News & Commentary

October 10, 2019

Yesterday The New York Times spotlighted a post-Janus battle in Alaska over public sector union membership.  While Alaska has traditionally been friendly union territory, Governor Mike Dunleavy, a conservative Republican who took office late last year, has shown open hostility toward the state’s labor movement.  Most recently, he issued an administrative order aimed at making it harder for unions to maintain dues-paying members.  Dunleavy’s order would require workers to opt in to union membership after indicating that they know membership is not required as a condition of employment.  If they chose to opt in, they would then need to verify their choice via a separate confirmation system.  They would also need to opt in again every year.  Last week, an Alaska Superior Court judge temporarily halted implementation of the order.  As Ryan explained earlier this fall, Dunleavy is grounding the new rules in the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, even though the Court in Janus merely held that nonmembers cannot be required to pay agency fees in the public sector.

Now that California has enacted AB5, a bill codifying the ABC test for employee status, New York is expected to be the next battleground for gig worker rights.  State Senator Diane Savino intends to introduce a bill creating a new category of “dependent workers” who would be entitled to wage-and-hour protections, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation benefits.  However, worker advocates such as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, 32BJ SEIU, and the National Employment Law Project assert that any new law should model California’s AB5, which had no third worker category.  Advocates also insist that there should be no carveout for gig economy employers.

In addition to fighting for the right to be classified as employees, gig workers across the world have also been organizing labor unions.  In just the last two weeks, delivery workers for the food delivery apps Foodora in Norway and Uber Eats in Japan have unionized.  Delivery workers in the United States have not had similar success, in part because many are classified as independent contractors.

The Massachusetts AFL-CIO passed a unanimous resolution stating that it would only endorse a presidential candidate who supported Medicare for All.  The position is at odds with that of national AFL-CIO leadership.  Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, has said they he does not presently support a single-payer plan that would bar private insurance, which would include private insurance plans negotiated by unions.  Single-payer advocates have said that taking negotiations over health care off the table would allow unions to focus their energies on other bargaining priorities.

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