Nikita Rumsey

Nikita Rumsey is a student at Harvard Law School.

McDonald’s workers in 15 U.S. cities are set to strike on May 19 to demand that the company pay all of its workers at least a $15 minimum wage. The strike will occur one day before McDonald’s annual shareholder meeting, and takes place amidst a purported labor shortage in the fast food industry and growing calls from the Chamber of Commerce and the right blaming the shortage on overly generous unemployment benefits. Yet U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, speaking on Friday, dismissed such claims, noting that hiring trends are the “exact opposite” from what would be expected if additional unemployment compensation was the key driver of the labor shortage. As to McDonald’s, striking workers, who are part of the SEIU-backed Fight for $15 movement, have proposed that McDonald’s simply increase its wages as a way to lure workers back into its kitchens. In fact, McDonald’s recently announced year-end profits of $5 billion for 2020, with $4 billion paid out to shareholders in dividends. According to Vice, McDonald’s executives suggested in an April earnings call that a wage increase could be on the way, in response to a question regarding staffing shortages.

Following up on my last post’s note regarding Connecticut healthcare workers, the Hartford Courant recently reported that more than 2,000 group home workers across Connecticut notified their employers that they were prepared to strike beginning May 21 for better wages (including a $20 minimum hourly wage), staffing and health care benefits, after more than 3,000 nursing home workers likewise notified 33 facilities of their intent to strike as of May 14 the previous week. All such workers are represented by SEIU 1199 New England. Jennifer Brown, a direct support professional working three jobs at different sites, summed up why she was ready to strike in a union press release:

“I’ve been doing this job for almost 25 years. I’m going out on strike because health insurance is more than $6,000 a month and there’s no pension. I’m ready to make a lot of noise to get what we deserve…. To have to endure such treatment in a pandemic is unacceptable. I work alongside my daughter and that’s my fight. Because I don’t want her to have to struggle as hard as I’ve had to struggle.”

According to the Courant, some Connecticut lawmakers have signaled this week that they believe the state could afford to boost Medicaid reimbursement rates to provide nursing homes with the money necessary to increase workers’ pay and avoid a strike.

Meanwhile, an early draft of the AFL-CIO’s report on police reform was leaked to In These Times this week, which reportedly amounts to “a definitive rejection of calls for the labor movement to separate itself from police unions.” After the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May 2020 and the subsequent protest movement that emerged, many on the labor left, even including Mary Kay Henry of SEIU, made calls for the AFL-CIO to reconsider its relationship with police unions, which have been seen as obstacles to meaningful reform efforts, to say nothing of abolition. (For perhaps the definitive essay on the George Floyd rebellion, see Tobi Haslett’s recent “Magic Actions” in n+1.) However, the AFL-CIO’s subcommittee report—which included representatives from the International Union of Police Associations among its drafters—appears to reflect an intent to stand firm behind its police union members. According to In These Times, the report speaks from the perspective of police unions themselves, recommending meager training programs designed to “weed out wrongdoers from union membership,” and calling for more, not less, investment in police and public safety.

Lastly, Bloomberg reported this week that Amazon imposes an array of abnormally intrusive work rules on thousands of delivery drivers ostensibly employed by third-party businesses, or what Amazon calls its “Delivery Service Partners.” The rules, baked into Amazon’s contracts with these businesses and subject to its unilateral change, include hyper-specific personal grooming requirements, restrictions on social media posting, and even mandatory drug tests upon Amazon’s request. The drivers are also required to undergo training programs approved by Amazon and follow instructions from Amazon’s delivery app as well. Yet as a result of its effort to exert ever more control over its vast delivery operations, Amazon may be opening itself up to legal risks, namely the possibility that courts and government agencies may conclude that Amazon is a “joint employer” of these delivery drivers and therefore a vicariously liable party. Although such “fissured workplace” models are increasingly common in the modern economy, Amazon may receive greater scrutiny by Biden administration officials, especially given that David Weil, who literally wrote the book on the subject and is a long-time critic of the deleterious effects of fissured employment arrangements, is expected to be nominated for his former post at the U.S. Department of Labor as head of the Wage and Hour Division.

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