Weekend News & Commentary— June 23, 2019
Southern California grocery store workers, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 135, plan to vote Monday on whether to authorize a strike against several SoCal grocery chains due to stalling contract negotiations. The union, representing 46,000 workers, reports that the negotiations are focused primarily on wage increases and worker benefits. The vote wouldn’t begin a strike, but rather empower the union to call for one with the consent of member workers. The Los Angeles area saw a 3.1% increase in cost of living measures last year, and the union describes their effort as trying to help workers earn enough to meet that demand. The Los Angeles Times reports that this may seem familiar to the grocery chains, after the union organized a 4-month strike in 2003.
At the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) annual conference, delegates voted to ratify new international labor standards against workplace sexual harassment. ILO, a U.N. Agency, passed a treaty with broad support from member nations, labor groups, and employers. The measure requires countries to adopt laws and anti-retaliation policies to curb rampant harassment and provide redress to victims. Supporters cite to the #MeToo movement as evidence of the provision’s necessity, celebrating a strong, international stand against the kind of pervasive gender-based violence in the workplace that has been exposed in many industries. Notably, the treaty is silent on protections for LGBTQ+ workers or harassment based on sexual orientation.
Uber is facing more legal trouble in California based on its controversial classification of drivers as independent contractors. A claim that Uber “secures unlawful cost savings by misclassifying its drivers” to create an uncompetitive market was allowed to proceed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Acknowledging the merits, Judge Edward Chen granted the plaintiffs time to amend their claim to meet jurisdictional requirements. Plaintiff Diva Limousine (who is trying to establish a putative class) allege that other firms cannot compete when Uber’s misclassification practice allows drivers to earn less than the minimum wage, absorb significant economic risk, and remain ineligible for standard benefits and protections. This follows the analysis of labor policy writers, who find that eroding workplace standards create a “race to the bottom,” making it all but necessary that worker-unfriendly, cost-cutting practices become industry norms.
This is just the most recent in a string of California-based litigation against Uber, and the situation doesn’t show signs of stopping. The California Supreme Court’s Dynamex ruling last year interpreted worker classification law through a stricter standard, often called the “ABC” test, that requires employers to bear the burden of proving workers are truly independent contractors. In May, the same court found that the rule should have retroactive application. Many believe that applying this standard will make it impossible for firms like Uber and Lyft to continue classifying drivers as contractors. Lawmakers in the state have been working on codifying the ruling in the legislature, as AB5 passed the California assembly and heads to the Senate. Supporters face significant lobbying by gig-economy firms that take advantage of the uncertainty around worker classification to improve their bottom-line.