Category Archives: Labor Laws/Legislation

Trump Labor Board Upends Special Status of Union Stewards

Source: Robert M. Schwartz, Labor Notes, September 9, 2020

And you thought it couldn’t get any worse!

On July 21 the Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) eliminated the special legal protections enjoyed by union grievance handlers for the past 70 years. In the interest of promoting workplace “civility,” the Board announced that employers will no longer be restrained from disciplining or discharging stewards or officers who use profanity or engage in other “abusive” actions in violation of an employer’s enforced code of conduct, even when these actions happen in the course of heated meetings with management.

The new decision, known as General Motors, overrules scores of NLRB rulings permitting grievance representatives to engage in “zealous” advocacy.

The Landmark Bostock Decision: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Bias in Employment Constitute Sex Discrimination under Federal Law

Source: Susan Bisom-Rapp, Thomas Jefferson School of Law Research Paper No. 3664374, Date Written: July 30, 2020

From the abstract:
On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court or SCOTUS) issued a widely anticipated decision holding that the federal statutory ban on sex discrimination in employment includes a prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. A landmark case in every sense of the term, Bostock v. Clayton County (Bostock) is important for a number of reasons. Besides being a significant victory for civil rights advocates, LGBTQIA people, and their allies, the 6-3 decision was notable for its discussion of an ascendant theory of statutory interpretation, the majority’s well-reasoned analysis of the principles of causation, and the fact that a conservative judicial appointee of President Donald Trump authored the majority opinion. The decision also underscores the value of a carefully constructed LGBTQIA rights litigation strategy that was decades in the making. Perhaps most importantly, Bostock lays the groundwork for nationwide protection of sexual minorities from discrimination in housing, education, health care, and public accommodations, among other areas.

Despite polls showing that a majority of Americans support civil rights for LGBTQIA people, reaction to the case, both for and against, has been strong. Strong partisan response is in part driven by the Trump administration’s agenda vis-à-vis the rights of sexual minorities. Indeed, one hallmark of Trumpism has been the continuous attack on civil rights advances for the LGBTQIA community, with a great deal of hostility aimed at transsexuals. Given the antipathy of the administration towards a vulnerable population, civil rights advocates see Bostock as a much needed course correction and cause for celebration. Cultural conservatives, on the other hand, argue that Bostock strikes a blow against religious freedom and constitutes usurpation by the Court of the federal legislative function. The fears of cultural conservatives, however, were likely assuaged somewhat by a pair of SCOTUS decisions, which were issued just three weeks after Bostock. While those cases may presage limitations on the reach of Bostock, and seem to prioritize religious freedom over other fundamental rights, this Dispatch cautions that the human right to be free of workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity must be safeguarded as the rule rather than the exception.

2020 Progress Update: Me Too Workplace Reforms

Source: Andrea Johnson, Ramya Sekaran, Sasha Gombar, National Women’s Law Center, September 2020

This report provides an overview of the state legislative progress that has been made in advancing workplace harassment reforms since #MeToo went viral. It also highlights some of the stories of how survivors have led the push for these important reforms.

This new report finds that we are closing in on workplace harassment law reform in #20Statesby2020, with a remarkable 19 states enacting new workplace protections since #MeToo went viral in October 2017. The report also finds, however, that states have been slow to adopt some of the reforms that promise to make the biggest difference for those most marginalized by harassment and for preventing harassment.

Some major trends include:
• 15 states limited or prohibited employers from requiring employees to sign nondisclosure agreements as a condition of employment or as part of a settlement agreement.
• 11 states and New York City implemented or strengthened anti-harassment training requirements for certain employers.
• 7 states enacted measures to require or encourage employer anti-harassment policies.
• 7 states limited employers’ use of forced arbitration, though several of these laws are being challenged in court.
• 6 states expanded workplace harassment protections to include independent contractors, interns, and/or volunteers for the first time.
• 5 states and New York City extended their statute of limitations for filing a harassment or discrimination claim.

Judge Barrett’s Arbitration Decisions

Source: Lise Gelernter, Workplace Prof Blog, September 28, 2020

Lise Gelernter (Emeritus Professor & Visiting Scholar, Buffalo) sends this guest post about two arbitration decisions authored by SCOTUS nominee Amy Barrett: Wallace v. Grubhub Holdings, Inc., No. 19-1564 (7th Cir. 2020) and Herrington v. Waterstone Mortgage, No. 17-3609 (7th Cir. 2018):

On a substantive level unrelated to the confirmation of Judge Barrett, both decisions illustrate the intricacy of two of the many unanswered questions the Supreme Court has left concerning arbitration: 1) who falls under the exemption from the FAA for what the Court called “transportation workers”? and 2) which issues of “arbitrability” does a court or an arbitrator decide?

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Worker Safety During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Source: David Michaels, Gregory R. Wagner, JAMA, September 16, 2020

With the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the US is facing an unprecedented, massive worker safety crisis. Thousands of workers are at risk for workplace exposure to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection as they provide care for patients with COVID-19 or perform other “essential” services and daily functions and interact with other workers or the public. By law, employers in the US are required to provide workplaces free of recognized serious hazards. Enforcement of this law is the responsibility of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). While OSHA could be making an important contribution to reversing the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and mitigate risk to workers, their families, and communities, the federal government has not fully utilized OSHA’s public safety authority in its efforts to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

Estimates based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that more than 150 000 hospital and nursing home staff have been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus at work, and more than 700 have died, although the actual numbers are unknown because of inadequate data collection systems. As the epidemic has spread, many other workers, including emergency responders, corrections officers, transit workers, and workers in meat and poultry factories, farms, grocery stores, and warehouses, also have been infected with SARS-CoV-2…..

When Do Unions Matter to Social Policy? Organized Labor and Leave Legislation in US States

Source: Cassandra Engeman, Social Forces, Advance Articles, Published: July 29, 2020
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Trade union institutions are historically and comparatively weak in the United States, and union membership has been in steady decline over several decades. Scholars thus question the contemporary relevance of organized labor to social policy. Yet, there is considerable state-level variation in social policy and union institutional strength that remains underexamined. Focusing on variability across US states, this paper uses mixed-methods analysis to examine relationships between organized labor and parental and family leave legislation under varying political conditions. Event history analysis of state-level leave policy adoption from 1983 to 2016 shows that union institutional strength, particularly in the public sector, is positively associated with the timing of leave policy adoption. These findings are robust to the inclusion of other factors, including Democratic control of state houses, which is also shown to facilitate leave policy adoption. Comparative case studies support event history findings and illustrate how state house partisanship informs the level of government that leave advocates target for policy change. The paper concludes by suggesting further attention to subnational policies and investigation into the social movement practice of target-shifting and its effects. Ultimately, the paper demonstrates the operation of power resources at the subnational level within a liberal market national context.

Labor, Poverty, and Power

Source: Cambridge Now Blog, September 3, 2020

Countries around the world are struggling with the economic repercussions of the pandemic, and the United States in particular has recorded levels of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression. While the CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Trump in March, provided $600/week in supplemental income to some workers, this benefit lapsed at the end of July and no replacement program has been enacted, leaving millions in a state of housing and food insecurity. At the same time, states have made cuts or are considering steep cuts to Medicaid and other social safety programs precisely as need surges, with millions of Americans losing health insurance along with their jobs. A disproportionate number of those who are at risk are Black Americans and people of color who worked—or still work, in some cases, but at minimum wage—in industries without organized labor, which has also been in decline over the past several decades in the United States. Indeed, the precarious position of low-wage workers and the unemployed stands in contrast to legislation designed to protect businesses and employers—for example, a $25 billion bailout to the airline industry, or the GOP Liability Shield Bill, which would give employers sweeping immunity against Covid-19 related lawsuits brought by employees.

We spoke to several Cambridge University Press authors and editors about the legal, political, and historical factors that explain these converging crises and make low-income and unemployed Americans especially vulnerable. We also asked about connections between calls to end anti-Black racism and to reinvigorate organized labor, and, more generally, how anti-labor and anti-poor measures have exacerbated the systemic effects of racism.

A Look At Terminations For Protest-Related Activities

Source: Laura Scott, Employment Alert, Volume 37, Issue 19, September 16, 2020
(subscription required)

…Private employers may be wondering whether and when an employee may be fired for engaging in protest-related conduct. The First Amendment protects an individual’s freedom of speech, right to assemble, and therefore the right to peacefully protest. But, it does not guarantee an employee a job.

If an employee is “at will,” an employer can technically end the employment relationship at any time for any reason. But, it’s rarely a good idea to terminate someone “just because.”

Also, depending on the applicable state law, a private employer may be barred from taking adverse employment action against an employee for conduct engaged in at a protest while off duty…..

Corporate Culprits Receiving Covid Aid

Source: Philip Mattera and Mellissa Chang, Good Jobs First, September 2020

This new report combining data from Covid Stimulus Watch and Violation Tracker shows how many CARES Act recipients have a history of corporate misconduct.

More than 43,000 businesses and non-profit organizations that received CARES Act funds have a history of misconduct, collectively paying $13 billion to settle civil and criminal penalties over the last decade.

Together, the same companies received $57 billion in grants and $91 billion in loans through the federal economic stimulus bill passed by Congress to mitigate the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the violations are workplace safety issues, leading in one case to the death of a worker, flouting of environmental standards, wage theft and defrauding the federal government. They raise the question whether greater scrutiny should be given to how recipients are using taxpayer dollars.

New Labor Viscerality? Work Stoppages in the ‘New Work,’ Non-Union Economy

Source: Michael Duff, St. Louis University Law Journal, Forthcoming, Date Written: June 28, 2020

From the abstract:
The COVID-19 work stoppages involving employees refusing to work because they are fearful of contracting coronavirus provides a dramatic opportunity for newer workplace law observers to grasp a well-established legal rule: both unionized and non-union employees possess rights to engage in work stoppages under the National Labor Relations Act. This article explains that employees engaging in concerted work stoppages, in good faith reaction to health and safety dangers, are prima facie protected from discharge. The article carefully distinguishes between Section 7 and Section 502 work stoppages. Crucially, and contrary to Section 502 work stoppages, the health and safety-related work stoppages of non-union employees, protected by Section 7, are not subject to an “objective reasonableness” test.

Having analyzed the general legal protection of non-union work stoppages, and noting that work stoppages have been on the increase during the last two years, the article considers when legal protection may be withdrawn from such concerted activities because employees repeatedly and unpredictably engage in them—so called “unprotected intermittent strikes.” Discussing a recent NLRB decision, the article argues for an explicit and strengthened presumption of work stoppage protection for employees who are wholly unaffiliated with a union, even when those employees engage in repeated work stoppages in response to discrete workplace disputes or dangers.

Next, the article grapples with looming work stoppage issues emerging from expansion of the Gig economy. When workers are not “employees,” peaceful work stoppages may become increasingly subject to federal court injunction. The Norris-LaGuardia Act (the venerable 1932 federal anti-injunction law) does not by its terms apply to non-employees, possibly including putative non-employee Gig workers, raising the specter of a new era of “Government by Injunction.” Under existing antitrust law, non-employee workers may be viewed as “independent businesspeople” colluding through work stoppages to “fix prices.” The article argues that First Amendment avoidance principles should guide Sherman Act interpretation when non-employee worker activity does not resemble price fixing; and that, consistent with liability principles articulated in the Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Sessions v. Dimaya, antitrust law’s severe penalties should not be applied to Gig workers given the ambiguities in federal and state law employee definitions.

Finally, the article considers the potential for non-union private arbitration agreements exercising restraints on the NLRA rights of employees to engage in work stoppages in light of the Supreme Court’s labor law-diminishing opinion in Epic Systems.