News & Commentary

August 31, 2015

This past week, the California State Senate passed a measure that would block most employers from forcing workers to agree to arbitrate labor disputes instead of filing claims with state agencies or courts. AB-465, sponsored by the California Labor Federation, would prohibit companies from requiring employees to waive their legal rights to provisions of the state labor code as a condition of employment, and therefore has elicited pointed opposition from the California Chamber of Commerce, which has called the bill a “job killer.”

Workers constructing Russia’s World Cup venues allege that they have not been paid for months, despite the budget for the arena increasing fivefold since the country was designated as the host of the 2018 competition in December 2010, the Guardian reports. Fifty workers have threatened to sue two subcontractors for 14 million roubles, or a little over 200,000 USD, for unpaid wages. In addition to nonpayment, workers have complained of poor work conditions and lax safety standards, pointing to the numerous accidents and deaths at the stadium site since construction began in 2011. Allegations of corruption and inflated construction costs form a backdrop to this controversy, with one businessman being sentenced to four years in prison for embezzling 146 million roubles of state funds in 2013.

Jeff Spross asks at The Week whether McDonald’s disgruntled franchise owners should ally themselves with their workers against their parent company. Spross notes that many of McDonald’s franchisees don’t like the franchise model, which requires that they pay the “corporate mothership” up to 22 percent of their revenue and comply with a long list of costly operational requirements. And while, as Professor Kalnins of Cornell University points out, franchisee owners are fairly well-to-do, McDonald’s has cracked down on its franchisees in recent years, controlling most of the prices on the menu and squeezing franchises so that they are forced to pay workers less to turn a profit. The result is that dissatisfaction among McDonald’s franchise owners is at an all time high.

A paid suspension typically does not constitute a adverse employment action under the substantive provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Third Circuit held earlier this month in Jones v. Septa, No. 14-3814, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 14094 (3d Cir. August 12, 2015). Affirming the lower court’s judgment that the former SEPTA employee’s paid suspension did not constitute an adverse employment action, Judge Hardiman, writing for the panel, reasoned that paid suspensions are not adverse actions, as they do not qualify as failures to hire; terminations; or changes in compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.

At the New York Times, Noam Scheiber observes that the Obama administration has been pursuing an “aggressive campaign” to restore protections for workers that have been eroded in recent decades. Indeed, Obama has introduced new regulations that would make millions of Americans eligible for overtime pay and a guidance suggesting employers are misclassifying workers—just in the last two months. However, Scheiber notes that, while liberals and union supporters have applauded Obama’s record in labor rights, they also have criticized the President for undercutting workers with his efforts to promote global trade agreements and balanced budgets.

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