News & Commentary

July 24, 2019

Alisha Jarwala

Alisha Jarwala is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

The California Supreme Court will rule on whether its landmark Dynamex decision applies retroactively.  In Dynamex v. Operations West, the court previously held that the appropriate test for determining whether a worker is an independent contractor is the “ABC test,” which requires employers to show that workers are free from their control, performing work outside the usual course of the employer’s business, and engaged in an independently established trade or business (more on the ABC test here).  Applying the test retroactively would hold employers liable for past worker misclassifications.  In May, I wrote that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Dynamex does apply retroactively; however, that court issued an order on Monday withdrawing the decision and asking the state Supreme Court to take up the question.  The California Legislature is currently trying to pass AB5, a bill that would codify and clarify Dynamex.

Unionized organizers for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign approved a pay raise proposal from management that would raise annual salaries of field organizers from $36,000 to $42,000 with healthcare benefits covering 100 percent of the costs of premiums.  As Ryan wrote yesterday, this agreement follows a tense standoff during which organizers argued that Sanders was not living up to his rhetoric supporting a $15 minimum wage.  Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir told The Washington Post, “We have and will always be committed to the fight for fair pay, decent work conditions, and a strong labor movement—for our own workers and those all across this country.” 

The New York Times reports that museum employees around the country are mobilizing for higher wages and in some cases are forming unions.  Employees at the Guggenheim Museum in New York mounted a successful union drive this spring, as have employees at the New Museum in New York, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Tenement Museum in Manhattan and the Frye Art Museum in Seattle.  However, many museums are struggling to stay afloat, and this push has lead to tensions between employees and museum leaders, who generally see themselves as art champions in the nonprofit world and not corporate executives.  The piece points out that union drives sometimes coincide with museum building expansions, which are often high-profile and extremely expensive. But: “while wealthy donors are generally happy to contribute to construction projects—often drawn by naming opportunities—they are far less excited about subsidizing unsexy operating expenses, like salaries and benefits.” 

Johns Hopkins Hospital is facing criticism for its treatment of low-income patients and for attempting to block an effort by its nurses to unionize.  Over the weekend, medical workers and labor organizations rallied at the hospital’s main campus in Baltimore to protest the hospital’s practice of suing low-income patients over medical debt.  According to a report published by the AFL-CIO, Johns Hopkins has filed over 2,400 lawsuits in Maryland courts over outstanding medical debt since 2009.  In addition, protesters accused the hospital of harassing nurses and implementing intimidation techniques to stop possible unionization, such as preventing nurses from being able to speak to each other.  “They’re acting like the Walmart of medical center,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

 Finally, The New York Times profiled several civil rights cases, including a suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act brought by English instructors Julianne Taaffe and Kathryn Moon against The Ohio State University.  Taafe and Moon alleged that the university was pushing them out along with several other older colleagues, and last summer, the university settled the case and reinstated both women. However, the plaintiffs still report frustrations with “inaction on other important elements of the settlement” and allege that the university has not taken clear steps to review its policies on handling age discrimination complaints. The article notes: “[w]hen it comes to lawsuits alleging discrimination, the wheels of justice sometimes turn even more slowly than usual.”

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