News & Commentary

December 20, 2015

Per the Los Angeles Times and Arts Technica, Uber’s new driver agreement will not apply to drivers covered by the class action lawsuit currently pending in federal court. The new agreement prohibits drivers “from participating in or recovering relief under any current or future class-action lawsuits against the company, unless they opted out of that specific provision” — a move that Shannon Liss-Riordan, attorney for the plaintiffs, characterized as “a clear attempt at limiting the size of the class.” In an emergency motion filed in response to the new agreement, Liss-Riordan contended that “[d]rivers receiving the agreement would not realize that they are class members in this case, or that by agreeing and failing to opt out of the arbitration agreement, they may be giving up their right to participate. In effect, Uber is trying to substitute its own notice and opt-out mechanism for court-approved notice and supervision of the opt-out process, and has created substantial confusion among class members in the process.”U.S. District Judge Edward Chen seemed to agree, telling Uber’s attorney that regardless of the company’s “intent,” he “had no intent to say go ahead and issue [such] notices.” Judge Chen further mandated that the company refrain from “communicating with the class without some authorization.” Arts Technica also reports that Liss-Riordan has filed a new motion requesting a bench trial (rather than a jury trial) and a bifurcation of the proceedings into liability and damages phases.

Of the many slogans that Coca-Cola is known for, “Don’t Drink Coke” and “Coke Is a Joke” don’t really stand out at the top of the list. Yet as the Wall Street Journal reports, unionized workers at two of the beverage manufacturer’s bottling plants in Chicago are embracing these new slogans amidst a two-week-long labor dispute. The workers are striking over hikes in health-care premiums as well as claims of “intimidation tactics” during contract negotiations, including allegations that managers walking the shop floor with baseball bats. The Journal notes that although Coca-Cola has typically enjoyed relatively stable relations with its workers — the last strike to affect the company was in 2012 — the strike comes as the company is seeking to cut $3 billion in costs in the face of declining soda sales. For its part, Coca-Cola says that the intimidation allegations are false, and that pay raises and enhanced retirement benefits will “more than offset higher health-care premiums.”

1,200-some-odd miles southwest of the Windy City, another group of laborers is also organizing for higher pay and better working conditions. According to NPR, approximately 70 workers who previously assembled Lexmark printers in factories — also known as maquiladoras — along the U.S.-Mexico border are protesting layoffs that they say came after they demanded better wages and complained of sexual harassment and insufficient safety gear. Hundreds of workers from other maquiladoras have also begun “protesting similar conditions and have petitioned the state to authorize their effort to unionize.” A local labor attorney notes that “worker discontent has been building for some time,” especially as factory jobs grow more plentiful and “fewer people are migrating to northern states in search of work.” These factors have led the workers — some of whom make as little as $7 a day — to feel empowered to push their employers for a better shake. Nonetheless, poor labor conditions continue to persist in the region. “Any sort of objective assessment would tell you that labor rights are not perfectly upheld in Mexico,” says one scholar.

Lydia DePillis of the Washington Post takes a closer look at the perils that working women face when they go on maternity leave. Noting that the EEOC received 5,217 pregnancy-related charges in 2014, DePillis writes that “[t]he volume of complaints is in part a result of the rising number of women in physical, low-wage fields where pregnancy is regarded as incompatible with particular job descriptions, like waitressing and working in a warehouse.” Yet even those “who don’t necessarily need any accommodation in order to fulfill their responsibilities” are vulnerable, including Kashawna Holmes, a recent mother who DePillis profiles in her piece. Holmes was terminated from her office job at the University of the District of Columbia just hours after giving birth to a son, even though she had filed the necessary paperwork for leave pursuant to federal and local law. “I was used to making a decent amount of money, living on my own, and I went from that to nothing, literally,” Holmes says. “I just really want them to know to think twice, maybe three times, before they do this to someone else.”

The ubiquity of the cell phone appears to have claimed another victim: hotel phone operators. The New York Times reports that as calls made from hotel telephones — and, accordingly, revenue generated from such calls — has experienced a steady decline, the need for hotel phone operators is similarly starting to dwindle. Nearly 500 operators continue to connect callers in 161 Big Apple hotels, but plans to eliminate such jobs are hastening. “I’m glad to still have a job, but not knowing how long it will last, and whether tomorrow they will call you in and tell you that’s it, is hard for me,” said one operator. Even after accounting for severance, the financial outlook for many of the operators is not looking bright: “After taxes, [the severance] will be just half that amount, and when you think about these ladies with kids in college and mortgages, they don’t look at that number as sufficient to give up their jobs,” said another operator. “They’re scared because they want to know who is going to hire them at their age.”

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