Today’s News & Commentary — March 26, 2019
Thousands of Uber drivers went on strike yesterday in Los Angeles after Uber slashed its per-mile pay by 25% in southern California. Drivers will now earn 60 cents per mile instead of 80 cents, which is just 2 cents above the IRS standard mileage rate of 58 cents. As independent contractors, drivers in the gig economy have no right to unionize under federal law, nor are they eligible for employee benefits, overtime, or a minimum wage. Monday’s strike is the latest sign that independent contractors are willing to organize anyway.
Yesterday was the 108th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which 146 workers, mostly teenage immigrant girls, died because of grotesque safety conditions, including locked exit doors and an inadequate fire escape. The fire led to the founding of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, as well as the passage of the National Labor Relations Act. Frances Perkins, who went on to serve as Secretary of Labor for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, witnessed the disaster firsthand. As Secretary of Labor, she helped push the Wagner Act into law, which guaranteed workers the right to organize. The minimum wage, the eight-hour workday, overtime pay, worker’s and unemployment compensation, as well as sprinkler systems, multiple exits, fire alarms, and doors required to open from the inside are all standards that came directly from those reforms. The day the factory burned, Perkins said, “was the day the New Deal began.”
The Texas Observer revealed that lobbyists for Handy.com essentially dictated a rule to the Texas Workforce Commission that would give legal shelter to gig economy companies who don’t want to treat workers like employees. The Observer and the Workers Defense Project obtained emails and other documents that showed that the agency’s proposed rule was lifted almost entirely verbatim from suggested language provided to the commission by Handy’s lobbyists, even though the Commission originally denied input from “outside sources when drafting proposed rules.”
Law students across the country launched a petition today asking the National Association for Law Placement, a group that oversees legal recruiting, to publish information about whether law firms require forced arbitration and non-disclosure agreements as a condition of employment for any of their employees, including non-lawyers. Students argue these contracts are harmful because they shift claims of misconduct at work, such as discrimination, sexual harassment, or denials of family leave, out of court and into secretive proceedings that often unfairly favor the employer.
Teen Vogue profiled the struggles of fast food workers in today’s economy, including low wages, poor health care benefits, and inconsistent scheduling. Fast food workers at the Portland, Oregon, restaurant chain Little Big Burger are trying to unionize, joining a small number of fast food workers who have attempted to unionize in recent years. The 3.65 million fast food workers in the U.S. are among the lowest-paid and most marginalized workers in American society. A recent study by the Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education found that 52% of fast food workers depend on public assistance.