s video is well-produced and provides a compelling, though basic, overview of labor’s decline in the United States, but, perhaps more significantly, the very fact that the media company continues to consistently publish content related to unions and unionization is a testament to the exciting renewal of interest in the labor movement among many young progressives.

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