News & Commentary

December 12, 2019

Annie Hollister

Annie Hollister is an Honors Attorney at the U.S. Department of Labor and an alumna of Harvard Law School.

After months of bipartisan haggling, the House has passed one of the largest military-spending bills in history.  Included in the $738 billion-dollar package are a 3% pay increase for military servicemembers and twelve weeks of parental leave for all federal employees.  Democratic lawmakers have called the bill’s family leave measure a victory for workers.  The measure does not allow workers to take paid leave for elder care, bereavement, or medical emergencies, but commentators have expressed hope that this step will pave the way for broader protections for the entire workforce.

Disneyland workers have filed a class action lawsuit against the resort, alleging that their wages do not comply with a local Living Wage Ordinance.  Last year, the city of Anaheim passed a local wage law requiring that any hospitality business that benefits from city subsidies pay workers at least $15 per hour.  Plaintiffs argue that the city is using tax dollars to pay off construction bonds related to the resort, and that Disney is therefore subject to the ordinance.

Graduate student workers at the University of California, Santa Cruz have called a wildcat strike.  The workers are seeking a cost of living adjustment to compensate for ever-rising housing costs in Santa Cruz county.  Graduate students in the University of California system are represented by the United Auto Workers, whose contract with the UC system contains a no-strike clause.  The striking students say they will withhold grading for the fall semester until the university raises wages.

Elsewhere, members of the United Auto Workers have voted to ratify a four-year contract with Fiat Chrysler.  The contract includes a commitment by the auto manufacturer to create nearly 8,000 new jobs across assembly plants in Michigan and Ohio.

For Eater, Jaya Saxena reflects on a year of labor activism in the fast food industry.  High turnover has traditionally been a barrier to unionization in the fast food industry, but recent organizing efforts, including by SEIU 32BJ and the Industrial Workers of the World, have seen remarkable success.  Luis Brennan, an organizer of the Burgerville Union in Portland, Oregon, says that turnover in the food industry may even be an asset in labor organizing.  As he puts it, “If workers are already planning on a fast exit, why not leave the industry a better place?”

For Vox, Jason Del Ray examines the impact of automation on Amazon warehouse workers.  Introducing robots to Amazon warehouses has improved some conditions for workers, most notably by reducing the amount of walking warehouse workers are expected to do each day.  But automation has also increased productivity and made the jobs of human workers more repetitive.  As a result, workplace injuries are actually more common in partially-automated warehouses than they are in workplaces that don’t use robots.

A report by the Economic Policy institute has found that American employers spend $340 million annually on “union avoidance” consulting.  Roughly three-quarters of employers involved in a union election hire union-avoidance consultants, and more than 40% of employers are eventually charged with election-related unfair labor practices.

Teen Vogue wants young people to know their labor rights.  Using recent controversies at Kickstarter and Barstool Sports as a case study, the magazine explains how workers can legally form a union under the National Labor Relations Act—and how employers might try to stop them.

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