News & Commentary

August 14, 2018

Vail Kohnert-Yount

Vail Kohnert-Yount is a student at Harvard Law School.

President Trump acknowledged on Twitter on Monday that the White House required staff to sign nondisclosure agreements, which his aides have declined to confirm for months. Although legal experts say such agreements are essentially unenforceable for government employees because they infringe on First Amendment rights, the admission raises the question of how nondisclosure agreements—even those that are clearly unenforceable—chill employees’ reports of wrongdoing in their workplaces.

A legal reporter wrote about how employment contracts are rolling back workers’ rights in insidious ways—including her own experience signing a non-compete clause in her employment contract with a legal news publisher. Stephanie Russell-Kraft, now a freelance journalist, shared her not-uncommon story about being unaware of the non-compete provision in her employment contract with Law360 until she left for a new job. “Non-compete provisions are often buried deep in the piles of paper passed to employees on their first day of work,” Russell-Kraft wrote in The Progressive. “They’re similar in that regard to mandatory arbitration provisions, which bar workers from bringing collective claims against their employers in court.” The proliferation of non-compete, non-disparagement, and mandatory arbitration clauses in a society where social benefits like health care are tied to employment contracts has created “a new kind of indentured servitude,” she argues.

Over the weekend, thousands of security officers in Silicon Valley ratified their first contract in one of the largest private sector organizing efforts in California history. The SEIU United Service Workers West union approved a contract with four major security services companies, Securitas, Allied Universal, G4S and Cypress Security, some of whom provide services to tech companies including Facebook and Google. The contract will raise wages up to $1.20 an hour by January and make employers contribute more money for health care costs.

The New York Times editorial board investigated why long-haul truckers’ paychecks keep falling, even as the trucking industry complains it can’t find enough drivers. Ultimately, the federal government’s deregulation of the trucking industry beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, which weakened unions and created bigger financial incentives to lower costs, started the decline in truckers’ real wages, the board concluded.

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