Today’s News & Commentary — August 15, 2018
Gig-economy-giants like Uber, Lyft, and Instacart are quietly lobbying California Democrats to reverse a groundbreaking court ruling protecting gig workers’ rights. In the LA Times, law professor Veena Dubal explains the stakes. In Dynamex, the California Supreme Court updated the state’s test for which workers are employees — entitled to protections like state minimum wage, overtime, and sick leave — and which are independent contractors without those rights. Dynamex, Dubal writes, updated to test for the gig era, requiring companies like Uber ensure that drivers earn minimum wage. Gig companies seek to paint worker protections, like minimum wage, as “old-fashioned” and stifling. But, she writes, “the court’s powerful language tells a different story: the Dynamex decision benefits ‘law-abiding businesses’ who ‘are hurt by unfair competition from competitor businesses that utilize substandard employment practices.” She argues that the wage floor supports gig work, rather than undermining it, quoting a driver who works 18 hours a day to make a living: “I sleep in my car; I eat in my car; I work in my car. That is not freedom.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) just filed an NLRB petition for a union election at a Target store in Huntington, New York. If workers at the Long Island store vote to unionize, they’ll be the first of 1,835 Target stores in the United States to do so — and could set of a chain of similar union campaigns at Target stores across the nation. A spokesperson for UFCW said that the store employs about 200 workers, though not all are eligible to vote. In 2011, workers in another New York store voted against unionizing after what union members allege was a protracted campaign of illegal retaliation against union organizers, including transferring some pro-union workers out of the store and temporarily shuttering the store.
Thrillist writers and editors voted to authorize a strike yesterday, with an overwhelming 91% of workers in favor. The vote follows over a year of contract negotiations between workers at the Travel website and parent company Group Nine Media. On Monday, staff frustrated with management’s intransigence on livable salary minimums and annual increases temporarily walked off the job. In response, management locked unit members’ work email and deactivated their Slack without explanation in the digital-media equivalent of a lockout.
Congressmember Bobby Scott (D-VA), the most senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the senior Democrat on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, submitted a public comment opposing a Trump Administration rule that would prevent home health care workers from choosing to spend their own wages on union dues. As Prof. Sachs explained on the blog, in a new proposed rule the Center for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) wants to prevent home care workers from voluntarily paying union dues using wages earned from state Medicaid reimbursements – a pretty profound display of hypocrisy when the Trump Administration also argues they’re standing up for employee choice when pursuing right-to-work measures. Scott and Murray write that average hourly wages for home care workers have declined since 2004 and that “any restrictions that prohibit workers from contributing their own wages and benefits that support their health and wellbeing would both harm the workers and jeopardize the quality of care they provide for seniors and people with disabilities.” The Members also send a second letter calling on the letter to extend the public comment period to allow for greater public input. You can read the letters here and here.
Organizers associated with the Fight for $15 campaign are calling on two of President Trump’s NLRB appointees, including board chairman John Ring to recuse themselves from a high-profile dispute over alleged retaliation against McDonald’s franchise workers for supporting an increased minimum wage. Pro-labor activists argue that these Trump appointees have a conflict of interest because of their previous work as management-side law firms that advised franchisees (like the defendants) regarding the Fight for $15 movement, according to Bloomberg. Conflict of interest issues have featured heavily at the NLRB this year: one major decision was thrown out after the NLRB’s inspector general found that Trump appointee William Emanuel inappropriately failed to recuse himself.