News & Commentary

June 24, 2019

Rachel Sandalow-Ash

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

Following a ten-month grassroots campaign led by the Pennsylvania Domestic Workers Alliance (PDWA) and supported by over forty unions and community organizations, the Philadelphia City Council introduced a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights last Thursday.  If passed, this bill would guarantee written contracts; minimum wage; overtime; paid time off and rest breaks; advanced scheduling notice; and protections against wage theft, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation for 16,000 nannies, caretakers, and house cleaners in the city.  The bill would also create a Domestic Workers Standards and Implementation Board, which would include domestic workers as members, to oversee the “enforcement and implementation” of the law.  Domestic workers are excluded from most federal labor laws, and they experience rampant abuse.  Annie Johnson, a Philadelphia nanny and PDWA leader, explained in an op-ed in March that “domestic workers frequently experience wage theft, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, threats to call ICE if we speak up about our working conditions, daily instances of racism and prejudice, and employers who refuse to pay and who barge into living quarters after work hours are done for live-in nannies and caregivers.”  If Philadelphia passes this law, which commentators say is likely, it will join nine states (New York, Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon, Hawaii and New Mexico) and the city of Seattle in extending labor protections to domestic workers.  Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, who introduced the bill, said that the bill will ensure that domestic workers’ labor in “caring for our most vulnerable communities, whether it’s our young children or our elders, finally will be recognized.”  Betania Shephard, a PDWA leader from the Dominican Republic, praised the legislation, saying, “Now we’re going to have reinforcement . . . so if someone wants to do something [abusive], we don’t have to put up with them just because we need the money . . . If they commit an abuse, they’re going to have to face consequences.”

Last week, Buzzfeed News staff in four cities walked off the job to pressure their employer to voluntarily recognize and bargain with their union.  In February, an overwhelming majority of Buzzfeed News employees announced their intention to unionize with the NewsGuild of New York, which is affiliated with the Communication Workers of America (CWA).  Workers and management are currently negotiating over their union recognition agreement — and specifically, who should be included in the bargaining unit.  Buzzfeed is trying to limit the bargaining unit to workers in certain job titles, which would enable management to artificially shrink the unit by creating new job titles and moving workers into those titles.  Buzzfeed management is also trying to exclude workers it claims are managers or supervisors, even though workers assert that these staff don’t actually supervise anyone.  Rachel Sanders, a member of the Buzzfeed News organizing committee, noted that management “wants our bargaining unit to be as small as it can be.”  In fighting to establish their union, Buzzfeed News workers join workers at over 30 digital news sites that have unionized in the past two years.  According to a Harvard Business Review report, “the number of unionized workers in internet publishing has risen 20-fold since 2010.”

Earlier this month, Owen reported for OnLabor that 11,000 airline catering workers across the country, represented by UNITE HERE, would hold strike authorization votes.  Last week, Lolita reported that airline catering workers in San Francisco voted to authorize a strike.  Since then, airline catering workers in over a dozen additional cities (Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Seattle, Tampa, and Washington, D.C.) have voted to go on strike; and airline catering workers in other cities will hold strike authorization votes as well.  Because airline catering workers and their unions operate under the Railway Labor Act, they must receive permission from the National Mediation Board to actually go on strike.  Airline catering workers are seeking higher wages and more affordable healthcare in their contracts.

Illinois state workers, represented by AFSCME Council 31, have voted to ratify a new four-year contract with Governor J.B. Pritzker’s administration.  AFSCME’s previous contract expired in July 1, 2015, though its terms remained in place following its expiration.  In January 2016, former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner quit negotiations and tried to impose his own contract terms, but an Illinois Appellate Court barred him from doing so.  The new AFSCME contract, which covers 40,000 workers, includes retroactive pay; annual pay increases; expanded parental leave; protections against excessive overtime; and a new labor-management committee that will work to improve workplace safety.  AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said, “The Rauner era was one of hostility to working people and chaos in state government, [but] AFSCME members got through it by standing together and refusing to be bullied.  Now state employees have a fair contract and, in Gov. Pritzker, an employer who respects their voice and values their work.”

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