News & Commentary

June 18, 2017

Kamika S. Shaw

Kamika Shaw is a student at Harvard Law School.

Recent statistics from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services show that thousands of undocumented immigrants have been issued work permits by the Trump Administration pursuant to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program.  DACA provides undocumented immigrants with a work permit that is subject to renewal after two years.  The statistics show that over 17,000 new DACA applicants were approved, and 107,000 immigrants already enrolled had their two-year work permits renewed in the first three months of 2017.  Thus far, President Trump has been unclear as to whether or not he intends to keep DACA.

Last week, the 4th Circuit affirmed a judgment against an employer for failing to accommodate an employee’s religious belief in EEOC v. Consol Energy, Inc.  The employer, Consol Energy, installed a biometric hand-scanner system to monitor its employees in 2012.  An employee claimed that using the scanner would be contrary to his evangelical Christian beliefs because it would mark him with the “Mark of the Beast,” which he believed was associated with followers of the Antichrist.  After Consol declined the employee’s request for a religious accommodation, the EEOC brought suit.  The EEOC argued that Consol failed to provide an accommodation and constructively discharged the employee, violating Title VII.  The jury found in favor of the EEOC, determining that the employee had a sincerely held religious belief that he informed the employer of, and that the employee was constructively discharged.  The 4th Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment, emphasizing that a jury could reasonably conclude the employee sincerely believed using the scanner would mark him, even in the absence of a physical mark.  The court also found that Consol could have feasibly made an accommodation that would not have imposed undue hardships.

On Friday, Amazon announced that it is purchasing Whole Foods for $13.4 billion.  The acquisition is the company’s latest attempt to establish a larger presence in the food and beverage market.  The sale will likely have significant impacts on Whole Foods employees, and cashiers more generally.  Although Amazon has not publicly stated how Whole Foods’ day-to-day operations will change, increased automation is likely.  Amazon has already begun experimenting with grocery stores that have no cashiers.  The company has opened an Amazon Go store in Seattle that has no checkout lines and no salespeople.   While Amazon Go is only in its testing phase, a shift towards automation in retail services may be imminent.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the rate of growth for cashier jobs will decline as a direct result of technological developments.  Studies show that a large portion of the work done by grocery store workers could be automated, and likely will be in the near future.  Amazon’s purchase may very well be a significant step towards this anticipated increase in automation.


Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.