News & Commentary

December 5, 2021

Nikita Rumsey

Nikita Rumsey is a student at Harvard Law School.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday that the city’s Law Department and the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection have filed a lawsuit against L’Officiel USA, the American subsidiary of the French-owned global media company that operates many print and digital magazines covering fashion, music, film, literature, politics and so on. The lawsuit, which was filed in state court, alleges that L’Officiel has engaged in a pattern of failing to pay freelancers on time or at all. Workers allegedly short-changed by the company include writers, editors, photographers, videographers, graphic designers and illustrators. Under New York City’s novel Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which was passed in 2017, freelance workers have the legal right to written contracts, timely payment, and freedom from retaliation. The law permits workers to file complaints with the DCWP to pursue late payments. and authorizes the city to file lawsuits against businesses for systemic pattern and practice violations of the law.

Meanwhile, Newsweek reported that Columbia University sent an email to over 3,000 striking graduate student workers—who have been on strike for over five weeks over poor wages and working conditions as well as frustration with the university’s bargaining conduct—on Thursday that threatened to replace them if they do not return to their jobs. In particular, the email, sent by the university’s human resources department, stated that any striking graduate student workers who return to work by December 10 would receive their normal appointment letters for spring semester job assignments. However, the email stated that for those workers who do not return by December 10, they may lose their spring semester appointment and may only receive a job assignment where there are vacancies. As the for striking workers, the Student Workers of Columbia have filed a pair of unfair labor practice (ULP) charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging unlawful practices by Columbia. As a result of the latest email, union representatives told Newsweek that it would file a third ULP charge if the university didn’t withdraw its latest threat, which it described as “unlawful retaliation” and bolstering their case that the university is bargaining in bad faith as contract talks continue.

In other news, Bloomberg reported this week that the NLRB’s General Counsel’s office, acting through its San Francisco regional director, Jill Coffman, issued a complaint that accuses Inc’s Whole Foods Market of unlawfully banning employees from wearing “Black Lives Matter” masks and punishing workers for non-compliance with its rule. The complaint alleges that the grocery store chain maintained appearance rules at U.S. locations to prohibit staff from displaying Black Lives Matter messages on their work apparel, as well as then firing, sending home or otherwise punishing employees around the country for displaying BLM masks or pins. As Coffman noted in a statement, “[t]hrough this complaint, we seek to enforce the [National Labor Relations Act] and protect workers’ rights to speak up about these important issues.”

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