News & Commentary

September 7, 2015

Wal-Mart announced that it is reopening five stores that the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) alleges were closed in retaliation against a workers’ organization drive, according to Reuters.  Wal-Mart stated that it plans to start hiring for the stores and has encouraged the stores’ previous employees to apply.  The company also guaranteed that rehired workers would receive the same pay rate or higher.  The union wants the company to reinstate the previous workers without forcing them through the hiring process.  It also maintains that the company’s stated reason for the closing–plumbing problems–were merely an excuse to punish the workers for unionization efforts. In a written statement, UFCW spokeswoman Jessica Levin said, “If it is true that the stores were closed for ‘plumbing problems,’ why is Walmart not reinstating the hard-working men and women that made that store a success in the first place?”  The union’s claim remains under investigation by the NLRB.

Hilton Worldwide announced that new mothers working for the company will receive 10 weeks of paid maternity leave while fathers will receive two weeks of paid leave, according to Lydia DePillis in the Washington Post.  Unlike most recent parental leave announcements that largely have affected highly skilled, white-collar workers, 75% of the more than 40,000 employees covered by the new policy are hourly employees working in housekeeping, catering, and customer service,  This policy counters trends in the unskilled employment market, where such policies are deemed unnecessary to attract and retain workers.  Hilton’s executive vice president of human resources, Matt Schuyler, said that the company hoped to gain two advantages, saying, “We’ll probably retain more of our workforce.  And number two, we’re going to have workers who are even more enthused about servicing their guests, because they’re working for an employer who cares about their well-being.”  DePillis, however, noted several reasons for skepticism.  First, the announcement did not apply to the company’s unionized workforce, which would have to seek the same benefits through the collective bargaining process.  Additionally, the policy did not cover the many employees who work for franchised hotels owned by separate companies yet operating under the Hilton name.

California’s environmental crisis of prolonged droughts and heat waves has hit the state’s agricultural workers hard, according to Think Progress.  Although the state implemented heat illness emergency resolutions a decade ago, many growers have failed to comply with the regulations.  In response, employees have sued to force California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health to improve its inspections and enforcement actions.  Nevertheless, compliance continues to remain an issue due to workers’ lack of awareness of their rights as well as the terms of their employment–such as piecemeal payment by bucke–that incent workers to eschew protections like water or shade breaks.  Suguet Lopez, executive director of advocacy group Lideres Campesinas, said, “The norm has been that if they experience some sort of illness in the workplace, if they speak up and nothing is done about it, they’ll suck it up because they need the income.”  The United Farm Workers union has reported that 28 farmworkers have died since the regulations’ passage.

The Los Angeles Times reported on the challenges facing wage theft victims seeking to collect back pay owed to them.  The article noted that only 17% of California workers prevailing in wage claims recovered any wages.  In the majority of cases, employers “changed names or transferred assets to avoid liability.”  California legislators have sought to fix this shell game by making individual owners liable for unpaid wages and attaching liability to subsequent corporations that take over the operations of the liable companies.  The bill, which passed the state senate, is expected to be voted upon by the California Assembly.

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