News & Commentary

May 11, 2021

Zachary Boullt

Zachary Boullt is a student at Harvard Law School.

At a business-journalism conference yesterday, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh spoke out strongly against worker misclassification. Secretary Walsh referred to misclassifying gig workers as one of the “most serious issues” undermining the economy, denying workers access to “critical benefits and protections.” The comments serve as a follow-up to his claim last month that many gig workers should be reclassified as employees. However, he did not outline concrete steps in this talk to work toward reclassification of gig workers. Secretary Walsh also opposed claims that enhanced unemployment benefits are serving as a major deterrent to people seeking employment.

The AFL-CIO has filed the first labor rights petition against Mexico under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). The petition alleges that auto parts company Tridonex in Matamoros, Mexico, blocked workers from electing a union of their choice. Hundreds of workers at the company had sought to be represented by a new union led by attorney Susana Pietro, but an election was never scheduled, and 600 workers were fired. Trinodex is owned by Cardone Industries in Philadelphia, which in turn is managed by Canadian company Brookfield Asset Management. Cardone Industries and the current union at Tridonex, SITPME, reject the allegations, claiming SITPME has support. This is the first time the labor enforcement provision of USMCA is being put to use, and potential penalties include tariffs against the auto manufacturer.

Workers at criminal justice news outlet The Appeal went public with their union drive this week minutes before company leadership announced a restructuring plan and layoffs. More than 90% of eligible workers signed cards in support of The Appeal Union, which would affiliate with the NewsGuild-CWA. Management has stated they plan to voluntarily recognize the union. In their press release, workers representing The Appeal Union pointed to high rates of turnover, non-transparent decision-making, and lack of stability as motivations for unionizing. The press release also highlighted the need for prioritizing racial and gender equity. Around 38 workers have left The Appeal over the last year, with the news outlet normally maintaining a staff of around 50. The subsequent layoff announcement stated leadership’s intent to eliminate its audience team and some editor and fact-checking positions, citing financial reasons. Staffers at The Appeal have accused the layoffs of being retaliatory to the union announcement, while management has claimed it did not know of the union drive during its restructuring plans. In a tweet, The Appeal Union stated they had reason to believe management was aware of plans to unionize and demanded rescission of the layoffs.

More unfair labor practice charges have been filed against Greene Kleen, a cleaning company based in Doral, Florida. The charges allege union busting and retaliation against janitorial employees attempting to organize with the SEIU. Specifically, the charges allege that the company owner refused to leave an organizing meeting between janitors and union organizers, interrogated and photographed an employee wearing a union sticker, shifting worker schedules in retaliation for organizing activity, and threatening a worker that signed a union petition. The company has already received a complaint from the NLRB for firing two outspoken pro-union employees last August, as well as receiving complaints for not providing adequate cleaning supplies and PPE.

Chipotle has announced that it will raise its pay for restaurant workers to an average of $15 an hour by the end of June, though hourly crew wages will range between $11 to $18 an hour. The company has also instituted employee referral bonuses of $200 for referring crew members and $750 for referring apprentices or general managers. Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol said that the changes are due to the labor market being “the most challenging he’s seen” currently due to benefits uncertainty and changing ideas about work post-pandemic.

Labor unions in Indiana have cried out against the state’s worker fatality rate. Indiana’s worker fatality rate is one-third higher than the national average, with 4.7 deaths per 100,000 workers compared to the national rate of 3.5 deaths per 100,000 workers. The Indiana AFL-CIO pointed to the low amount of workplace inspectors in the state, saying it would take the 38 inspectors 200 years to inspect every workplace one time.

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