A new study out of the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that the existing penalties and likelihood of penalties levied against U.S. companies that violate the FLSA or the NLRA are not strong enough to incentive companies to follow the laws. The study found that a U.S. company would need to face a 78% to 88% likelihood of facing a penalty for violating the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime provisions in order to be incentivized to follow it. However, the study posited the actual likelihood of facing a penalty for violating the FLSA to be much lower. Similarly, the study found that U.S. companies are incentivized to illegally fire a worker for union activities, in violation of the NLRA, as long as doing so would reduce the likelihood of the workers unionizing by 0.15% to 2% or more. Overall, the study found that this lack of incentive to follow the FLSA or the NLRA makes widespread minimum wage violations, overtime violations, and illegal employer behavior toward unions unsurprising.
In California, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge recently sided in a proposed ruling with a group of labor unions called the Coalition of County Unions in overturning Measure J, a ballot measure Los Angeles county voters passed last year to divert money away from jails and into other social services. Measure J, which passed with 57% of the vote, required 10% of locally generated money in Los Angeles County to be spent on social services like housing and mental health treatment. The ballot measure also prohibited using the money toward prisons, jails, or law enforcement agencies. The Coalition of County Unions represents many Los Angeles County workers, such as the Association of Public Defender Investigators and the International Union of Operating Engineers, but a large segment of its membership is law enforcement-related unions. Though the judge’s decision isn’t final yet, she has indicated her decision likely will not change, and the county’s attorney has said the county, which was defending Measure J, is likely to appeal the decision.
Here at Harvard, student workers delivered a letter to the university committing to organizing a strike as the union’s first contract is about to expire at the end of the month and the union and the university remain far apart on critical aspects of negotiation. The university has offered a 0% raise for student workers and a one-time payment of $1,000 for some student workers, which the union says is not enough, particularly in light of the financial toll of the pandemic. In addition to compensation changes, the union is also seeking improvements to the university’s healthcare for student workers, including mental health, dental, and dependent care coverage. The parties have a few more bargaining sessions scheduled before the contract expires on June 30.
Finally, Britney Spears’ recent testimony about her conservatorship, which has lasted for 13 years, has renewed questions about the relationship between conservatorships and labor, particularly as it impacts people with disabilities’ labor. As detailed in her testimony, Spears says she was forced to work and that she was forced to go on tour in 2018. After the tour, she says that she wanted to take a break but wasn’t allowed to before returning to perform in Las Vegas, where she has regularly performed. Spears also testified that when she did say she wanted to take a break from working, it was used against her as evidence she wasn’t cooperating and she was then put on medication she disagreed with. Moreover, because of the terms of the conservatorship, Spears does not have access to the money she makes, while her father is given $16,000 per month from her estate plus $2,000 per month for office space in addition to a portion of her earnings. In her testimony, Spears emphasized how the conservatorship has cut off her ability to access her own earnings, and that she wants the conservatorship to end, saying: “It’s been a long time since I’ve owned my money and it’s my wish and my dream for all of this to end without being tested.”