News & Commentary

November 17, 2020

Jon Levitan

Jon Levitan is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

We are in the eighth month of the pandemic and millions of people living in America are adjusting to the new normal. For undocumented immigrants in New York City, the new normal has been profoundly difficult. With the jobs they came to this country for eliminated, immigrants like Christina Sanchez have been unable to generate as much income to support themselves and their families. Worse, undocumented immigrants are shut out of pandemic relief programs because of their lack of immigration status. A common response to this crisis, according to a New York Times feature, has been immigrants returning to the work they did in their home countries: street vending. But the new street vendors are facing a problem they would not have at home, a lack of permits. New York only issues a very limited amount of street-vending permits, and while the police have stopped ticketing vendors during the pandemic, there are six other city agencies who can issue fines, which vendors say “can quickly add up to thousands of dollars.” Vendors, in response, have organized with other undocumented workers and Make the Road New York, a workers’ center, to advocate for a bill that would tax the wealthiest New Yorkers and give money to undocumented workers.

Farther up north, the hospitality industry has been so devastated by the pandemic that the Boston Marriott Copley Place, the city’s second largest hotel, is firing half its workforce. The terminations are not themselves inherently surprising – Boston’s hospitality industry has been the hardest hit in the country. But Marriott is providing workers with severance packages well below what the fired workers expected, and will not guarantee them their jobs back if and when business picks up. While the Marriott workers are non-union, Carlos Aramayo, the President of UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents over 6,000 hotel workers in Boston, called the failure to give the terminated workers a chance to get their old jobs back “completely unacceptable.” Patricia Tchoumi, a former concierge attendant said after her firing, “I am left with nothing — no job and barely enough money to survive…[Marriott] told us we were all a family. That is not the way we were treated.”

The threat of mass layoffs is not just limited to the private sector. In the capital, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA or “Metro”) may offer buyouts to avoid having to lay off 1,400 workers. Metro is considering a plan to offer retirement-eligible employees a one time bonus of $15,000 if they retire, and Metro would attempt to not fill the vacated positions. But if not enough employees accept the buyout, then Metro plans to layoff employees, and the board has already authorized up to 1,400 layoffs. The financial nightmare that WMATA is in is partly attributable to the pandemic and the lack of fares from riders, but another major factor is the federal government’s inability and unwillingness to pass a second COVID relief bill. Metro received $767 million from the CARES act in March, but that money will run shortly.

This blog may pay a lot of attention to the internal politics of the labor movement, but there is also drama this week on the management-side. The Center for Workplace Compliance (CWC), a nonprofit dedicated to “helping its member employers understand and manage their workplace compliance requirements and risks,” has sued Littler Mendelson, one of the largest management-side labor and employment law firms. The suit alleges that Littler attorneys illegally downloaded CWC copyrighted information and presented it as their own work. The Littler attorneys have apparently been misusing CWC publications, memoranda, and presentations since 2018. 

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