News & Commentary

June 4, 2019

Vail Kohnert-Yount

Vail Kohnert-Yount is a student at Harvard Law School.

The New York Times investigated ethics concerns surrounding Trump’s Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and her family’s shipping business in China. Chao, who served as Secretary of Labor in the Bush administration, canceled an elaborately planned trip to China after the Times and others made inquiries regarding her itinerary and why her family members were being included in official meetings. The Chao family runs an American shipping company “with deep ties to the economic and political elite in China, where most of the company’s business is centered.”

The Washington Post profiled the U.S. women’s soccer team, which has arrived in France for this summer’s World Cup, as it seeks a win back home in its battle against gender discrimination. All 28 members of the U.S. national team signed on to a 25-page gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer filed in March. Defender Becky Sauerbrunn, who has represented the USWNT in two previous World Cups, said that the team decided to file the suit after concluding the federal wage complaint she and four others filed with the EEOC in 2016 wasn’t proceeding as quickly as they had hoped.

In Law360, Sharon Block highlighted a “little-noticed” filing by the Trump-appointed NLRB general counsel . In a case on remand from the Ninth Circuit, General Counsel Peter Robb is arguing that federal labor law does not protect workers if they are fired for filing a lawsuit or a claim with a federal agency regarding their rights. “If successful, the general counsel’s position would mean that your employer can refuse to pay you and your coworkers the wages that you are owed and then fire you when you complain to the U.S. Department of Labor or file a lawsuit to get your money,” Sharon wrote. She continued, “If the price that you have to pay to vindicate your rights is your job, your rights aren’t really worth very much.”

The New York Times editorial board weighed in on the prospective merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, arguing that it’s bad for consumers as well as workers. “Corporate mergers also are holding down wages,” wrote the board. “Workers lose leverage when the number of potential employers is reduced.” The editorial cited analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, which estimated that mobile phone store workers could see their wages decline by 1-3%. The effect on wages would likely be even greater for workers in the industry with more specialized skills.

A poll by Indeed UK on attitudes toward work found that three-quarters of UK workers “claim they could do their job to the same standard in four days as they do in five.” In addition, more than half of full-time workers in the UK consider pay to be more important than other factors, including a sense of purpose at work or getting a promotion. Even though average weekly earnings are growing at almost their highest rate since the 2008 financial crisis, nearly a third of UK employees are unsatisfied with their current pay.

The New York Times reported that legal aid lawyers, who represent low-income people in legal matters, are often paid so little that they have to work second jobs to make ends meet. As many as a third of New York Legal Aid lawyers work additional jobs, from teaching to food delivery. Two-thirds of Legal Aid staff attorneys begin their careers with significant student loan debt, many owing $200,000 or more.

And for dessert, France 24 reported: “A plant in northern France that makes a quarter of the world’s Nutella has been blockaded for a week by workers striking for more pay, unions said Monday, in troubling news for consumers of the cocoa and hazelnut spread.” Workers are seeking a 4.5% raise, but it’s unclear if their actions will lead parent company Ferrero to “spread” the wealth.

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