News & Commentary

June 7, 2022

Travis Lavenski

Travis Lavenski is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s news and commentary, the Supreme Court unanimously sides with a Southwest Airlines worker in an FAA dispute; Genwa workers in Los Angeles win their first contract; and Planned Parenthood opposes unionization in Massachusetts.  

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Southwest Airlines employee Latrice Saxon on Monday in a case involving the reach of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Saxon, a ramp supervisor whose job involved frequent loading and unloading of cargo on Southwest airplanes, filed a class action lawsuit against Southwest alleging failure to pay overtime wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Because Saxon had an arbitration clause in her employment contract, Southwest sought to compel bilateral arbitration pursuant to the FAA. However, the Supreme Court ruled that Saxon fell into the transportation workers exemption to the FAA, which would allow her to proceed in court with her FLSA claim. Over the past four decades, the Court has greatly increased the reach and impact of the FAA, subjecting many workers’ statutory claims to binding bilateral arbitration instead of allowing them to proceed in the courts. This legal development has been bad for workers, leading to less worker wins, lower damage payouts, and less claims being filed. This case represents a small victory for worker advocates hoping to mitigate the damage caused by forced arbitration of employment claims. The impact of Saxon on other workers in the transportation industry is yet to be seen; some commentators see potential implications for other transportation and shipping companies such as Amazon and Uber/Lyft. Justice Barrett did not participate in the case. 

Workers at Los Angeles Korean Barbeque chain Genwa ratified its first contract, Jacobin reported Monday. The contract, covering workers at three Genwa locations in California, was ratified by 98% of eligible workers. Workers began organizing in 2017 after complaining of rampant wage theft and labor violations by the restaurant, winning union recognition with the newly-formed California Retail and Restaurant Workers Union (CRRWU) in July 2021. After nearly a year of bargaining, the new contract delivers workers benefits such as an increase in pay, seniority rights, and retirement options, and requires rehiring Genwa workers who were on staff as of February 2020. Genwa stands as the first and only privately owned Korean restaurant to be unionized in the United States.

Planned Parenthood is opposing a union drive of nearly 200 workers in Massachusetts. Earlier last month, workers at four Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts (PPLM) clinics filed for unionization, seeking to join nearly 1,000 Planned Parenthood workers already unionized with SEIU. The decision to organize comes after the Supreme Court is set to overturn Roe, potentially leading to an influx of women from other states seeking abortion services in places like Massachusetts. Workers hope to see changes such as increased wages, better benefits and staffing, and increased equity and transparency from the organization. On June 1, PPLM CEO Jennifer Childs-Roshak sent workers a letter urging them not to unionize. The letter indicates that PPLM will provide their own “facts about unions, unionization, and PPLM’s views on this process,” and claims that a union will get in the way of providing patient care during a “period of great uncertainty.” Workers responded with a request for Childs-Roshak to agree to “a fair and free election process.” This is not the first time Planned Parenthood has opposed unionization attempts, with opposition spanning back at least 20 years.

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