News & Commentary

November 12, 2015

The Boston Globe explores the increasing risk of misclassifying workers as independent contractors, as more and more companies are facing class action litigation for allegedly failing to classify their workers appropriately. Pointing to the recent $228 million settlement agreed to by FedEx, the Globe suggests that “these legal battles can put companies under new pressure to change their business models.” In order to avoid misclassification, one expert suggests that employees and employers should ask themselves four questions before entering into a business relationship: (1) “Who has the financial control?”; (2) “Who has the behavioral control?”; (3) “Is the service outside the employer’s usual course of business?”; and (4) “How long will the company need the worker’s services?”

The American Postal Workers Union has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, reports the Wall Street Journal. “Politics as usual has not worked. It’s time for a political revolution,” asserted Mark Dimonstein, president of the 200,000-member strong APWU. Nevertheless, Sanders still faces an uphill climb with regard to labor support: he has secured the endorsement of only one other major union (National Nurses United, 185,000 members), whereas Democratic primary foe Hillary Clinton has the backing of twelve national unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers (each of which is comprised of over 1.5 million members).

That Hillary Clinton has also won the support of the country’s other major teachers union (the National Education Association) suggests that she would enjoy “a more congenial relationship than the contentious one the [teachers] unions have with the Obama administration,” opines Kaitlin Pennington in U.S. News & World Report. Pennington — who, notably, serves as an analyst for an education consulting firm and is a former member of Teach for America — laments the potential shift in policy and “framing” that a victory by Clinton might bring. This shift may have already begun: Pennington observes that Obama’s recent call for limits on standardized testing may have been either “a mostly cosmetic gesture aimed . . . at middle class parents” or “a nod to the unions’ consistent push against policies they disdain.”

More on the Fight for $15 in the wake of Tuesday’s nationwide action: Lydia DePillis of the Washington Post considers the effects of the movement on electoral politics, noting that the Fight for $15 is “trying to send a message that low-income people who may have never voted before will get behind candidates who support boosting the minimum wage, along with priorities such as immigration reform and affordable child care.” Meanwhile, Michelle Chen writes in The Nation that although “[w]e’ve come a long way since that crisp November day three years ago when a small group of New York City fast-food workers launched a strike with the slogan ‘Fast Food Forward,'” we still have a ways to go in terms of achieving “structural economic change.” Still, the movement has been successful in more “subtle” ways, including “equipping many workers with the organizing tools to push their own agenda, which now touches on social-justice issues beyond wages.”

The Gotham Gazette reports on a convening of New York labor leaders that occurred late last month. The leaders’ conclusion? “The state of unions in New York City is strong,” proclaimed United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. Indeed, the Gazette notes that “[w]hile unions have taken legal and membership hits across the country in recent years, labor has . . . remained relatively strong in New York.” Part of their success, the leaders argued, is tied to their relationships with the community: “Well, it’s important for us to understand that we not only represent our members, but we represent the community. Because, without the labor movement, there would be no middle class,” said Gregory Floyd, president of Local 237 Teamsters.

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