Today’s News & Commentary — August 6, 2019


Published August 6th, 2019 - 08.06.197


The New York Times reported yesterday on a letter that a group of Democratic senators sent to Google urging the company’s CEO to convert many of its temporary and full-time contract workers to full-time employees. Citing reporting from earlier this year, the letter highlights various ways that Google abuses these worker classifications. According to earlier reporting, Google employs more temporary and contract workers than it does full-time employees. These temporary workers may spend years with the company, often earning a lower wage than the full-time employees they work with. Google also exercises extensive control over these workers, deciding when and where they work and evaluating their job performance. Google recently announced that it would require the staffing companies it ostensibly works with to pay these temporary workers and contractors at least $15 an hour and provide various other benefits. The senators’ letter explicitly notes that these measures are insufficient. Ten Democratic senators signed onto the July 25 letter, including three presidential candidates—Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.

The letter is an instance of federal pressure on an issue that has been discussed more frequently at the state level in California. State lawmakers there are currently reviewing a bill that would codify into law a more stringent test for worker classification. That law, AB 5, has passed the state assembly and is currently being reviewed by the state senate. The test, endorsed by the California Supreme Court in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, presumes that a worker hired by a company is an “employee” unless the hiring entity can establish otherwise. Marissa has a more in-depth discussion of the issue here. The letter to Google suggests that “gig economy” companies like Uber and Lyft may not be the only ones who should be worried about their worker classification practices.

Last Friday, a group of federal labor unions responded to the Trump administration’s attempt to get the D.C. Circuit to stay the injunction of several executive orders dealing with federal labor-management relations. The labor unions are challenging a trio of May 2018 executive orders that would weaken the workplace rights of federal employees. United States District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson had enjoined the orders last August. However, a three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit recently reversed that decision, unanimously holding that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction (see our previous reporting on that decision and the executive orders). Not content with its victory, the Trump administration has asked the D.C. Circuit to expedite a mandate overturning the injunction, claiming that the court’s ordinary procedure—which leaves the injunction in place for a period of time during which the parties may petition for rehearing—risks causing “significant and irreparable harm to the government.” At least one plaintiff has expressed an intention to request a rehearing en banc.

Yesterday in New Hampshire, activists demonstrated outside Governor Chris Sununu’s office, urging the governor to sign a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage. The bill would raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour in 2020, then $12 per hour in 2022. New Hampshire technically repealed its state minimum wage in 2011, leaving companies constrained solely by the federal figure. Governor Sununu has been clear that he intends to veto the bill.

Sarah Lazare writes in In These Times about coal miners in Cumberland, Kentucky who began blocking a train last week to protest their former employer’s refusal to pay them. Lazare spoke to one of the protestors about the need for any transition to a green economy to be a just one, that incorporates the concerns of workers across different industries. The miners had been employed by Blackjewel LLC, which declared bankruptcy in July. The miners are not unionized. One of the attorneys for the workers estimates that the 1,700 former employees are owed a total of approximately $5 million in back pay. Yesterday, the miners took their demonstration to a federal courthouse in Charleston, Virginia where a bankruptcy judge is overseeing the auction of Blackjewel’s assets.

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