Record temperatures are sweeping across the U.S., and agricultural workers are paying the price. The United Farm Workers has tracked at least three heat-related deaths this season. One analyst noted the dynamics at play, writing that compared to the meatpacking industry, “Hired farmworkers are just as vulnerable, if not more. Roughly half lack legal immigration status, and the labor-intensive jobs they do yield little pay and meager benefits. Most don’t have access to adequate health care. Many don’t speak English.” Adrian Aguirre, for example, died traveling in a company van that had no air conditioning or windows. Gueta Vargas collapsed on the job at a hops farm, which ostensibly allows for paid breaks; his daughter wrote, “No one deserves to pass away at work,” on the GoFundMe raising money for his funeral. This state of affairs underscores the challenges affecting agricultural workers. There are currently no OSHA rules covering heat stress, and lacking many traditional labor protections, agricultural workers face steep challenges improving their working conditions.
The labor backlash continues to grow at Activision Blizzard, the billion-dollar game developer being sued by the State of California alleging a culture of sexual harassment and abuse of its employees. Workers at the company recently formed a working group called the ABK Workers Alliance to help coordinate demands. They have said Blizzard is not listening to their concerns, especially since hiring a law firm known for its history of helping companies combat union movements. As the conflict has progressed, at least three members of senior management or development have been let go by the company. Jeff Strain, a former senior Blizzard employee and now owner of his own development company, has called for wholesale unionization of the industry. He even encouraged his own developers to unionize. In a letter, he specifically wrote, “I have nothing to fear from unionization, nor does any company that pays employees fairly and equitably, provides quality health insurance, models respect and civility for female, POC, LGBTQ+ employees, and supports a healthy, whole life.” Few development studios are unionized, and the ones that are, are mostly in Sweden, where legal protections for unions is strong. In 2018, Game Workers Unite formed to encouraged unionization, and in 2019, the AFL-CIO urged the same in the industry. Given the massive lawsuit against Blizzard, now may be the time.
The U.S. government and Tridonex, a Mexican auto parts maker, came to an agreement today to improve working conditions at its plant. This enforcement comes as an early test of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The company will now provide severance and backpay to at least 154 workers who were fired and “will support employees’ rights to determine union representation without coercion.” The AFL-CIO lodged a complaint three months ago, and labor stateside has long complained that substandard labor conditions south of the border keep down salaries and cause unfair competition with U.S. workers. A telling example of such labor repression occurred in this same case last year, when a trade union lawyer was jailed for organizing workers at the plant. She was only released after agreeing to internal exile to another Mexican state and accepting a ban on appearing in labor court.
FedEx is currently embroiled in “one of the largest Fair Labor Standards Act overtime collectives in history,” a suit representing 30,000 people. Today, that collective added 14 more state claims to their complaint for overtime against the company. The claims span Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin law. The suit’s primary contention is that FedEx “is liable as a joint employer for overtime owed to drivers who, ‘on paper,’ work for independent contracted service providers so the company can avoid certain employment obligations.”