News & Commentary

November 25, 2020

Leigh Thomas

Leigh Thomas is a student at Harvard Law School.

A statewide campaign in California aims to educate farmworkers about health, safety and labor rights amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to The Desert Sun. Volunteers and outreach workers will distribute PPE and and packets of information to workers in the fields as well as at churches and food drives. A major goal of the campaign is to inform farmworkers about their right under state law to sick leave and supplemental leave if they are ordered to quarantine due to Covid-19. The campaign also educates workers about financial support available if they are forced to quarantine or isolate due to Covid-19 exposure. Farmworkers and their communities have been ravaged by Covid-19. Crowded working conditions, crowded transportation to and from work, lack of protective equipment and lack of access to health care have all led to high infection rates among workers. California Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower announced her office’s support for all California farmworkers at a campaign launch event, stating, “all farmworkers in California are protected, all workers regardless of status, and my office is committed to ensuring that [the laws] are followed.”

Workers at an Alabama Amazon warehouse have filed a notice to hold a union election vote. As The Washington Post reports, the workers seek to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The potential bargaining unit would cover 1,500 full-time and part-time workers. A website created by the union vote emphasizes workplace safety as a primary reason to create a union, stating “Amazon warehouse workers face outrageous quotas that have left many with illnesses and lifetime injuries.” Readers of OnLabor will be familiar with Amazon’s anti-union efforts and recent retaliation against protesting workers. Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted in support of the Alabama workers, calling on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, “the wealthiest person in America” to not interfere in the election. This unionization effort comes as workers nationwide express fear over how increased holiday shopping may lead to increases in coronavirus cases.

The NLRB ruled yesterday that the publisher of the conservative online magazine The Federalist violated labor law by tweeting he would send employees “back to the salt mine” if they attempted to form a union. The tweet unlawfully threatened workers, the NLRB held, even if meant as a joke. Employees would reasonably view the message as an intent to take swift adverse action against any employee attempting to unionize, the Board held. The Federalist intends to challenge the ruling.

The Trump Administration has an opportunity to cabin the efficacy of the Biden Administration’s Department of Labor by filling the seats of several key career DOL positions, Bloomberg reports. Through so-called eleventh-hour appointments, Trump can fill a number of DOL vacancies at the senior executive level, positions that wield significant power over policy implementation. Positions with current vacancies include the head of the policy office at the Wage and Hour Division and the unemployment insurance administrator at the Employment and Training Administration. These positions carry strong civil service job security, meaning the appointments cannot be easily shifted by a new administration.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report Monday recommending actions to improve the Department of Labor’s enforcement of service worker wage protections. The report investigated DOL enforcement of the Service Contract Act (SCA), which ensures service workers on federal contracts receive certain pay and benefits. Between 2014 and 2019, DOL enforcement required employers to pay around $224 million in back wages, and resulted in sixty cases of debarment, a decision that prevents an employer from being awarded new federal contracts for three years. Despite these results, the GOA made several recommendations to the DOL including that it analyze its use of enforcement tools and that DOL improve its information sharing with contracting agencies on SCA disbarments.

The Labor Department released jobless claims data indicating the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose last week to 778,000. That number is up from 748,000 the week before. These numbers reflect the economic strain accompanying surging coronavirus cases across the country.

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