News & Commentary

December 23, 2014

A set back for efforts to achieve minimum wages and overtime for health care workers was delivered in the opinion of U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, who struck down Labor Department regulations that would have meant higher pay for some health care workers, The Washington Post reports. Under Judge Leon’s Monday ruling, “home care agencies and other third-party employers continue denying minimum wage and overtime pay to workers who provide primarily ‘fellowship and protection’ as opposed to more extensive care.” In addition, workers that live in their clients’ homes and are employed by agencies are not eligible for mandatory overtime pay. Judge Leon said that the minimum wage and overtime pay exemption that has benefited third-party care providers for 40 years “is not an open question” and that the Labor Department rule changes are an attempt “to effectively rewrite the exemption out of the law.” A spokesperson for the Labor Department says that they disagree with the opinion and are considering an appeal.

The NLRB’s ruling in Pacific Lutheran University case just widened the pathway to unionization for adjunct faculty members at private colleges and universities, The Seattle Times and The New York Times report. The ruling rejected an argument by PLU that full-time untenured faculty members are managers. According to some studies, adjuncts now make up at least half the higher-education workforce nationwide. PLU put forward two lines of argument for why their adjunct faculty were exempt from the NLRA: that the school was exempt from national labor rules because it is a religious institution, and that full-time adjuncts were exempt because they are managerial employees. The NLRB struck down both, stating that it was not enough that PLU was a religious institution for faculty to be denied collective bargaining and organizing rights, and that the faculty would have to be carrying out a religious function. Additionally, since the adjunct faculty are not involved in the management of the college, the NLRB ruled that they could not be denied the right to unionize.

In “Who picked your tomatoes?” The Chicago Tribune reports that the mistreatment of Mexican farmhands demonstrates why the global supply chain still has credibility issues. While the produce that we import is subjected to U.S. laws that dictate farm practices that “demand an unblemished product,” the farm hands growing and picking our produce are a vulnerable and continually ignored link in a supply chain. The LA Times series, Product of Mexico, details farm worker camps run by industrial growers that are infested with rats, where workers are fed a subsistence diet of soup and tortillas and whose wages are withheld illegally until the end of the harvest. Companies, eager to avoid turning off consumers with bad press stories about unethical production practices in their supply chain, are quick to make promises about their commitment to ensuring decent working conditions in their supply chain. But according the Tribune, most have neglected to take their pledge to the crucial next step, doing their own inspections of suppliers. “Companies can stand out as leaders if they just do the inspections, uphold the standards they’ve promised and communicate that solid oversight in a straightforward way.”

The Pacific Maritime Association, a group that represents shipping lines and cargo terminal operators for West Coast seaports, has requested the assistance of federal mediators in its ongoing negotiations with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, The Associated Press reports. According to a statement released by the business association Monday, after seven months of negotiations with the union representing port dockworkers, the dockworkers and their employers are still “far apart” on many issues. The business association states that dockworkers have intentionally slowed their work pace, affecting 29 ports, stretching from San Diego to Seattle, that are “a vital link to trade with Asia.” The representative for the union stated that at this time the union has no request for federal mediation intervention.

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