Today’s News & Commentary—February 13, 2020
Organized labor is set to play a key role in the Democratic presidential nomination this year, and most candidates have taken note. Unions are far from unified around one candidate, however; while labor support helped power Bernie Sanders to victory in New Hampshire this week, Nevada’s powerful Culinary Workers Union released flyers this Tuesday warning its members that Sanders’s Medicare-for-All plan would threaten the union’s prized healthcare plan.
As election fever hits in Washington, policymakers continue to reshape workers’ rights at the state and local level. Yesterday, members of Colorado House passed the CROWN Act (“Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” Act), which would ban employer discrimination against workers on the basis of hair texture and type. The bill (HB 1048) is based on similar legislation passed California, New Jersey, and New York, and is expected to clear the state senate by week’s end. Meanwhile, City Council members in San Jose, California, voted 10-1 to expand the city’s wage theft prevention policy to cover private construction companies.
Virginia—long rated the worst state in the country for workers’ rights—has taken up a series of pro-worker legislative proposals this year. On Tuesday, the Virginia House of Delegates passed legislation to raise the state minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15.00 by 2023. The bill (HB 395) would boost the minimum wage to $10.00 per hour on July 1 of this year, with annual increases thereafter, and is projected to benefit more than 1.2 million Virginians. Passage of the bill comes just one week after the House of Delegates approved legislation establishing collective bargaining rights for public sector workers (HB 582). Not all was good news for workers’ rights advocates, however; after gaining some initial traction in the House of Delegates, a bill to repeal Virginia’s seven-decade old right-to-work statute stalled following the release of an unflattering fiscal impact estimate based primarily on corporate executive surveys. \
Arbitration agreements have also been in the news this week. On Monday, U.S. District Judge William Alsup of the North District of California issued an order compelling arbitration between third-party delivery company DoorDash and over 5,000 individual couriers claiming to be misclassified as independent contractors. The ruling marked a major loss for DoorDash, which sought to avoid individual arbitration and now faces around $10 million in initial filing fees. “[I]n irony upon irony, DoorDash now wishes to resort to a class-wide lawsuit, the very device it denied to the workers, to avoid its duty to arbitrate,” Judge Alsup wrote. “This hypocrisy will not be blessed, at least by this order.” Workers’ attorneys have begun using similar mass-filing tactics in arbitration cases against firms like Uber, Postmates, and Chipotle. On Tuesday, meanwhile, Wells Fargo announced that the bank would no longer require employees to enter forced arbitration proceedings upon filing sexual harassment complaints. Nearly 54% of all nonunion private-sector employees are subject to mandatory arbitration procedures, which cost workers around $12.6 billion in 2019, according to a recent study by the National Employment Law Project.