News & Commentary

July 25, 2021

Kevin Vazquez

Kevin Vazquez is a staff attorney at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 2023. The opinions he expresses on this blog are his own and should not be attributed to the IBT.

The 2020 Summer Olympics officially kicked off in Tokyo on Friday amidst rising fears stemming from a surge in coronavirus infections in Tokyo and worldwide. More than a hundred cases have already been linked to the Games – including three athletes, one of whom is in the Olympic Village – and nineteen were reported on Friday alone, the highest daily figure since Japan’s Olympics organizers began reporting data earlier this month. The Games, although implementing a variety of coronavirus restrictions and policies, including the elimination of spectators, a first in Olympics history, have been vociferously opposed by many in Japan and across the world, with some polls showing that as many as 80% of Japanese people opposed hosting the Olympics this year. Last month, for example, it was reported that about 10,000 of the 80,000 volunteers who were assisting with preparations for the Olympics quit, the vast majority of whom cited fears about the pandemic as the primary factor behind their decision.

Olympic organizers have also been criticized for committing labor violations and abusing workers, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been accused of abdicating responsibility for its failure to investigate allegations of labor and safety violations committed during preparations for Tokyo 2020. Earlier this month, only weeks before the Games began, the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI), a leading international union federation with millions of members, released a report entitled “The Dark Side of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics,” which identified “ongoing patterns of dangerous and illegal overwork,” a “culture of fear,” mistreatment of migrant workers and low wages, and perilous working conditions, among other concerns, at the construction sites for the stadiums and Olympic Village in Tokyo. The report also alleged that the IOC declined to investigate allegations of these and other violations occurring at the new Olympic venues.

In any event, the United States won four gold medals in the opening weekend.

In Washington, the Biden administration seems to be ramping up its antitrust efforts by assembling an aggressive antitrust team, consisting of three leading legal scholars – Jonathan Kanter, Lina Khan, and Tim Wu – all of whom have argued that Amazon, Google, Facebook, and other tech giants have used their dominant market positions to crush competition, and will, apparently, aim to address corporate consolidation and market power, which could include breaking up large corporations. Biden, in words and actions, has recently indicated a renewed commitment to redressing the growing concentration in industries like technology, finance, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals, which signals a shift in federal policy – and in the Democratic Party’s position. His administration, however, though offering its support for legislation moving through the House of Representatives, has thus far declined to spearhead a congressional antitrust effort like it has on other issues – namely, infrastructure and childcare – opting instead to operate through a series of executive actions. The ultimate course President Biden will decide to take – and the impact it will have on the targeted industries – remains unclear.

An op-ed written by Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Guardian earlier this week argued that “the biggest win for the working class in decades is within reach” and that, if the $3.5 budget agreement reached by Sanders, Biden, and other leading Democrats passes, it would be “one of the most important pieces of legislation since the New Deal.” According to the op-ed, the proposal, in addition to the implantation of many other major progressive policy goals, will “end the days of billionaires not paying a nickel in federal income tax,” reduce childhood poverty by expanding the child tax credit, make childcare more accessible and affordable, provide universal pre-kindergarten to every three- and four-year-old, guarantee paid family and medical leave, “transform” the U.S.’s energy system away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, make community colleges tuition-free, permit Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry, and upgrade and repair the U.S.’s physical infrastructure. As of this weekend, the Democrats do not yet have the 50 votes required to pass the budget blueprint, which Sanders has said that he hopes will pass by August.

In other news, Frito-Lay workers, who, as Hannah noted for OnLabor on Friday, have been striking in Topeka, Kansas for nearly three weeks over forced overtime, unsafe working conditions, and long hours, voted to ratify a contract on Saturday (in a vote that a union official described as “close”). The agreement ends “suicide shifts” – back-to-back twelve hour shifts with only eight hours in between – and guarantees workers one day off per week and increases wages, although specific details of the vote and subsequent agreement have yet to be released. According to an anonymous warehouse worker who had spent the last twenty years working in the plant, however, there was “more disappointment than happiness” with the contract, and many workers who voted to approve the agreement were compelled by necessity after almost three weeks without work. For a better understanding of the perilous and exhausting working conditions faced by the striking workers, read this startling account published in New York Magazine on Friday.

Finally, in local news, the Harvard Grad Student Union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB against Harvard University, claiming that the University is not bargaining in good faith during its ongoing negotiations for a second contract by “failing to furnish information requested by the union” in violation of the NLRA. The union, HGSU-UAW, claims that it submitted two “standard” requests for relevant information to the University since negotiations began in March and that the University responded only partially to both, making the bargaining process more arduous and difficult. Harvard has not yet responded to the charge under NLRB procedures.

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