News & Commentary

September 23, 2018

Rachel Sandalow-Ash

Rachel Sandalow-Ash is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

Nurses unions around the country are advocating for safe staffing levels at hospitals, i.e. limiting the number of patients assigned to each nurse so that nurses can provide safer care.  For instance, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is promoting a ballot initiative this November (Ballot Question #1) that would establish safe staffing levels. Hospital executives are campaigning to defeat the initiative, claiming that it would be too costly.  Meanwhile, nurses at 15 hospitals owned by the Hospital Corporation of America — in Florida, Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Nevada — have voted to strike if HCA does not agree to institute safe staffing levels, raise wages and improve job security.  Nurses represented by the Michigan Nurses Association have also authorized a work stoppage in response to the University of Michigan Health System’s unfair labor practices.  The nurses are calling for the UMich Health System to establish safe staffing levels in their contract negotiations.  Some nurses have already improvements to staffing policies; for instance, last week the California Nurses Association secured a tentative contract agreement with the University of California system that will ensure “protections for staffing based on the level of care a patient’s illness requires, not based on UC budgetary goals.”


In Jacobin, Annelise Orleck discusses the strikes over sexual harassment at McDonald’s that women workers organized last week.  (OnLabor previously covered these strikes here and here).  Orleck writes that women workers have organized to combat sexual harassment in the workplace for over a century.  In fact, 106 years ago, striking women garment workers in Kalamazoo, Michigan “spoke out about sexual harassment, demanding that foremen be fired for extorting sex from young women workers.”  Orleck further explains that striking workers are “ratcheting up the pressure on McDonald’s to finally take action — not only in its corporate- owned restaurants but also in its franchises.”  As Andrew Strom discussed last week for OnLabor, the NLRB recently proposed a new rule to restrict the range of situations in which a large corporation would be considered a joint employer of its franchisee’s or subcontractor’s employees.


In the days since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford alleged that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, activists and news organizations have once again drawn attention to the issue of sexual harassment in the federal judiciary.  Kavanaugh’s friend and mentor Alex Kozinski resigned from his judgeship last year after it was revealed that he had sexually harassed over a dozen of his former law clerks.  Reports have now surfaced that Yale Law School professors told female clerkship applicants that Kavanaugh “hires women with a certain” “model-like” look.  As the Washington Post reported last year, “judicial clerkships can place young women in a particularly vulnerable position” because the job “requires young clerks to work in close and secluded quarters with judges who have the power to make or break their careers.”  Law Clerks for Workplace Accountability, an organization working “to ensure that the federal judiciary provides a safe workplace environment, free of harassment, for all employees,” is working with current law students to promote a range of steps that law schools and the judiciary should take to address the sexual harassment that law clerks too often face. 

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