News & Commentary

September 25, 2022

Swap Agrawal

Swap Agrawal is a student at Harvard Law School.

In this weekend’s news and commentary, a formerly incarcerated individual sues Amazon due to illegal background checks, and Starbucks workers at a Boston location declare victory after 64 days of striking.

On September 22, Mr. Lerma, a formerly incarcerated individual, filed a class action lawsuit against Amazon and Accurate Background claiming that the companies illegally used a California sex offender website to conduct background checks on job applicants. Mr. Lerma was offered a job at an Amazon Fresh grocery store in March, but the company reneged after its background check provider, Accurate Background, reported that he had been convicted of felony sex offenses. According to the state Megan’s Law website, named for the 1996 federal law that established it, Mr. Lerma was convicted of rape nearly a decade ago. However, Megan’s Law prohibits employers from denying jobs to applicants on the basis of their record unless they do so “to protect a person at risk.” A different California law bars reporting agencies from providing employers with criminal records that are more than seven years old. This lawsuit demonstrates that formerly incarcerated people still face massive obstacles to finding stable employment upon their release. The Prison Policy Initiative estimates that 60% of formerly incarcerated people are still jobless today despite the tight labor market and criminal justice reforms. Moreover, lack of stable employment often results in the reincarceration of individuals under criminal supervision, as employment is a ubiquitous condition of probation and parole.

On September 21, Starbucks workers who were on strike at a Boston store declared victory after 64 days of around-the-clock picketing. Boston workers say the company retaliated against them after their successful union election in June by mandating that all employees meet a minimum number of work hours per week, effectively forcing out workers who could not meet the new schedule requirements. Other union organizers have made similar allegations against Starbucks. Jaz Brisack, a barista who helped lead the first successful Starbucks unionization drive at a store in Buffalo, New York, shared earlier this month that the company forced her to quit by imposing arbitrary minimum hour requirements. “The same thing happened in Boston: management makes up a new policy, applies it to workers there in retaliation for their union activity and never actually puts that policy into writing anywhere,” Ian Hayes, an attorney representing the striking Boston workers, told GBH News. Meanwhile, Starbucks denies that it ever implemented the hourly minimum policy at unionized locations and maintains that it made any concessions to the Boston workers. “Legally we are not allowed to change conditions of employment without bargaining,” Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges said. “The partners at this location are returning to work under the same conditions at the same time that they went on strike.”

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