News & Commentary

February 2, 2017

Melissa Greenberg

Melissa Greenberg is a student at Harvard Law School.

The Washington Post reports that the hold up in scheduling Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder’s Senate hearing is due to the nominee’s difficulties in separating from CKE Restaurants.  Puzder wanted to transfer his CKE holdings to a blind trust, but the Office of Government Ethics has told him that he must divest his stake in the company to satisfy ethics requirements.  Because CKE is not publicly traded, divestment can be more difficult.  In a statement to the Associated Press, Puzder reaffirmed his commitment to the post.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the largest union representing the city’s police officers, announced that they had reached a contract agreement.  The deal includes a wage increase of 9.3 percent over five years and a one-time 2.25 percent raise or “neighborhood policing differential.”  The city claims that the raises for officers will be counterbalanced by reductions in pay for new officers.  Additionally, under the proposed agreement, all officers below the rank of sergeant will be required to wear body cameras by the end of 2019.  The five-year contract will be retroactive starting in 2012 but must be ratified by the union’s members before taking effect.  The Wall Street Journal has suggested that Mayor de Blasio’s negotiating position was impacted by his upcoming reelection campaign and public protest actions by the city’s policemen.  Read more here.

The Washington Post has published a series of articles in the past few days exploring federal employees’ resistance to the Trump administration.  The Post reported that some federal workers have been examining ways to impede the execution of Trump’s policy agenda and have been in contact with former Obama administration officials for advice on how to handle orders the employees deem improper.  While some employee opposition has been overt, such as a dissent memo signed by numerous foreign service officers and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates’s refusal to implement Trump’s refugee ban, other employees have been looking for quieter ways to thwart the new administration, such as slowing down processes or missing deadlines.  These more covert methods of resistance can go unnoticed.  However, the Post notes that federal employees who refuse to act can face significant repercussions.  Debra D’Agostino, a partner at the Federal Practice Group, warned that “[u]nder current MSPB [Merit Systems Protection Board] case law, the employee must obey an order, and then challenge its validity, except in ‘extreme or unusual circumstances’ in which the employee would be placed in a clear danger or which would cause irreparable harm to the employee, or, presumably, the safety of the public.”  Moreover, while federal employees are currently shielded by whistleblower protections if they are asked to violate the law, these protections do not protect them if they are asked to contravene a regulation.  Some observers have expressed concern over what they see as Trump’s hostility toward dissent within the federal government.  Informal Trump advisor, Newt Gingrich, has suggested that President Trump may try and push for changes that make it easier to fire federal workers who impede the execution of his agenda.  The American Civil Liberties Union has pledged to work to defend dissenters and whistleblowers within the federal government.

Richard Griffin, the National Labor Relations Board General Counsel, issued a memorandum stating that under the National Labor Relations Act “scholarship football players in Division I Football Bowl Subdivision private-sector colleges and universities are employees, and that they therefore have the right to be protected from retaliation when they engage in concerted activities for mutual aid and protection.”  In August 2015, the National Labor Relations Board declined to assert jurisdiction in a case involving Northwestern scholarship football players.  Griffin’s memorandum does not have the force of law, but Politico suggested that this memorandum could be read as an invitation by the general counsel’s office for “football players at private universities to begin union drives.”  Read more about the Board’s decision not to assert jurisdiction from OnLabor here.

Yesterday, the New York Times editorial board wrote in opposition to Bangladesh’s December crackdown against labor activists and workers protesting conditions in the country’s garment industry.  In December, workers at the Windy Apparels factory went on strike, and employees in other factories in the sector followed suit.  In response, factory owners fired or suspended 1,500 workers and filed criminal charges against 25 labor activists and workers.  Following the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in 2013, international groups exerted influence to try and curb labor abuses, but the editorial board asserts that the “2013 labor-law reforms did little to improve workers’ rights: As of last year, just 10 percent of Bangladesh’s more than 4,500 garment factories had registered unions. The minimum wage of 32 cents an hour has not been raised since 2013, despite inflation.”

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