News & Commentary

July 8, 2019

Rachel Sandalow-Ash

Rachel Sandalow-Ash is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

The US Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) won the World Cup 2-0 yesterday — the fourth time that the team has won the title.  At the stadium, the team’s supporters chanted “Equal Pay!” in support of the players’ efforts to secure pay parity with the US men’s soccer team.  The US women soccer players currently earnas little as 40%” of what the US men earn, even though the men’s team is far lower-ranked.  As Deanna explained for OnLabor yesterday, all 28 members of the US Women’s Team have sued the US Soccer Federation for gender discrimination.  Following the World Cup victory, the USWNT Players Association said that “at this moment of tremendous pride for America, the sad equation remains all too clear . . . these athletes generate more revenue and garner higher TV ratings, but get paid less simply because they are women.  It is time for the federation to correct this disparity once and for all.”  USWNT player Megan Rapinoe said, “It’s [time] to stop having the conversation about equal pay . . . It’s time to sit down with everyone and really get to work.”


Nashville, Tennessee is growing rapidly — and the construction workers who are building the city’s new hotels and corporate headquarters are fighting back against low wages, unsafe conditions, and frequent workplace abuses in their industry.  Local unions are also experimenting with different strategies to facilitate worker organizing in a city with very low union density.  For instance, the Painters Union set up Alianza Laboral, a worker center which construction workers can join as “affiliate members” of the union even if they don’t work in formally unionized shops.  Through Alianza Laboral, construction workers are fighting wage theft by pressuring lead companies at the top of subcontracting chains.  Similarly, Ironworkers Local 846 set up an associate membership program to allow workers to join even if they don’t work for union contractors.  Associate member ironworkers have organized successful collective actions, including strikes.  Julio Fernandez, a former ironworker who now workers as a community organizer, noted that “Over the last three years, because of the organizing workers have done, wages have gone up from $11 an hour to $18 to $20 dollars an hour.”  The Ironworkers’ efforts have also significantly increased union density in the city.  Nashville’s unions and community groups have also joined together to create an organization called Stand Up Nashville, which recently secured its first Community Benefits Agreement with a developer.  This agreement includes guarantees of fair pay and healthcare for workers as well as affordable housing for workers and community members. 


In a three-judge panel decision, the 9th Circuit held in Nestle II that children who were forced to work on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast could sue U.S. chocolate makers Nestle and Cargill for collaborating in slave labor.  The 9th Circuit first issued a substantially similar opinion (Nestle I) in 2014, in which Judge Dorothy Nelson explained that “the suit accuses the U.S. companies of enough involvement in illegal labor practices — [such as] paying “kickbacks” to the plantation owners to keep their prices low . . . to allow the case to proceed.”  The companies appealed this 2014 decision to the Supreme Court. In 2018, the Supreme Court held in Jesner v. Arab Bank that “foreign corporations cannot be sued” under the 1789 Alien Tort Statute; and it ordered the lower courts to reconsider Nestle I in light of that decision.  As a result, the 9th Circuit removed the foreign defendants from the lawsuit, but as Vail explained for OnLabor last year, the 9th Circuit allowed the case to proceed against Nestle and Cargill.  The defendants then asked the full appeals court for a new hearing before a larger panel, but on Friday, the 9th Circuit denied this request.  As a result, the 2018 9th Circuit ruling remains in place, though the Court said that the plaintiffs “must present more specific evidence of wrongdoing by Nestle” in order to ultimately succeed on their claims.  In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs describe how they were kidnapped from their home country of Mali between the ages of 12 to 14 and forced to work without pay on Ivory Coast chocolate plantations “for up to 14 hours a day, six days a week.”  The plaintiffs also report that they were regularly beaten and were severely underfed.  In 2001, the U.S. chocolate industry successfully defeated a national legislative effort to require all importers to certify that their products were produced without the use of forced labor. 


Teen labor force participation is declining in the United States, particularly during the summer months.  According to a CNBC analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, only around 40% of 16 through 19-year-olds were working or looking for work last summer, compared to around 50% in 2006 and over 60% in the 1980s.  One possible explanation for this trend is that more teenagers are participating in summer school.  Whereas only around 10% of teenagers were enrolled in summer classes in 1985, that number has increased to 45% today.

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