News & Commentary

March 22, 2021

Fred Messner

Fred Messner is a student at Harvard Law School.

In a perhaps unlikely upswell of concerted worker activity, a group of junior investment bankers at Goldman Sachs banded together last week to demand better conditions on the job.  In an eleven-page “Working Conditions Survey” amusingly presented on Goldman’s own Powerpoint template, the analysts complained of 100+-hour workweeks, rampant workplace abuse, and “excessive monitoring and micromanagement.”  According to one anonymous quote featured in the document, working at Goldman had been “arguably worse” than the analyst’s experience in foster care.  While the bankers have met with a certain degree of mockery in the financial press, their campaign appears to be delivering results.  Soon after the survey became public, a Goldman spokesperson told the Financial Times that the analysts had made “valid points,” which the company planned to address.  And other investment banks have attempted to stave off unrest in their own ranks by preemptively offering gifts and bonuses to their junior employees. 

It is easy to dismiss the bankers as insufficiently coddled agents of a malevolent actor; certainly, little sympathy is due for the getaway driver unsatisfied with his cut of the heist.  But this would be an unduly blinkered analysis of what happened at Goldman last week.  With traditional “hard-hat” work in decline across the country, white-collar organization is essential if union density is to return to anything close to mid-century levels.  Nor is it unusual for occupations not traditionally associated with unions in the public eye—take, for example, tech workers and graduate students—to become constructive labor movement participants.  While the establishment of the International Brotherhood of Investment Bankers remains a long way off, this first taste of solidarity by young workers on Wall Street should be cause for optimism, however slight.

The Senate is on track to confirm Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as Secretary of Labor in a mid-day vote today.  Walsh, a lifetime union member and former head of the Boston Building Trades, is expected to lead a “pronounced and sometimes shocking” escalation in enforcement of federal labor and employment laws.  At the same time, Walsh has received bipartisan support, including from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and has described himself as a “proud collaborator” with a track record of building consensus with the business community.  The direction in which Walsh ultimately takes the Department will depend in part on whether the Senate agrees to confirm Julie Su as his deputy.  Su, who currently serves as Secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, is seen as a vigorous enforcer of workplace protections for low-wage and immigrant workers.  Republican Senators grilled Su at a hearing earlier this month, and no vote has yet been scheduled on her confirmation.

According to documents obtained by Vice, the NLRB issued a complaint against Amazon for illegally interrogating and threatening the lead organizer of last year’s walkouts at the company’s Queens warehouse.  On two separate days in March 2020, Jonathan Bailey led groups of workers in protest of Amazon’s refusal to close their warehouse after multiple workers tested positive for COVID-19.  According to Bailey’s testimony to the NLRB, an Amazon manager subsequently summoned him into an office, interrogated him about his role, and later “wrote [him] up for harassment, saying people felt hurt by what [he] did.”  Although the case settled before trial, the existence of the complaint indicates that the NLRB determined that Amazon violated the law.

Finally, as, Marina, Kevin, and Alexandra have discussed in recent weeks, the Supreme Court will hear arguments today in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid.  That case, a Takings Clause challenge to California’s half-century old regulation allowing union organizers access to agricultural workplaces, could have broad—and severely damaging—implications not only for union organizing, but also for enforcement of worker- and consumer-protection regulation against businesses more broadly.  Arguments can be streamed live on C-SPAN at 10 AM ET.

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