Today’s News & Commentary — June 11, 2019
Yesterday, the Supreme Court reversed a Ninth Circuit decision that would have applied California state laws governing overtime to workers on offshore drilling platforms. Brian Newton had sued his employer, Parker Drilling Management Services, alleging that he was owed overtime pay for time spent on standby on an offshore oil rig. The issue before the Court was whether, under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), California wage-and-hour law was “applicable and not inconsistent” with existing federal law. If so, California law could apply to Newton and other similarly-situated workers, notwithstanding provisions in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Answering that question in the negative, the Court held that under the OCSLA state laws can only be “applicable and not inconsistent” with federal law when federal law leaves a gap that must be filled. This unanimous interpretation was driven by the language of the Act and the unique history of offshore government regulation. The decision comes on the heels of Trump administration efforts to weaken Obama-era safety regulations on offshore oil platforms.
Meanwhile, the Court granted certiorari in the case of Village of Lincolnshire, Illinois v. International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399, only to vacate the judgment and remand with instructions to dismiss the case as moot. The question presented by the case was relatively straightforward: whether § 14(b) of the NLRA, which grants “states and territories” with the authority to outlaw union security agreements, extends to local governments. The Seventh Circuit had sided with the union, invalidating the village’s right-to-work law and creating a circuit split in the process. Both parties agreed last month that intervening state legislation explicitly authorizing union security agreements had rendered the Lincolnshire ordinance void and unenforceable.
Last week, Annie wrote about SEIU being the first national union to formally endorse the Green New Deal. Yesterday Rachel M. Cohen writes in In These Times about how the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA), a New York bill that would decarbonize the state’s economy by 2050, provides a model for coalition building. The bill has managed to garner relatively widespread support from unions and climate activists alike, thanks in part to its strong labor protections. The CCPA has been passed by the Assembly every year since it was introduced in 2016, only to have its progress stall in the New York State Senate. While proponents of the bill hope this year will be different, Governor Andrew Cuomo has continued to push his own plan, which eschews any hard deadlines for decarbonization. Notably, the New York AFL-CIO has remained silent on the bill, mirroring the skepticism shown by elements of the national organization towards the Green New Deal (but also standing in contrast with the Maine AFL-CIO, which earlier this year became the first of the federation’s state affiliates to endorse their state’s Green New Deal-inspired legislation).
Last week, the national coalition of unions representing General Electric workers entered negotiations with the company in the hopes of reaching an agreement before the current contract expires on June 23. The talks come on the heels of local votes to authorize a firm-wide strike. Missing from this round of talks are representatives from the United Electrical Workers, who have been negotiating with Wabtec following its acquisition of General Electric Transportation earlier this year. United Electrical members will vote on Wednesday whether to approve the tentative contract that the union’s local chapters have reached with the new owners.