Today’s News & Commentary — February 14, 2019
Yesterday New York City Council Members Brad Lander and Adrienne Adams introduced two bills that together would require fast-food corporations to demonstrate “just cause” for discharging employees. The legislation has a broad definition of discharge, encompassing “termination, constructive discharge, reduction in hours [of at least 15% per week], and indefinite suspension.” Just cause is defined as an “employee’s failure to satisfactorily perform job duties or misconduct that is demonstrably and materially harmful to the fast food employer’s legitimate business interests.” In addition to laying out the just cause requirement, the primary bill provides for a 30-day at-will probationary period and for a system of progressive discipline. Under the law, workers would be able to appeal discharges through an arbitration proceeding designed by a joint committee of fast food employees and employers and their respective advocates. The secondary bill mandates that layoffs be based on seniority to prevent employers from structuring unfair firings as layoffs. The bills were introduced alongside a report from the National Employment Law Project, the Center for Popular Democracy, 32BJ SEIU, and Fast Food Justice detailing the toll that at-will employment has taken on fast food workers in the city.
Plaintiffs lawyers are preparing to use the Supreme Court’s recent decision in New Prime v. Oliveira to argue that drivers and delivery workers for gig economy companies like Uber and GrubHub should be able to sue their employers in court, even if they signed arbitration agreements. In New Prime, the Court unanimously held that the Federal Arbitration Act’s Section 1 exemption for “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce” encompassed the work agreements of independent contractors in the transportation industry. The Court also determined that the question of whether the exception applied should go before a court, even if workers agreed to arbitrate the arbitrability of their claims. In court, gig economy companies are expected to contest whether their drivers and delivery workers are “engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.”
Members of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing federal workers, staged a silent protest yesterday in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. The employees rallied against a potential second shutdown and called attention to the fact that many federal government workers still have not been fully compensated. The action mirrored a previous silent protest that the workers held during the last shutdown in late January.
For Valentine’s Day, the AFL-CIO has a list of union-made candies and gifts to get your loved ones. Fans of labor movement cultural history will also appreciate the love song One Big Union for Two from the musical revue Pins and Needles, originally produced in the late 1930s by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and performed at the White House for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. The song’s lyrics add romantic flair to labor relations: “No court’s injunction can make me stop / Until your love is all closed shop.”