Today’s News & Commentary — May 18, 2018

Published May 18th, 2018 -  - 05.18.185


The Louisiana legislature passed a bill expanding the state’s prison labor program. The bill already passed the State Senate, and Governor John Bel Edwards is expected to sign it into law.  Incarcerated individuals who currently work in the Louisiana prison system are paid between 4 and 70 cents an hour.  The Southern Poverty Law Center has pointed out that these close-to-0 wages incentivize the government to incarcerate more people so as to maintain a source of cheap labor.  To learn more about prison labor in America, check out OnLabor’s four-part series from 2015 detailing the historical roots of prison labor, the legal status of prison labor systems, and “the broader implications of prison labor in the context of mass incarceration and its connection to the decline of organized labor.”  

The Communication Workers of America (CWA), which represents 14,000 AT&T employees, filed a complaint with the NLRB alleging that AT&T has illegally withheld information about how it plans to spend its windfall from the tax bill.  Last year’s tax bill decreased the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, and AT&T stated in January that it expects its free cash flow this year to rise by $3.4 billion.  Under federal labor law, companies are required to provide unions with information that is germane to collective bargaining. Unions representing workers at ten other companies have filed requests for information about how those companies are spending their money from tax savings; and the unions are threatening to go to the NLRB if the companies do not comply.  On April 10, AT&T workers voted to authorize a potential strike, responding in part to layoffs at the company.

In response to law student activism at campuses across the country, fifty top law schools have agreed to require firms that recruit on campus to disclose whether they require summer associates to sign mandatory arbitration agreements covering sexual harassment and other employment claims.  As OnLabor digital director and HLS student Sejal Singh wrote yesterday in Broadly, workers are less likely to succeed in private arbitration claims than they are in court.  Even if they do succeed in arbitration, workers recover about one-fifth as much through arbitration as they do in federal court.  Furthermore, mandatory arbitration agreements generally include non-disclosure agreements, which prevent workers from speaking out about their experiences of harassment or discrimination.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, over 60 million American workers are now covered by mandatory arbitration agreements.

Following calls for action from immigrant workers on campus and their supporters, the Presidents of Harvard and Princeton have penned a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committee urging them to “act quickly to advance legislation that provides TPS [Temporary Protected Status] recipients with continued status to live and work in the U.S.”  This letter comes at a time when the Trump Administration is moving to end TPS protections (which are granted to people fleeing humanitarian disasters) for people from various countries.  Most recently, the Administration announced that it will end TPS protections for 57,000 Hondurans in January 2020.  TPS beneficiaries are granted authorization to work in the US and a reprieve from deportation, but they are not granted legal permanent resident status or a path to citizenship.

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