News & Commentary

July 5, 2020

Mackenzie Bouverat

Mackenzie Bouverat is a student at Harvard Law School.

With 4.8 million new positions, June saw the largest single-month gain in employment US history. The growth was concentrated in health care, retail (740,000 job additions), and hospitality (2 million job additions). The employment growth, however, remains far outstripped by the 22.2 million job losses in March and April. CNBC reports that nearly half of Americans—47.2%-are presently jobless. As of yet, only 36% of the positions lost throughout those early months of the pandemic have been restored.

While Maryland reports having processed over 96.2% of its unemployment claims, other states still lag behind. In Maine, hundreds are left without benefits—in some cases, for upwards of three months–as the state’s Department of Labor devotes its manpower resources to the investigation of 26,100 cases of suspected fraud.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated existing economic disparities between races and sexes in the United States. Racial minorities been hit the hardest by the unemployment crisis: whereas the white unemployment rate peaked at 14.2% in April, the black unemployment rate peaked at 16.8% in May; Hispanic unemployment peaked at 16.8% in May. By June, white unemployment was down to 10.1%; black unemployment decreased to 15.4%; Hispanic unemployment rate was 14.5%.  The unemployment gap between the sexes has also widened throughout the duration of the pandemic: in April, women’s’ unemployment was 15.5%, whereas unemployment for men was 13%. The gap has remained constant in June, reaching 10.2% and 11.2%, respectively. 

The Supreme Court has granted review to a case against two US companies—Nestle and Cargill—under the Alien Tort Statute of 1789, which permits foreigners to sue in U.S. Courts for violations of International law. Six former child laborers accuse the companies of aiding and financing Cote d’Ivoire plantation operations while knowing of the plantations’ use of slave labor. The companies, the plaintiffs claim, substantially assisted the plantations in their slave labor operations by entering into exclusive buyer contracts with them, providing farming supplies and advance unrestricted payments, and supplying “training and capacity building.”. The six plaintiffs report being kidnapped from Mali between the ages of 12-14 and taken to plantations on the Ivory Coast, the world’s largest producer of cocoa. They recount working fourteen unpaid hours per day, six days per week, under brutal conditions: their overseers whipped and beat them, locked them in small rooms at night, and gave them “scraps” to eat. In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that the Alien Torts Statute could not be used against companies locate abroad: [x]. Cargills’ lawyers emphasize corporate immunity for torts committed overseas, and argue that permitting lawsuits for actions on foreign soil would “discourage” American companies from “investing” in developing countries. 

This Wednesday, US Federal authorities seized a shipment of weaves and other human hair products believed to be made by Uighurs detained in Chinese labor camps. The shipment, worth an estimated $800,000, was made by Lop Country Meixin Hair Product Co Ltd. In May, located in China’s Xinjiang region—where an estimated 1 million ethnic Turkic minorities are presently being detained and abused in labor camps. The Chinese ministry of affairs has denied that ethnic minorities are forced to work, and has reported that all internment camps were closed this December. The shipment is detained pending further investigation. 

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has recently initiated a lawsuit against Cisco Systems Inc. in Federal court, for discriminating against an Indian-American engineer at the company’s San Jose headquarters. The company, the Department alleges, permitted two managers to harass the employee because he was from a lower caste than them. Although U.S. employment law does not specifically ban discrimination on the basis of caste, the Department argues that the discrimination is derivative from religious discrimination, which is a protected class. Former Cisco engineering managers, Sundar Iyer and Ramana Kompella, are co-defendants to the lawsuit, which accuses them of harassment.

Gabriel Acevero, a Maryland state legislator, filed a formal charge with the National Labor Relations Board in mid-June, alleging that he was illegally fired by Local 1994 of the United Food and Commercial Workers in retaliation for advocating for police reform. The union local’s president, Gino Renne, has indicated that Acevero has fired because of his “antagonistic attitude” as a meeting to discuss the issue. 

Food prices are expected to continue their upward trend as a result of labor interruptions in supply chains. Travel restrictions, virus fears, and stringent border control prevented the usual thousand-plus influx of H-2A workers during America’s harvest season. Farmers, who rely heavily on migrant workers for the labor-intensive harvest season, report difficulty finding and retaining American workers to fill in the gaps left by the absent migrant workers: most Americans, they allege, are simply unwilling to spend months following the harvest northwards during a pandemic. Further, after a wave of infections forced many meat production facilities to close in April, new infections in meat processing plans are surging.

As Democrats and Republicans battle over a new Coronavirus stimulus bill, Trump announces that he plans to integrate ‘incentives’ for Americans to return to work into the next bill. Trump will meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this Wednesday to discuss the stimulus package.

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