News & Commentary

August 1, 2021

Nikita Rumsey

Nikita Rumsey is a student at Harvard Law School.

The federal eviction moratorium, which has been in place since September 2020, will expire this weekend, after the Biden administration declined to extend it and Congress failed to act before departing for summer recess. Now millions of tenants—an estimated 3.6 million tenants, according to one survey, being at least “somewhat likely” to face eviction this summer—are at risk of imminently losing their homes, as landlords rush to recoup lost revenues while state governments continue to lag in their distribution of the emergency rental aid that Congress authorized last year.

On Thursday, the White House abruptly announced that it would not extend the moratorium in light of mounting legal challenges, citing a Supreme Court order last month that permitted the federal moratorium to remain in place through July but expressed doubts about the CDC’s legal authority and suggested that any extension might need to pass through Congress. As a result, the Biden administration encouraged states to speed up their disbursement of the emergency funds, and advised that states and localities could adopt their own moratoria—about a dozen have already done so—but ultimately punted the issue over to Congress at the last minute. And in Congress, with only 48 hours remaining and a united front of opposition from Republicans, Democrats were unable to muster the votes needed to extend the moratorium legislatively. While some Democrats expressed frustration with the lack of notice from the White House, Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, aptly described the last minute debacle as “a devastating failure to act in a moment of crisis.”

Meanwhile, earlier this week the Senate confirmed Gwynne Wilcox and David Prouty as the two newest members of the National Labor Relations Board, setting up a Democratic majority at the agency that, as Bloomberg noted, “is likely to result in a series of pro-labor actions” and possible reversals of many Trump-era Board decisions. Wilcox, a senior partner at union-side labor and employment firm Levy Ratner and a former attorney at the New York City region of the NLRB earlier in her career, will make history as the first Black woman to serve as a Board member since the agency’s founding in 1935. Prouty likewise has a steadfast union-side background, having served as the lead attorney for the Major League Baseball players’ union and most recently as the general counsel for SEIU Local 32BJ. On Wednesday, many unions lauded the Senate’s confirmation of both Prouty and Wilcox, with AFSCME president Lee Saunders issuing a statement emphasizing that Wilcox “will be instrumental in guiding the development of federal labor law and upholding workers’ freedom to form unions.”  

In other New York news, the Times reported this week that workers at the Guggenheim have moved to form what would be the second union at the museum established in the last two years. On Friday, the Technical, Office and Professional Union, Local 2110, UAW filed a petition with the NLRB to represent about 160 museum curators, conservators, editors and certain other employees. If successful, they would join workers in similar job classifications at institutions like the Museum of Modern Art and the New Museum of Contemporary Art who are already unionized, as well as join alongside the Guggenheim art handlers and maintenance mechanics who unionized with Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers in 2019.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice filed suit against Texas this week, urging the court to declare invalid and immediately enjoin the enforcement of Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order, which allows state troopers to stop vehicles suspected of transporting migrants and order them to the U.S.-Mexico border or to federal immigration processing stations. As the DOJ’s complaint states, federal immigration agencies engage contractors to transport unaccompanied minors to sponsors, as well as non-citizens to hospitals and to immigration courts. Moreover, DOJ alleges that Abbott’s order disrupts the federal government’s efforts to carry out its responsibilities under the U.S. immigration laws by declaring that only federal, state or local law enforcement officials can transport migrants who have been detained after crossing the border. Indeed, as relayed by Bloomberg,the complaint notes that “[t]he executive order purports to authorize state agents to act as immigration officers and interferes with the federal government’s ability to lawfully release and transport noncitizens, and to conduct federal immigration hearings, to which noncitizens must travel in order to appear.”

Lastly, workers at a Frito-Lay plant in Topeka ended their three-week-long strike and accepted a new tentative union contract and will return to work. The strike was prompted by grievances related to many extreme working conditions, including forced overtime and “suicide shifts,” stagnant wages and abusive management tactics, and reports suggest that the new contract may only offer workers at least partial relief. Indeed, the contract guarantees all workers at least one day off per week, as well as ends the practice of “suicide shifts,” whereby workers had to work back-to-back 12 hour shifts with just 8 hours rest in between.

Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.