Today's News & Commentary — December 7, 2015
A criminal prosecution of a mining executive for safety violations — an exceedingly rare occurrence — has resulted in conviction of a misdemeanor, reports Lydia DePillis at the Washington Post. After a 2010 mine collapse in West Virginia killed 29 people, an investigation revealed that Don Blankenship, chief executive of Massey Energy, had ignored a range of warning signs and had personally demanded “ever-greater output at the expense of safety.” Last week, a federal jury found Blankenship guilty of conspiracy to violate mine safety regulations, but acquitted him on two more serious counts of deceiving investors and regulators. Mine safety expert Davitt McAteer, noting that “[w]e’ve been mining in this country since 1880, and this is the first time that this has happened,” attributes the successful prosecution of Massey Energy executives to the coal industry’s declining political influence: “[Even fifteen years ago, you] wouldn’t have had the willingness of the U.S. attorney to accept that coal industry persons could be responsible. When coal was king, this could not have happened.”
In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Robert Odawi Porter writes in support of the Trial Labor Sovereignty Act, which passed the House on November 17 and is now before the Senate. The bill would exempt tribal governments from application of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in recognition of their exclusive authority to regulate labor relations within their territories. If it becomes law, the bill would effectively reverse the impact of San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino v. NLRB, 475 F.3d 1306 (D.C. Cir. 2007), which determined that the NLRA could apply to employment at a tribal casino where the casino catered to non-Indians and mostly employed non-Indians. Porter argues that the bill is necessary to prevent gaming revenues from being siphoned away from tribal governments, in violation of treaty promises to respect tribal self-governance and self-determination.
The Orlando Business Journal reports that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has issued a final order on the employment classification for Uber drivers in the state. Unlike California and Oregon, Florida has classified Uber drivers as independent contractors, not employees. The agency concluded, based on facts about the drivers’ “significant control over the details of their work,” that “Uber operates not as an employer, but as a middleman and broker for transportation services.” The order also noted that, even though platforms like Uber would not be in business without its service-providers, it did not follow that the platforms employ those service-providers. Rather, “[t]hese platforms are helping people pursue what has always been an important part of the American dream: to be one’s own boss.”