As President-elect Joe Biden continues to announce his picks for various executive policy teams, the New York Times has reported on indications that his economic policy team will focus on advancing the interests of organized labor and addressing income inequality. After his pledge to be more pro-labor at a meeting a couple weeks ago with business and union representatives that we covered on OnLabor, Biden has chosen a team that includes Janet L. Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair, as Treasury secretary, and Neera Tanden, of the Center for American Progress think tank, to run the Office of Management and Budget.  In addition he has selected Cecilia Rouse, of Princeton University, to head the White House Council of Economic Advisers, with economists Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey to also serve on the Council. While Yellen, Tanden, and Rouse are known for focusing on efforts to “to increase worker earnings and reduce racial and gender discrimination in the economy,” Bernstein and Boushey have also pushed for policies to advance worker and labor rights. The chief economist for the A.F.L.-C.I.O., William E. Spriggs,  applauded the selections for the Council for Economic Advisors and said that the nation hasn’t had a group as focused on the role of fiscal policy and full employment “since President Johnson.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found significant errors in the Department of Labor’s weekly reports on jobless claims. They have concluded that the weekly data, due in large part to errors in reporting and processing by states, has both overestimated and underestimated claim amounts at various times. The GAO also reported that there have been inaccuracies with the amount of benefits being given to jobless workers who are being given weekly payouts through the federal government’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. These errors have resulted in people being paid monies that put them below the poverty line in most states. The GAO explains that these inaccuracies creates hindrances in policymakers’ ability to “effectively respond” to the economic fallout. In response to these findings, a spokesperson from the Labor Department said that the agency would begin to address the government watchdog’s recommendations. In the meantime, American workers will continue to suffer from being unable to make ends meet. Nathan Courtney, a 30-year-old Army veteran in Mobile, Alabama who lost his construction job during the pandemic said the following in the article:

“It ain’t a good situation…My account is overdrawn $519, rent is over a month late, the pantry is quickly dwindling down to next to nothing, [and] my credit I worked so hard to repair is now in a worse state than it’s ever been.”

Following up on our coverage of the continued child exploitation associated with the world’s chocolate manufacturing, the Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday about whether chocolate companies based out of the United States should be help responsible for the child exploitation being committed by their cocoa suppliers in Africa. The Washington Post explained that attorneys representing six African plaintiffs who are suing Nestlé USA and Cargill alleged that these companies “have long supported and maintained a system of child slavery and forced labor in the Ivory Coast” that provides them with immense profits. The companies responded to the plaintiffs’ complaints by condemning the child labor and asserting that they have worked to eradicate such practices. They also argued that the United States is not the right forum to bring the suit in and that the child traffickers and cocoa farmers themselves – and not the companies – should be sued instead. The outcome of this suit is significant, as international labor advocates and industry representatives alike continue to grapple with the responsibility that multinational corporations must hold in considering the human rights and environmental implications of their supply chains.

Bloomberg Law has reported on a case the Seventh Circuit Appeals Court will be hearing that will clarify the scope of an employer’s obligation to accommodate workers’ religious practices under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The case of EEOC v. Walmart Stores E. LP is focused on Walmart’s alleged failure to make religious accommodations for one of its assistant managers, Andrew Hedican, who is Seventh-day Adventist and observes the Sabbath. The EEOC will argue, as indicated in its opening brief, that the accommodations he was offered were insufficient because they were limited to lesser-paying, lower-ranking jobs than the assistant store manager position he was originally hired for. It will also argue that Walmart could have made other reasonable accommodations for Hedican – namely giving him a schedule that does not overlap with the Sabbath. Walmart maintains in response that while hourly managers initially make less than their salaried counterparts, they can eliminate the difference by working overtime and having previous supervisory experience. The company also asserts that the schedule accommodations the EEOC put forward would have “disadvantaged” other salaried assistant managers and forced them to work more Saturdays. The District Court has previously ruled that the company acted reasonably.

Finally, in international labor news, the U.K.’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) – a group Bloomberg reports is an umbrella for British unions representing more than 5.5 million people –  is forming an AI task force to encourage private employers and government regulators to increase transparency around where the artificial intelligence technology is being deployed and what workers can do if they believe they are being discriminated against. As artificial intelligence is now involved with many employment processes, from submitting resumes to interviewing for jobs, concerns about it resulting in unfair outcomes or discrimination for employees are at the forefront. Therefore, the TUC is aspiring to use this task force to develop a guide for unions next year to negotiate on how AI technology is used in the workplace and to increase transparency about where AI is operating and how employees can gain more knowledge and control over what personal data is being collected and used.