News & Commentary

June 9, 2015

Jon Weinberg

Jon Weinberg is a student at Harvard Law School.

The Atlantic published a comprehensive story by Steven Greenhouse documenting systematic, comprehensive efforts by Wal-Mart to dissuade its 1.3 million U.S. employees from unionizing.  Greenhouse goes through the history of Wal-Mart’s anti-union posturing and also analyzes leaked internal documents and a video which deride unions, “suggesting that unions were money-grubbing outfits caring little about workers’ welfare.”  Regarding the leaked video, Greenhouse notes that “labor experts and Walmart employees say they were surprised at the blatant untruths in many of the video’s pro-company and anti-union statements.”  OnLabor co-founder Professor Benjamin Sachs was quoted in the story and rejected a claim in the leaked video that unions are for-profit businesses, noting “if unions are businesses, they’re the best example of the sharing economy we’ve seen…Here’s the business model: By sharing their resources, including their financial resources, workers make better lives for themselves and their families.”

Politico reports that the Labor Department is on the verge of introducing a new rule that would more than double the current threshold below which salaried workers must receive overtime, raising wages for millions of American workers.  The new rule, which would not require Congressional approval, would raise the overtime threshold from $23,660 to as much as $52,000 in only the second update since 1975, bringing the threshold back in line with the 1975 level after accounting for inflation.  Congressional Republicans and business groups are vigorously opposing the move, considered the most ambitious intervention on wages by the Obama administration yet.

According to The Washington Post, New Jersey’s Supreme Court has sided with Governor Chris Christie over public sector unions, upholding Christie’s decision to reject a $1.6 billion pension payment.  The ruling overturned a 2011 state law which promised annual contributions to the pension funds.

Also in The Washington Post, Lydia DePillis commented on last week’s second-annual “Fight for $15” national conference in Detroit organized by the Service Employees International Union.  She detailed the efforts of the SEIU-funded campaign, which is completely run by workers.  While DePillis emphasizes that the movement has been extraordinarily successful at raising awareness and encouraging municipal and state minimum wage increases, she questions to what degree the organic power is dependent on SEIU financing and also goes into the barriers impeding eventual unionization of fast food workers, and the strategy employed by the SEIU to overcome them.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has signed an executive order raising the hourly minimum wage for state workers from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.  Time notes that “the wage increase affects 510 state employees and will cost taxpayers $1.6 million.” Governor Beshear argues that the increase will reduce turnover and hopes private businesses in the state will follow suit.

The New York Times reported on the conservative anti-union alliance backing Wisconsin Governor and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker.  In the article, it is stated that “more than any of his potential rivals for the White House, Mr. Walker, 47, is a product of a loose network of conservative donors, think tanks and talk radio hosts who have spent years preparing the road for a politician who could successfully present their arguments for small government to a broader constituency.”  Gov. Walker’s opposition to collective bargaining is tied his backers, and the article notes the history of their relationship and his actions against unions in Wisconsin.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of a labor and employment class action ruling that could have widespread implication for class action suits.  Tyson Foods is challenging a $5.8 million award to plant workers who alleged they were underpaid “for time spent putting on and taking off protective equipment necessary for their jobs.”  The key issue on appeal is the use of statistical sampling for the creation of class actions. Lawyers for the workers say sampling was necessary given the lack of records, and that the evidence supports upholding the lower court’s ruling.

The Guardian reports that the an international fund created to compensate victims of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, which claimed 1,137 lives just over two years ago, has met its funding target of $30 million thanks to a large anonymous donation.  Labor leader Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes Campaign called the milestone a remarkable movement for justice, citing consumer pressure that strongly influenced the decision of clothing brands and manufacturers which outsource production to Bangladesh to contribute.

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