News & Commentary

June 30, 2016

Hannah Belitz

Hannah Belitz is a student at Harvard Law School.

The New York Times reports that collapsed economic prospects in Nepal have driven many Nepalis to work in Afghanistan as security guards at foreign embassies.  In addition to enjoying fewer privileges than their “white brothers” and having to pay thousands of dollars in broker fees, they are taken around Kabul in ordinary minibuses, as opposed to the armored cars that protect many Western contractors.  This can have deadly consequences: last week a Taliban suicide bomber struck the guards’ commuter bus, killing 13 Nepalese and two Indian contractors who worked as security guards at the Canadian embassy.  The attack was one of the deadliest on foreign workers in Kabul, and served as “another example of how the South Asian contractors who have become mainstays in places like Afghanistan and Iraq are vulnerable in ways that many of their Western counterparts are not.”

On Tuesday, the D.C. Council was scheduled to vote on a “fair scheduling” bill, but Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) withdrew his proposal before the full council could discuss it or vote.  According to the Washington Post, this constitutes a “minor victory” for the retail and food industries, which have launched a major lobbying effort to kill the bill.  As it currently stands, San Francisco is the only city that bans “just-in-time” scheduling, a practice that requires workers to be available at a moment’s notice.  The practice can minimize labor costs, but it also “wreaks havoc on the lives of low-wage workers.”  The D.C. bill, if passed, “would prohibit employers with more than 40 locations nationwide from changing workers’ schedules less than two weeks in advance.”  If changes are made after that, employees must receive extra compensation.

United Airlines and leaders of its flight attendants’ union, the Association of Flight Attendants, have reached agreement on a new labor contract.  As the New York Times notes, the contract “will unify the cabin crews for the first time since United’s merger with Continental Airlines more than five years ago.”  After the merger, other aspects of the combined airlines were integrated, but the company’s 25,000 flight attendants have continued to operate “as if they still worked for two separate airlines.”  The agreement still requires a vote by the union’s full membership, but if the full union votes yes, flight attendants’ pay will rise to a level that the union says is the highest in the industry.

The Christian Science Monitor explains how the Fight for 15 movement has “reinvigorated elements of the American labor movement,” sparking new efforts to recast century-old labor laws.  Although the Fight for 15 movement started, for many, as a way to earn sufficient wages to “take care of . . . family,” it has spurred change on a much wider scale.  The CS Monitor points to a number of recent changes to illustrate this point: new minimum wage laws in California and New York, as well as in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles; the Obama administration’s decision to raise the overtime ceiling; the NLRB’s revised standard for  determining joint-employer status; and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s lawsuit against Domino’s parent company, relying on the expanded definition of a joint-employer to hold it liable for franchisees accused of underpaying workers.

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