News & Commentary

June 19, 2020

Rund Khayyat

Rund Khayyat is a student at Harvard Law School.

Workers across the country are waging Juneteenth strikes over their major employers’ failures to protect or uplift black lives. In many cases, the respective companies posted disingenuous statements standing against racial oppression during the recent strikes, while maintaining policies that disparately impact their vulnerable black and brown workers. For instance, Chicago fast-food strikers marched from McDonald’s downtown headquarters to call out the giant for historically ignoring the demands of its black workers, and failing to provide basic protections during the pandemic. The company, which tweeted in support of BLM, has always rejected the Fight for $15 movement, in which workers and minority leaders called for a raised minimum wage and an end to systematic harassment and discrimination. During the pandemic, McDonald’s famously failed to provide workers with protective equipment or to inform them of the presence of infected colleagues, despite the disease’s disproportionate impact on communities of color.  Prominent companies have responded to nationwide protests by raising awareness of Juneteenth, the Wall Street Journal reports. Twitter, Nike and the NFL are just some of the big names giving employees a paid holiday to recognize the historical date. Many other companies have jumped on board: General Motors, for instance, has asked employees to observe 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence today, the amount of time the white Minneapolis office pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd. 

Meanwhile, job losses remain severe three months into the pandemic – an additional 1.5 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance last week. The continued elevated level of jobless claims points to the steep challenges the country faces in recovery. To paint the picture: in February, the weekly claims were about 200,000 a week, and the previous record was 695, 000 claims in 1982. The numbers directly contradict economists’ predictions that the reopening of businesses that were forcibly shut down due to the pandemic would accelerate the recovery. 

In a recent guidance issued as businesses begin to reopen, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated that employers cannot require their employees to take coronavirus antibody tests. The statement comes in response to suggestions that employers’ require employees to undergo coronavirus antibody tests before returning to work. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), workplaces may only require medical examinations, such as the antibody tests, if they are “job related and consistent with business necessity” standards. The EEOC ruled that the antibody tests do not meet this standard, citing the recent CDC guidelines that stressed the tests were still unreliable and should not be used to make workplace decisions. Under current EEOC guidance, employees may only mandate temperature checks and protective masks, and they may test to check if workers are currently infected with coronavirus. Finally, in the latest victory against police unions, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the police union could not require the City of Chicago to destroy police disciplinary records. The City of Chicago has since 1991 violated a provision in the collective bargaining agreement that requires the destruction of police disciplinary records every 5 years without review. In the ensuing lawsuit brought by a Fraternal Order of Police affiliate, the Court struck down the provision for violating a state records statute requiring approval by a government agency before public records are destroyed. The decision helps the city hold police officers accountable for discretions against community members, despite the union’s efforts to shield its members.

Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.