News & Commentary

September 3, 2020

Maxwell Ulin

Maxwell Ulin is a student at Harvard Law School.

Around 833,000 Americans filed new unemployment claims in the past week, according to this morning’s report from the Department of Labor (DoL).  The new jobless numbers, which include an additional 759,000 new claims under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, reflect the continuing economic damage wrought by the coronavirus, as well as growing economic stagnation in the absence of the federal government now-expire $600 expanded benefits program, the FPUC. Today’s report also marks the first time that DoL has employed a new methodology for adjusting seasonal jobless estimates, which labor economists expect to be more accurate.

In California, the fight continues to rage over worker misclassification in the rideshare industry.  As discussed previously, companies like Uber, Lyft, and Doordash have bankrolled a roughly $110 million ballot measure campaign to repeal the state’s new employee law, A.B. 5, arguing that the initiative’s special minimum wage requirements represent a win for driver pay.  To the contrary, however, a study released this week by the UC Berkeley Labor Center estimates that the measure, dubbed Proposition 22, would result in practice in an hourly wage of just $5.64 for the ordinary driver.  Meanwhile, the company-sponsored Yes on 22 campaign has assumed an increasingly aggressive attitude towards opponent on social media, including actively encouraging harassment of guest contributor Veena Dubal on Twitter.  These new tactics may reflect the increased sense of urgency among rideshare companies for the measure, as state and local law enforcement officials ratchet up the pressure to abide by the law through a series of lawsuits.

California is not alone in pursuing companies like Uber for employment law violations.  According to a new report released last week by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and Harvard’s Labor and Worklife program, state attorneys general have taken a more active role in pursuing workers’ rights cases to combat wage theft, misclassification, and commercial noncompete agreements since 2018. In several states, such as Minnesota, state AGs have made a point of more zealously combatting employer abuse.  Six states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have also launched new workers’ rights protection units within their offices in the past two years, for a total a nine such units across the country this year.  In addition to employers, several AG offices have taken express aim at the Trump administration as it continues to church out policies hostile to worker interests.

Undeterred, Trump administration officials continue the steady drumbeat of anti-worker policies in the lead-up to the election. After granting temporary permission in the wake of the pandemic to speed up food processing work at U.S. poultry plants, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a proposed rulemaking to make the change permanent. The current standard of 140 birds per minute, maintained throughout the Obama administration, will increase to 175 per minute under the new rule, despite safety concerns raised by health experts. Meanwhile, DoL this week submitted a newly proposed employee classification standard for FLSA enforcement to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for budgetary review. DoL also sent to OIRA on Monday a proposed rule to expand the scope and severity of annual financial reporting requirements for unions.

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