News & Commentary

October 6, 2021

Jason Vazquez

Jason Vazquez is a student at Harvard Law School.

After more than a year of impasse at the bargaining table over “an assortment of pay and benefit issues,” nearly 1,500 Kellogg Company workers went on strike on Tuesday, halting production at all four of the multinational snack manufacturer’s U.S. factories, located in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. The workers, represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), have been “working long, hard hours, day in and day out, to produce Kellogg ready-to-eat cereals for American families,’ according to Anthony Shelton, President of BCTGM, but “the company continues to threaten to send additional jobs to Mexico if workers do not accept outrageous proposals that take away protections that [they] have had for decades.”

The news comes only a couple weeks after BCTGM ended their weekslong, multistate strike against Nabisco upon securing a new four-year contract guaranteeing annual wage hikes, bonuses, and increased employer contributions to employee 401(k) plans. Kellogg’s stock surged during the coronavirus pandemic, and in the first two quarters of 2021, the cereal conglomerate has already reaped more than seven billion dollars in revenue.  Those who wish to respect the picket line should avoid, for the foreseeable future, purchasing Cheez-Its, Pringles, Pop-Tarts, Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, Eggo, and several other snacks and cereals, a more complete list of which can be found here.

On Tuesday night, agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raided the Manhattan office of the Sergeants Benevolent Association (SBA), a union that represents the New York City Police Department’s sergeants, and the home of Ed Mullins, who has served as the union’s president for nearly two decades and was the apparent target of the investigation. Indeed, Mullins, an outspoken Trump supporter who last year “declared war” on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), imploring then-President Trump to “send in the feds,” and who was recently described by Mayor de Blasio as a man with “endless hatred,” resigned late last night. An spokeswoman for the FBI explained that the federal agents “were conducting a law enforcement operation pursuant to an ongoing investigation.” The executive board of SBA, which has been dubbed a “hate group” by some and has a history of sexist, homophobic, and racist tweets, sent a letter to union members declaring that “the nature and scope of this criminal investigation have yet to be determined . . . However it is clear that President Mullins is apparently the target of the federal investigation. We have no reason to believe that any other member of the SBA is involved or targeted in this matter.”

According to a new report released Tuesday by AFSCME Cultural Workers United (CWU), which represents 10,000 museum workers and 25,000 librarians at hundreds of cultural institutions and libraries across the country, some of the nation’s largest museums, zoos, and aquariums accepted more than one billion dollars in federal aid to maintain their payrolls during the coronavirus pandemic but continued to discharge thousands of their workers. “Museums with large endowments and multimillion-dollar budgets grabbed more than $1 billion in taxpayer-funded loans and grants to fill their coffers and then tossed their workers to the curb,” the report declares.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, for example, received $3.3 million in loans from the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) — a program created by Congress as part of the CARES Act in March 2020 — and ended fiscal year 2020 with a more than $2 million surplus, but still laid off nearly 100 workers during the pandemic. The Philadelphia Museum of Art similarly received a $5.1 million PPP loan and forked over tens of thousands of dollars to Morgan Lewis, a union-busting law firm, in an attempt to thwart their employees’ ultimately successful organizing campaign, but still let go 127 workers. The Museum of Science in Boston initially had too many employees to qualify for PPP, but it promptly dismissed half of its workforce and then received $4.7 million in payroll protection loans.

Additionally, CWU’s report corroborated the self-evident and empirically-confirmed truth that unions protected their workers during the pandemic, finding that unionized workers in the cultural sectors experienced 28% fewer reductions than their nonunion counterparts and enjoyed contractually guaranteed recall rights in the event of layoffs. Though unions were able to offer a layer of protection to their members in the cultural sector, it remains disheartening that even these institutions not overtly run for profit were willing to treat their workers so expendably during a severe public health emergency.

On Tuesday, staffers at The Appeal, a digital news outlet dedicated to criminal justice reform, announced that they have officially transitioned into a worker-led nonprofit organization, concluding a strange yet inspiring saga that formally began in May, when workers at the news site announced that they had formed a union and management responded by immediately — within minutes — firing employees. The next month, the owners of the outlet attempted to shut it down entirely, but staffers worked to relaunch the site as a ‘worker-led nonprofit news outlet,’ ousting the old management and taking ownership of The Appeal’s intellectual property rights. According to the yesterday’s announcement, ‘the workers have officially taken over The Appeal.’ A compelling piece published by The Appeal last year arguing that the labor movement should expel police unions can be found here.

In Springfield, Oregon, more than 400 frontline healthcare workers at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center, represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49, began a two-day unfair labor practices strike on Tuesday. Union representatives are locked into ongoing contract negotiations with the hospital, as their previous agreement expired on August 31. Hospital workers allege that management has been “interfering with their rights as union members,” according to a press release issued by SEIU Local 49, and “has ignored their safety concerns, refused to offer competitive wages or COVID hazard bonuses…all while receiving $4.5 million in CARES act bailout funds.”

In judicial news, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear oral argument today in the case of Hooks v. Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc., reviewing an Oregon federal judge’s order that Nexstar Broadcasting Inc., America’s largest local television company, must recognize and bargain with a branch of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET-CWA), a division of the Communication Workers of America that represents some 12,000 workers in the media production industry, upon the request of Regional Director of the NLRB Seattle Office Ronald Hooks. The case in front of the Ninth Circuit today represents a federal appeals court test of NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo’s policy to “aggressively seek” Section 10(j) injunctive relief, a court order to temporarily halt unfair labor practices while the NLRB litigates the underlying claim before administrative law judges, which she believes to be “one of the most important tools available to effectively enforce the [National Labor Relations] Act.’ Hooks petitioned the United States District Court in Oregon for Section 10(j) relief in February, which requires a showing that the Board is likely to prove its allegations against the company and that there would be “irreparable harm” absent a court injunction. The order was granted in March, and the injunction against Nexstar was one of the few that Abruzzo cited in her August memorandum in which she pledged to aggressively seek Section 10(j) relief, writing that “Section 10(j) initiatives have led to extremely positive results.”

Finally, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a trucking company’s claim that California’s AB5 test for classifying workers is preempted by the Federal Aviation and Administration Authorization Act as applied to motor carriers. The trucking company, Cal Cartage Transportation Express LLC, represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, had been sued by the city of Los Angeles for illegally misclassifying its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. The California Court of Appeal, Second District, reversed the trial court and held that California’s state law was not preempted by the federal statute and federally licensed motor carriers must comply with California’s worker classification scheme, a holding which the Ninth Circuit has, in a separate case, recently affirmed.

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