Today's News & Commentary — October 5, 2015

Published October 5th, 2015 -  - 10.05.151


Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has just secured a coveted presidential endorsement from the National Education Association (NEA), America’s largest labor union, reports Politico.  In a Saturday press release NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia announced that her 3-million person organization would “proudly support[]” Clinton for the Democratic nominee, believing her to be a “strong leader” who “understands the road to a stronger U.S. economy starts in America’s public schools.”  Approximately 75 percent of the NEA board of directors voted in favor of the Clinton ticket.

A statement from the Clinton camp stated that she was “deeply honored” to have earned the union’s endorsement.  In it she underscored the profound importance of the teaching profession, “[o]ur educators are the frontline fighters building a stronger and more prosperous America,” and made clear that she would fight for the rights of teachers as educators and workers: “I will fight to defend workers’ right to organize and unions’ right to bargain collectively, and will ensure that teachers always have a voice and a seat at the table in making decisions that impact their work.”  Winning the NEA’s support marked Clinton’s third labor victory, as she already won the imprimatur of the American Federation of Teachers and machinists’ union in July and August respectively.

The Sixth Circuit has breathed new life into a claim made by a former Ford Motor Co. employee that she was wrongly denied disability benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), reports Reuters.  Laura Waskiewicz, a transgender design engineer with diagnosed depression and diabetes, worked for the automobile giant for 20 years until she suffered a mental breakdown that prevented her from working.  She was fired and then denied disability benefits despite a Ford-specific provision that entitled terminated employees to employee benefits if they were disabled on the day they lost their job.

UniCare Life and Health Insurance Company, the healthcare provider that dealt with Waskiewicz’s claim, argued that she was not eligible to receive benefits because she applied once she was no longer employed and after the filing deadlines.  Speaking for a unanimous panel, Circuit Judge Alan Eugene Norris, however, found that Unicare had violated Ford’s company policy and that the delay was understandable due to Waskiewicz’s mental illness.  Norris further noted that “[c]ommon sense convinces us that the denial of benefits in this case runs contrary to the spirit of ERISA, which is designed to protect employee benefits, not subject them to arbitrary termination.”

Quicken Loans is the subject of a new lawsuit before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging that the mortgage company’s policies overly restrict employees’ free speech, according to the Washington Post.  The complaint states that the employee handbook, known as the Big Book, violates the National Labor Relations Act because it cautions workers against speaking with media outlets and prohibits other employee conduct contrary to the company’s interests.

Quicken spokesman, Aaron Emerson, dismissed the complaint as “completely absurd” and reiterated that the company “stands firmly behind its common-sense employment policies.” Common-sensical or not, the NLRB inquiry will likely focus on whether the rule impedes on employees’ protectable interests in discussing work-related matters such as their salaries and wage levels.   A federal administrative law judge is set to pass upon the complaint in November.

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