News & Commentary

July 19, 2022

Travis Lavenski

Travis Lavenski is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s news & commentary, Congressional staffers are unionizing; an Amazon tragedy during Prime Day; the Department of Justice argues that no-poach agreements are per se unlawful; and the RMT union has vowed to strike again.

Congressional staffers at eight offices filed to unionize with the Congressional Workers Union on Monday, the union announced on Twitter. A total of 85 workers from the offices of Rep. Cori Bush (MO-01), Rep. Chuy Garcia (IL-04), Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17), Rep. Andy Levin (MI-09), Rep. Ted Lieu (CA-33), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Coretz (NY-14), Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN-05), and Rep. Melanie Stansbury (NM-01), all members of the Democratic Caucus, are represented in the campaign. Congressional staffers are notoriously underpaid and overworked, leading to “unsafe working conditions, unlivable wages, and vast inequity in our workplaces,” according to the union. This development comes 60 days after the House of Representatives approved of a resolution recognizing the rights of Congressional staffers to unionize. Every Democratic Representative approved the resolution, while every Republican voted against it. Organizers have been at work for months to make this a reality, conversing with and dispersing materials to over 100 offices. The union’s press release can be accessed here.

Sad news out of Carteret, New Jersey this morning as OSHA has confirmed the death of an Amazon employee during Prime Day, reported by Huffington Post labor reporter Dave Jamieson. Amazon is infamous for its substandard worker health and safety record, with studies showing a drastically higher injury rate than competitors. Prime Day is one of the busiest days of the year for Amazon, creating even more nightmarish working conditions for fulfillment workers. OSHA is reportedly investigating the incident, and neither the agency nor Amazon has shared any further details at this time. In the lead up to Prime Day, More Perfect Union released this short video portraying unionizing Amazon workers exposing dangerous conditions in their warehouses.

The Department of Justice asked a California Court to declare no-poach clauses per se illegal under the Sherman Act, Bloomberg reported Monday. The DOJ filed the statement of interest in Curtis Markson et al v. CRST International, Inc. et al, C.D. Cal., no 5:17-cv-01261, 7/15/22, asking for per se treatment of such clauses in the antitrust lawsuit filed against a group of trucking companies that allegedly “conspired to suppress wages by agreeing not to hire each others’ workers.” These agreements have come under increasing scrutiny over the past several years, with critics noting the anti-competitive, anti-worker effect that these clauses often have. The Department of Justice has rallied against no poach agreements since 2016, when the Department released joint guidelines with the Federal Trade Commission declaring naked, horizontal no poach agreements to be criminally prosecutable. The DOJ has brought two criminal trials for no poach agreements since then, but both cases were largely unsuccessful. Despite the  DOJ’s efforts, many Courts continue to apply the less stringent “rule of reason” standard to cases involving no poach agreements.

In the United Kingdom, the RMT union has announced another walkout, scheduled for July 27th, with further actions scheduled for August 1st and 20th. The July 27th walkout is set to last 24 hours and would disrupt train travel through London and surrounding townships. As I wrote earlier this month for the blog, the RMT union has staged several walkouts this summer over low wages, worsening job conditions, and job cuts. The union paused further actions to negotiate with Network Rail, the country’s public rail provider, but has announced its intent to continue the walkouts after the company’s “paltry” pay rise offer. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the offer “”amounts to a real-terms pay cut for members over the next two years and would cut a third of all frontline maintenance roles and half of all scheduled maintenance work.” Lynch has pledged the union will “continue our campaign until we reach a negotiated settlement.” Meanwhile in the United States, President Biden prevented over 115,000 rail workers from going on strike scheduled for yesterday, as Swap wrote for this weekend’s post.

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