Weekend News & Commentary — January 24 – 25
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the Department of Labor would appeal the recent federal district court ruling that struck down the agency’s extension of minimum wage and overtime pay to most home-health workers. The U.S. District Court of D.C.’s Judge Richard Leon struck down portions of the rule in a decision in late December and again last week, concluding that the department had overreached its authority superseded Congress’ role in implementing the regulations.
Because of the trial court’s ruling, employers will remain exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act from paying overtime if a domestic service employee is hired to provide companionship services to elderly and disabled individuals unable to care for themselves. Caring Across Generations, a long-term-care advocacy group, has commented critically on the decision, arguing that the ruling means home care workers, who are among the lowest-paid workers in the country, will remain unprotected by basic labor protections that could help lift them out of poverty.
The Seattle Times reported earlier this month that a group of workers employed by a Microsoft Contractor, Lionbridge Technologies, which provides technology translation services to Microsoft, successfully organized a union and, as of earlier this month, is bargaining with its company over a contract. Lionbridge’s employees were spurred to action in the summer of 2013 by the company’s failure to offer paid time off or sick days. As the company’s employees began to meet and discuss the possibility of unionization, one of the lead organizers, Philippe Boucher, a French-born employee of the Lionbridge group, was terminated for his participation in organizing activities and subsequently filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations board. This past summer, he researched employment law and history at the Seattle Public Library’s main branch before helping the group to unionize and found the Temporary Workers of America (TWA) this past September. TWA’s achievement is underscored by the fact that only 4.3 percent of employees classified as computer and mathematical workers participate in unions in the U.S., in comparison to 11 percent across all occupations.
The International Association of Fire Fighters Local I-60, the union representing employees of Southwest Ambulance, Arizona’s largest emergency ambulance transportation provider, have authorized a strike if the ongoing labor dispute with its parent company, Rural/Metro, is not resolved in the near future. In negotiations involving federal mediators, the union has requested stronger benefits, including pensions, but not pay raises; however, Rural/Metro has claimed that the union is not bargaining in good faith. Rural Metro has also reported that they are able to implement a contingency plan in the event that the union moves forward with its strike.
In international news, Reuters reported earlier this week that Thai agricultural workers in Israel are facing serious labor rights abuses, including low pay, excessive hours, and hazardous conditions, which may be contributing to a higher rate of deaths among the workers. The conditions have persisted despite improvements in the last few years to the recruitment process for Thai workers in Israel and new Israeli laws setting a minimum wage, limits to working hours, and offering more expansive rights to organize. Roughly 25,000 Thai nationals work in Israel and an estimated 122 migrant farm workers have died in the country since 2008, according to a report published by Human Rights Watch earlier this week. The Middle East and North Africa Director at HRW, Sarah Leah Whitson, argued, “The success of Israel’s agricultural industry depends to a large extent on the labor of Thai migrant workers, but Israel is doing far too little to uphold their rights and protect them from exploitation.”