News & Commentary

June 27, 2018

The Supreme Court holds this morning in Janus v. AFSCME that public sector union fees violate “the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”  The majority opinion was written by Justice Alito and joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and Gorsuch.  Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, filed separate dissents.  OnLabor’s Maddy Joseph will have a more complete analysis shortly.

Last night, District Council 37, New York City’s largest public sector union, reached a tentative contract agreement with the city.  Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the new contract would give DC 37 members a 2.25% raise on September 26 of this year and another 3% raise by October 2019.  Union members will also receive up to 12 weeks of family leave as part of a statewide program.  Henry Garraido, DC 37’s executive director, explained that the contract was negotiated in anticipation of today’s Janus decision.  DC 37, which is affiliated with AFSCME, represents approximately 100,000 workers and accounts for almost a quarter of municipal employees

Nurses at Johns Hopkins Hospital have accused their employer of impeding unionization efforts.  A group filed a formal charge with the National Labor Relations Board yesterday, alleging that hospital management prevented nursing staff from discussing unionization during breaks and hired anti-union consultants to dissuade employees from signing union cards.  Helen Paik, a registered nurse at Johns Hopkins, stated that, “[i]t is a shame that my colleagues are subjected to misinformation and intimidation by labor consultants who roam our units falsely claiming to be neutral.”  A spokesperson for Johns Hopkins Medicine stated that the hospital intended to respect its nurses’ “right to support or oppose a union.”  The Hopkins nurses have been trying to unionize with National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United, which represents 150,000 registered nurses, since at least March of this year.

Bloomberg reports that prosecutors in New York and California are increasingly prosecuting wage theft  as a crime.  State and county prosecutors are reportedly focusing on industries that pay low wages and hire temporary workers, including construction, hospitality, janitorial services, and home care providers.  Proponents of wage theft criminalization argue that recent policy changes and court decisions, including the Supreme Court’s upholding of class and collective action bars in Murphy Oil,  have made workers less likely to file complaints and that greater deterrence is needed.  Critics respond that prosecutors wield too much power over employers who often have good intentions but find it difficult to comply with a complex web of federal, state, and local employment laws.  Former New York state Labor Bureau chief Terri Gerstein, who has written for OnLabor, noted that it can be very difficult for prosecutors to prove that an employer knowingly violated wage and hour laws in criminal court.  OnLabor recently hosted a debate on wage theft criminalization, with contributions from Ben Levin and Terri Gerstein and David Seligman (and see Levin’s closing reply here).

In the U.K., Uber won an appeal to regain its taxi license in London.  Last September, transport authorities revoked the company’s operating license after finding that it “demonstrate[d] a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications.”  Now, however, Uber will be able to operate in London for at least the next 15 months so long as it institutes several cultural changes, including appointing new leaders in London, updating its police reporting standards, sharing traffic data with the city, and ensuring that its drivers are not overworked.  It is estimated that Uber has around 3.6 million customers and 45,000 drivers in London.  Uber must treat its U.K. drivers as employees and pay them a “national living wage” per a 2016 British employment tribunal ruling.

In other gig economy news, New York City lawmakers are likely to pass a bill that will require online rental services like Airbnb to regularly disclose the addresses of its listings and identities of its hosts to the city’s Office of Special Enforcement.  The City Council hopes that the bill will help crack down on illegal hotels in residential buildings, which many think have contributed to an affordable housing crisis.  The bill would impose a $25,000 fine on companies that fail to comply.  Josh Meltzer, Airbnb’s head of northeast public policy, accused the Council of putting “the interests of the hotel industry above the interests of New Yorkers” and noted that the typical Airbnb host in New York City earns only $6,400 per year, indicating that “most hosts are not full-time ‘commercial’ operators.”  The Office of Special Enforcement, however, estimates that 20 to 30 percent of online listings operate “with commercial frequency.”

Finally, Germany plans to raise the national minimum wage from 8.14 euros per hour to 9.19 euros per hour in the next year.  It will raise the minimum wage again in 2020 to 9.35 euros per hour.  Germany last raised its minimum wage in 2017.

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