News & Commentary

December 4, 2018

Vail Kohnert-Yount

Vail Kohnert-Yount is a student at Harvard Law School.

Yesterday, striking hotel workers and Marriott reached a contract agreement to end San Francisco’s largest hotel strike in decades. The strike, which began nearly two months ago on October 4, affected seven San Francisco hotels operated by Marriott. Almost 2,500 hotel workers and members of UNITE HERE Local 2 marched outside their workplaces while on strike, demanding higher pay, better workloads, and continuation of their existing health benefits. Marriott workers in nine cities across the country had been on strike as well, but San Francisco was the last city to reach an agreement. Workers voted to ratify the agreement on Monday and will return to work tomorrow.

Last week, the Miami Herald published an explosive new account of Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta’s involvement in Jeffrey Epstein’s case when Acosta was a U.S. Attorney in Miami. Epstein was accused of coercing dozens of underage girls into sex acts, and his lawyers reached a plea deal with Acosta that many believe was suspiciously cushy. At his confirmation hearing to become labor secretary, Acosta answered questions about the Epstein case but did not reveal the extent of the deal he crafted. The Herald followed their reporting with an editorial titled, “He gave a sexual predator a sweet deal. Alex Acosta is not fit to be attorney general,” in which the editorial board wrote that Acosta, who is reportedly under consideration to replace Jeff Sessions, “is not fit to serve as attorney general… Even as labor secretary, he is ethically compromised.” The Herald is also suing for the release of court records regarding Epstein’s case in New York.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor has proposed rolling back child labor protections in the health care industry, claiming the current policy is hindering young workers’ employment opportunities. The new rule would allow 16- and 17-year-olds who work in nursing homes or hospitals operate machines that lift patients from beds alone, reversing the previous policy that required supervision by an adult employee. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing homes have the highest injury and illness rate of any industry. To support this proposal, DOL cited a “survey” of vocational programs to demonstrate that the current policy “restricts” teens from being hired to work in nursing homes. DOL ignored repeated requests to provide the survey to the public, but the National Employment Law Project obtained a copy, which revealed that the survey was conducted using Survey Monkey over seven years ago and compiled responses from less than two dozen vocational programs in Massachusetts.

The Huffington Post reported that Congress is running out of time to pass a bill targeting its own sexual harassment problem this session. After scores of credible allegations of sexual harassment by Congressional staff against lawmakers across the political spectrum, the House unanimously passed a bill in February updating Congress’ policies on sexual harassment and discrimination. The Senate passed its own watered down version of the bill in May, but the bill has since languished in conference. If a deal isn’t reached before the end of this term, both bills will expire.

Bloomberg reported that Walmart, Target, Burlington Coat Factory, and other major retailers are facing multiple lawsuits for putting pregnant workers at risk on the job. Of 54 pregnancy discrimination cases filed this year, 14 were against retailers including two against Walmart. Workers allege they were discriminated against when they were denied reasonable modifications to their jobs because of their pregnancies. “We see a lot of issues arising with employers refusing to make pregnancy accommodations for women in physically demanding, low-wage jobs,” said Emily Martin, vice president of education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center.

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