Weekend News & Commentary — July 29-30, 2017
According to The New York Times, a health center providing free healthcare to members of the union, the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, will open in Brooklyn this August. Free healthcare is not new for the union’s members. The union has operated their own health centers for decades. The most recent contract between the union and the Hotel Association of New York, which runs through 2026, guarantees that union members have access to free healthcare. The contract allocates $120 million from the union’s pension fund to the construction of this new health center. The current contract also raises union members’ wages to approximately $40 an hour in 2025. Doctors at the health centers focus a great deal on preventative care because the benefits fund bears the burden of most of the union members’ healthcare costs. The New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council’s approach to healthcare is regarded as highly innovative, and a potential model other unions may consider following.
This Thursday, Governor Baker signed the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which will go into effect on April 1, 2018. The Act’s aim, according to the governor, is to allow mothers with infants and expectant mothers to continue to support their families. The Act will require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees, and makes it illegal for employers to refuse to hire an applicant because of their pregnancy. The Act builds on existing state and federal laws that prohibit pregnancy-based discrimination. The new Act requires accommodations for all pregnant employees, not just those with conditions that constitute disabilities, and requires employers to provide time and space for mothers to pump breast milk. Reasonable accommodations include a broad array of actions, such as giving pregnant employees more frequent paid breaks, transfers to less strenuous tasks, and modified work schedules. The Act also requires employers to engage with employees in determining what types of reasonable accommodations would allow the employee to continue their duties. Employers may be exempt from the Act’s provisions if they can demonstrate that complying would be an undue hardship.
This week, the UK Supreme Court declared employment tribunal fees that were instituted in 2013 unconstitutional. Employment tribunals are often the only forum employees have to litigate employment-related claims. In 2013, the government introduced employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200. Under the fee system, discrimination cases often costed more for claimants because of the additional administrative costs incurred during long, complex hearings. The government hoped that the fees would keep baseless claims out of court. Over the course of three years, 79% fewer cases were brought before employment tribunals. A trade union challenged the legality of these fees, arguing that the fees violated the right to access to justice. Two lower courts dismissed the claim before the UK Supreme Court’s ruling. The Court ultimately found that the fees did prevent access to justice, and that the government would have to set fees at an affordable level to remedy the problem. The Court also found that the fees were indirectly discriminatory because more women brought discrimination claims than men. The government has vowed to reimburse all fees.