Daily News & Commentary — June 19, 2017

As covered earlier today, the Department of Justice announced last Friday that it will switch over its support in the upcoming Supreme Court case, NLRB v. Murphy Oil, from the National Labor Relations Board to Murphy Oil.  The issue in the case, set for the 2017 October term, is whether arbitration agreements with individual employees that ban employees from pursuing employment claims on a class or collective basis (class action waivers) violate the NLRA.  Under President Obama, the DOJ wrote an amicus brief in support of the NLRB, which had ruled that such arbitration agreements did indeed violate the NLRA.  But, as the DOJ states in its re-filed brief, “after the change in administration, the office reconsidered the issue and has reached the opposite conclusion.”  The DOJ now argues that “nothing in the NLRA’s legislative history indicates that Congress intended to bar enforcement of arbitration agreements like those at issue here.”  NLRB v. Murphy Oil was consolidated with Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis (the 7th Circuit opinion that caused the circuit split), and Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris—all three cases received significant attention when their opinions were issued.  Whatever the outcome, the case will be a landmark case for employment law.

Up to 2000 of British Airways’s cabin crew employees are preparing to strike from July 1 to 16.  The walkout comes after the workers, organized as members of the Unite union, rejected an offer that allegedly withheld bonuses and perks for 1400 cabin crew employees who had gone on a four-day strike earlier in 2017.  Unite has said it will pursue legal action against British Airways on behalf of the workers allegedly facing retaliation.

Over 5000 employees of Clark County, NV, which includes Las Vegas, came to finalize three-year labor agreements after several months of bargaining.  The workers are represented by Service Employees International Union Local 1107.  The two contracts cover supervisory and non-supervisory workers, and include a 2% raise.  County commissioners are expected to vote on approving the new contracts tomorrow.

Russian organizers of the 2018 FIFA World Cup disputed a Human Rights Watch report published last Wednesday, which found that at least 17 construction workers had died as a result of brutal work conditions.  The chief executive of the World Cup’s local organizing committee responded that the construction sites were under routine inspection, and that the organizing committee had not found conditions akin to those reported by Human Rights Watch.

On Friday, USA Today published an investigative report into the troubling work conditions faced by American truckers.  Journalist Brett Murphy covered how some truckers, many of whom are immigrants with minimal English-speaking ability and are thus vulnerable to abuse, work essentially as indentured servants as a result of being misled to take on debt to finance their own trucks.

Today’s News & Commentary — June 5, 2017

AT&T West, DirecTV West, and the Communications Workers of America, District 9 reached a tentative labor agreement on Friday.  The labor agreement would cover 17,000 workers in California and Nevada for four years.  This contract is the first union contract for DirecTV workers, as DirecTV was bought out by AT&T in 2015.  The terms of the agreement are available here.  They include a 3.0% wage increases upon ratification, with further increases down the line.

In response to an admission last week by Uber that it had made a mistake calculating commissions for its New York City drivers, costing them tens of millions of dollars overall, two drivers in a proposed class action asked U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis to reconsider his dismissal of their breach of contract claim against Uber, arguing that the admission counts as new evidence.  Uber then asked the court to reject the request to reconsider. Uber had miscalculated drivers’ commission by mistakenly including state sales tax in the total fare charged to customers.  Uber states that it will return to the drivers the full amount owed plus interest.

Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta will testify on the Department of Labor’s fiscal budget request for 2018 this Wednesday before the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.  However, much of the questioning is expected to focus instead on Secretary Acosta’s refusal to delay the June 9 implementation of the Obama-era fiduciary rule, a decision he announced last week.  Secretary Acosta explained that he could find no legal justification for delaying the rule, though he is looking into potential changes to the rule.

Today’s News & Commentary — May 22, 2017

Over the weekend, over 35,000 AT&T workers in 36 states and DC went on strike in protest of AT&T’s failure to provide a satisfactory labor agreement.  Major picket lines formed in New York City, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.  Workers have alleged that AT&T has cut sick leave and disability benefits, and outsourced many jobs.  Workers return back to work today.

Newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron will meet tomorrow with union leaders to discuss labor reform.  President Macron made liberalizing labor and employment regulations a large part of his election platform, including promising to swiftly use executive decrees to unilaterally change labor laws.  Among his proposed changes include making labor negotiations occur on a company-wide rather than industry-wide level.  French Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe, appointed by Macron last week, has stated that his government would “go fast” to implement the changes Macron proposes.

The New York Times has published an article on the mixed relationship between Pittsburgh city officials and Uber that’s developed ever since Pittsburgh opened its gates to Uber to make its streets the first testing center for driverless cars.  Mayor Bill Peduto was criticized in the Democratic primary by competitors for being insufficiently demanding of Uber, not getting any commitments from the company to benefit the city in writing.  Peduto previously had celebrated his good relationship with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick; the two personally communicated via text.  But the relationship has gotten strained, with Mayor Peduto alleging that Uber has backtracked on a promise to make its driverless cars free to the Pittsburgh public.  For its part, Uber claims that it has created 675 jobs in the greater Pittsburgh area.

In another article on labor-adjacent issues published yesterday, the New York Times reports on the labor shortage in Utah, where unemployment rates are among the lowest in the country.  Companies are having trouble fulfilling customer demand with the labor shortage, despite offering relatively high wages.  The labor shortage has also stunted Utah’s efforts to mimic Silicon Valley in being a hub for technology.  Many companies have hired out-of-state workers and persuaded them to relocate to Utah to make up for the deficit.

Today’s News & Commentary — May 19, 2017

Unless AT&T officials come to a labor agreement with AT&T workers by 3PM EST today, thousands of workers across 36 states and DC will walk off the job in a three-day strike.  This would be the first strike ever for AT&T Mobility workers.  The labor dispute covers 40,000 workers across the country.  One particular sticking point in the dispute is AT&T’s offshoring of jobs to foreign contractors.  AT&T workers are represented by Communications Workers of America (CWA), which also represents Verizon workers, nearly 40,000 of whom went on strike one year ago.

An anonymous senior budget official leaked that President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal would require states to provide six weeks of paid leave to both mothers and fathers.  The federal government would not subsidize the program; instead, states would be entirely responsible for identifying and implementing the required cuts and taxes to cover its costs.  The payments would come through pre-existing unemployment insurance programs.

Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta spoke at a meeting of G20 Labor and Employment ministers concerning “women succeeding in a 21st century economy.”  Speaking on employment policies that could help women succeed in their workplaces, Secretary Acosta touted providing more apprenticeships outside of the construction trades, where apprenticeships were traditionally and still are quite common.  In particular, Acosta advocated for more apprenticeships in the tech sector to address the perceived skills gap and labor shortage within tech-related fields.

Today’s News & Commentary—May 9, 2017

New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio signed a bill on May 3rd banning employers from asking prospective employees for their prior wages as part of their hiring process. The bill is a measure designed to reduce gender pay inequity.  As women’s pay has historically trailed behind men’s, the use of women’s prior pay to determine their present pay could unjustifiably reproduce past disparities, stunting progress on pay equity.  A week prior, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district judge’s order denying a defendant employer’s motion for summary judgment in an equal pay case, holding that the use of prior pay history could be a permissible “factor other than sex” if employers used such history reasonably and in a way that effectuated a business policy.

In an interview with CNBC over the weekend, investor Warren Buffett discussed the potential of Watson, an artificial intelligence unit proprietary to IBM and past Jeopardy! contestant, to one day replace human labor.  Though Buffett also explained that he did not believe Watson presently had such capacity, and that in fact he had sold 30% of his IBM stock in 2017, he expressed hope that Watson would eventually be able to displace workers.  “I would think the biggest value will come in when it actually replaces human labor, and machines don’t come round annually and ask for higher wages, and they don’t need health care, and maybe a little maintenance,” Buffett said.  “It should replace people in a big way, unless some other products do the same thing.”

AFL-CIO ordered yesterday the removal of leaders of the San Diego Imperial-Counties Labor Council and put the Council under receivership.  The Council’s former secretary-treasurer Jerry Butkiewicz will take over as trustee of the council and a national representative of AFL-CIO, Keith Maddox, will serve as deputy.  The decision to take over the Council was AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s.  In response to the takeover, several local unions have left the Labor Council to form a new entity, the San Diego Working Families Council.

Today’s News & Commentary — April 21, 2017

Amidst a UAW-driven unionization effort, workers at Tesla’s Fremont, CA factory have filed a charge of unfair labor practices with the NLRB.  The workers allege that Tesla spied, coerced, and intimidated the workers, and prevented them from communicating with one another.  These efforts, they allege, violate multiple sections of the National Labor Relations Act, including their right to unionize.  The workers also claim that the confidentiality agreement Tesla makes workers sign as a condition of employment is overbroad, impinging upon their rights.  The confidentiality agreement does not just protect trade secrets, but threatens criminal punishment for workers who speak publicly or to the media about “everything that you work on, learn about, or observe in your work about Tesla.”  The NLRB office in Oakland will investigate the workers’ charges.

The Minnesota Senate passed pre-emption legislation usurping local control over labor and employment requirements and transferring it to the state, preventing municipalities from setting local minimum wages.  The bill passed with a vote of 35-31. Bill sponsor Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, argues that the bill helps Minnesota employers and increases employment because employers no longer have to comply with a thicket of differing laws and standards.  The bill will merge with a Minnesota House-passed bill and come before Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who has stated he does not yet know whether he will veto the measure.

Relatedly, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation preventing local governments from requiring contractors to use unionized workers for public projects, and from even considering the use of unionized labor as a positive factor when deciding to whom the municipality ought to award the contract.  The legislation passed through the House and Senate along party lines in February.  Republicans used the labor costs for the new Milwaukee Bucks stadium as an example of the excessively high wages that the bill would prevent: $12 an hour in 2017, rising to $15 an hour by 2023.

Boston Review published an essay earlier this week on the fraught relationship, historically and in the present day, between labor and the Democratic Party.

Today’s News & Commentary — April 7, 2017

The U.S. economy added only 98,000 jobs in March, less than half the 219,000 jobs added in February.  However, the unemployment rate further decreased from 4.7% to 4.5%, its lowest level since May 2007.  Most of the increase in jobs occurred in professional and business services.  As the unemployment rate decreases yet fewer jobs are added, federal officials are viewing the economy as “operating at or near maximum employment” according to minutes from their meetings in March.

Chicago Teachers Union members will remain on the job on May 1, cancelling plans for a one-day walkout to protest the threat to end the school year 20 days early.  The union voted against the walkout after the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board held that the walkout would be illegal.  A financial crisis at Chicago Public Schools, which is facing a $129 million budget deficit this year, is driving the consideration of ending classes early.  “While there will be no May 1 walkout, we will continue to stand together in solidarity with our students, parents, immigrant community and other labor and community allies to demand that out district receives the revenue,” CTU president Karen Lewis said.

Earlier this week, President Trump told the New York Times that he would be making an announcement in the coming two weeks on a change to Davis-Bacon, the law that requires federal contractors to pay prevailing, union-scale wages.  Trump has not specified further what the announcement will entail.  As a former real estate developer, Trump is likely very familiar with Davis-Bacon.  In fact, last year, the Labor Department pursued and later dropped an investigation against Trump for alleged Davis-Bacon violations at one of his properties.