News & Commentary

December 20, 2021

Fran Swanson

Fran Swanson is a student at Harvard Law School.

This weekend, the Department of Labor announced an extended compliance grace period for its vaccinate-or-test rule, Bloomberg reports. The rule, which was reinstated by a divided Sixth Circuit panel, had required that companies with at least 100 employees implement vaccinate-or-test policies by January 4th. Companies will now have until January 10th, and OSHA will not issue citations for violations for non-compliance with the testing requirement until February 9th where it finds a company is “exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard.” The Department clarified that the vaccination component of the rule does not currently require a booster shot, the New York Times reported.

Prepared meal company workers are experiencing more dangerous working conditions, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. It comes as companies rush to keep up with a massive increase in demand caused by the pandemic. In October, workers at a Bay Area HelloFresh warehouse wrote to Cal/OSHA to ask for greater oversight of the unsafe working conditions they face like heavy boxes stored on lofted, broken pallets. The workers said that the injury rate at their facility was 13 per 100 workers last year, compare to 3.7 per 100 workers in the transportation and warehouse industry nationwide. The company was previously fined by Cal/OSHA for failing to follow COVID safety protocols at this facility. Ileana Chivalán, who works at the HelloFresh facility, collided with an employee who stopped to avoid a forklift on the crowded warehouse floor and suffered a miscarriage as a result. She didn’t understand the forms the medical forms the company gave her because she doesn’t speak English, and returned to work after one sick day. Workers across companies also reported increased stress and exhaustion. Several of the companies have been sites for union organizing drives; while the unionization effort failed at the HelloFresh facility (Unite Here Local 2850 has filed unfair labor practice charges), it succeeded at Imperfect Foods.

In Jacobin, Giacomo Bianchino argues that unionization is necessary to prevent the exploitation of farmworkers in Australia. The country’s new agricultural visa is meant to expand the agricultural workforce by providing visas to migrant workers from countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. They would join a large, seasonal agricultural workforce that is “hyperexploit[ed].” Workers are trapped with “hidden costs” like medical examinations, contractor fees, travel, and housing in remote areas where there are no other options. Piece rate pay—which was abolished in the industry this year—also pitted workers against one another because more experienced workers could earn more. Employers attempt to prevent workers from building solidarity by encouraging them to report those who speak out against their brutal working conditions and by dividing workers by their country of origin. Despite these barriers, workers have won important victories by collaborating with unions in Australia and their home countries. 150 tomato greenhouse workers joined the National Union of Workers in 2017, winning raises, taking back stolen wages, and guaranteeing a right to return to their work every year. Bianchino argues that “[w] ithout union strength, the agricultural visa could become a nightmare for incoming seasonal workers,” but “[w]ith organization and militancy, the agricultural visa could become a weapon in the fight to end hyperexploitation of seasonal workers in Australia.”

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