News & Commentary

October 1, 2017

Melissa Greenberg

Melissa Greenberg is a student at Harvard Law School.

In the run up to oral argument in the consolidated cases of Murphy Oil USAEpic Systems, and Ernst and Young, Bloomberg reported that workers’ rights advocates are not waiting to see how the Supreme Court will rule in these cases, but instead, beginning a campaign to pass legislation modeled on the California Private Attorney’s General Act (PAGA).  PAGA allows workers to bring suits “as agents of the state,” and in Iskanian v. CLS Transp. L.A., LLC, the Supreme Court of California concluded that the Federal Arbitration Act “‘does not preclude our Legislature from deputizing employees to prosecute Labor Code violations on the state’s behalf.'”  Advocates have already introduced PAGA legislation in New York, and the Center for Popular Democracy intends to work to pass PAGA laws in four additional states next year.  Read more about PAGA actions from OnLabor here.

Last week Rhode Island enacted a paid sick days law.  Employers with 18 or more employees must offer three days of paid sick leave beginning on July 1, 2018.  In 2019, these employers must offer four paid sick days, and in 2020, these employers must begin offering five paid sick days.  Employers with fewer than 18 employees must allow their employees to take the same number of sick days, but they may offer these days unpaid.  Governor Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island stated that the passage of the law will allow 100,000 workers in the state to gain access to sick days.

CNN published an opinion piece by Elizabeth Warren pointing out that although President Trump has touted the renegotiation of NAFTA as a means to achieve “a fair deal for America’s workers,” Canadian commentators have expressed concern about labor standards in America.  In particular, they have singled out the ability of states in the U.S. to pass right to work laws.  Senator Warren states, “[a] nation that cares about its workers shouldn’t need foreign negotiators to sound the alarm.  It’s a national embarrassment — and it should spur us to action.”  In response, Senator Warren has introduced legislation amending the National Labor Relations Act to prevent states from enacting right to work laws.

Neil Gross, a professor in sociology at Colby College, penned a New York Times op-ed suggesting a link between adjunct professors’ poor working conditions and their engagement in “outrageous political outbursts.”  Colleges and universities have increasingly been turning to adjunct professors to teach courses at reduced costs.  Even though adjuncts’ compensation may differ substantially, adjuncts earn $1,000 per course credit on average.  Gross cites social science research suggesting “that when aspiring intellectuals face highly restricted employment opportunities, they often take refuge in extreme politics.”  He proposes that “[t]he occasional shocking public statement from an adjunct instructor should serve as a reminder of the volatility that comes when — in higher education or outside it — we allow employment conditions to deteriorate to whatever the market will bear.”

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