Today's News & Commentary — October 1, 2015
In a case that touches upon some of the same issues at stake in Friedrichs v. CTA, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson recently dismissed a First Amendment challenge to California’s public employment scheme brought by California teachers union members. The plaintiffs in the suit — Bain v. CTA — contended that they were “‘effectively compelled’ to relinquish their First Amendment right not to speak because they cannot enjoy substantial employment-related benefits and union voting rights without making contributions that fund the unions’ political and ideological activities.” However, Judge Wilson found that presenting this choice to public employees was not so coercive as to implicate First Amendment concerns, and moreover, that authorizing unions to present this choice was the only state action at issue. Notably, Bain was backed by the same team behind Vergara v. California — StudentsFirst and attorneys from Gibson Dunn — which is currently on appeal. The order is available here.
Speaking of teachers unions, does Hillary Clinton deserve their endorsement? Evan Halper of the Los Angeles Times suggests perhaps not. Halper notes that although Clinton is “a dear friend of a fiery teachers union leader [Randi Weingarten], . . . speaks out against the bombardment of standardized testing that dismays educators, and . . . never misses a chance to say how enamored she is with those who teach,” some rank-and-file union members are concerned that she has failed to distance herself from the accountability and choice-focused education policies of the current administration — policies that are championed by a number of wealthy Clinton supporters. And continuation of the status quo, argued Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni, will simply not do: “Our members want to hear that candidates understand that so-called education reform is really an attack on public education.”
Late last week, a federal district judge declined to dismiss entirely claims brought against McDonald’s for alleged wage and hour violations in its franchises. U.S. District Judge James Donato found that although “McDonald’s has the ability to exert considerable pressure on its franchisees,” it nonetheless failed to meet the California standard for employer control; the judge also dismissed plaintiffs’ negligence claims. However, given the named plaintiffs’ declarations that they believed McDonald’s to be their employer, the judge found that a reasonable jury could conclude that McDonald’s was liable under an ostensible agency theory. Courtesy of Politico, the order is available here.
Finally, today’s New York Times Opinion Pages (whether print or virtual) offer a thoughtful commentary on the value of “low-skilled” work. Brittany Bronson, who triples as an adjunct English professor, restaurant server, and contributing opinion writer, laments that “[w]e’re raised, in the culture of American capitalism, to believe . . . that the value of work is defined by the complexity of the task and not the execution of it, that certain types of work are not worthy of devoting a lifetime to.” Yet Bronson notes that “on some nights [in the casino restaurant in which she works], when [her] multitasking, memory and body are in sync, when [she] find[s] [her]self moving calmly around a room full of slightly buzzed and cheerful people, [she] feel[s] confident that not every person can do the job as well as [she] can.” Accordingly, she contends that “[t]he terms ‘unskilled’ and ‘low-skilled labor’ contradict the care and precision with which [her] co-workers, who have a variety of educational backgrounds and language fluencies, execute their tasks.” And this misclassification, she argues, is not just an issue of semantics: “The labels ‘low-skilled’ or ‘unskilled’ workers — the largest demographic being adult women and minorities” — contribute to “poverty-level wages, erratic schedules, the absence of retirement planning, health benefits, paid sick or family leave and the constant threat of being replaced.”