News & Commentary

December 15, 2020

Jon Levitan

Jon Levitan is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

As India’s massive farmers’ strike reaches its 20th day, the leaders of farmers’ unions escalated their protests yesterday by holding a day long hunger strike. The strike has been notable for not only its size but also its militant tactics: over the weekend farmers blocked a major highway into Delhi after the police stopped their march into the capital city. The strikers seek the repeal of three laws that would deregulate India’s enormous agriculture sector – nearly 60 percent of Indians rely on agriculture to make a living. The laws, backed by India’s right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, would allow farmers to sell products to private buyers. Currently, farmers only sell to government-owned wholesale markets, where farmers are guaranteed a certain minimum price for their crops. Essentially, then, the new laws would devastate small farmers and benefit the massive corporations able to withstand lower prices. Strike leaders have used a diversity of tactics to repeal the laws: they have negotiated with the government, filed a lawsuit seeking the invalidation of the laws, and have threatened to block trains into Delhi if the laws remain in effect.

Back stateside, the District of Columbia is on the cusp of essentially outlawing all non-compete agreements (the bill has a carveout for doctors making more than $250,000 per year). It would be, by a significant margin, the most expansive recent ban on non-competes in the country. Other states, including DC-neighbors Virginia and Maryland, have recently restricted the use of non-competes for low-wage workers, but not to the extent that DC promises to. Non-competes are unenforceable in California, Oklahoma and North Dakota, but the DC bill would outlaw their use entirely, and fine employers who insert them into employment contracts. The DC council passed the bill 12-0, which would be a large enough margin to override a potential veto by Mayor Murial Bowser, who has expressed concerns about the bill’s potential to “[create]… uncertainty for the business community.”

The pandemic has only worsened on the job sexual harassment suffered by tipped food service workers. In Massachusetts, according to a recent report by One Fair Wage, over half of all tipped food service workers reported that sexualized comments from customers have increased since the pandemic began. Tipped workers, of course, face immense pressure not to anger customers, even those who are sexually harassing them, since the workers rely directly on the customers for the bulk of their income. Making the pressure even worse, 87 percent of Massachusetts workers’ tips have declined since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, despite rapidly increasing COVID rates in the state, indoor dining remains allowed in Massachusetts.

Finally, the five-year federal corruption investigation into the United Auto Workers (UAW) is nearing its end. The union has reached an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit to “pay $1.5 million to settle tax issues, make significant reforms and be overseen by an independent monitor for six years.” Although the investigation to the union itself is ended by this agreement, inquiries against individuals may still come. As of now, 15 former UAW officials have been charged in the course of the investigation, including former Presidents Gary Jones and Dennis Williams, who both pleaded guilty to embezzling union funds.  

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