At Politico, Danny Vinik reports that lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are way behind when it comes to the rapidly changing relationship between American workers and their employers. In particular, he’s referring to the growing shift from hiring full-time employers to hiring or reclassifying workers as independent contractors and outsourcing to subcontractors and temp agencies. The trend, he writes, began long before Uber and other gig economy employers came on the scene, and yet federal labor law is far from catching up.
Noting that the number of Americans in “alternative work arrangements” grew by 9 million between 2005 and 2015, Vinik writes:
In Washington, especially on Capitol Hill, there’s not much talk about this shift in the labor market, much less movement toward solutions. Lawmakers attend conference after conference on the “Future of Work” at which Republicans praise new companies like Uber and TaskRabbit for giving workers more flexibility in their jobs, and Democrats argue that those companies are simply finding new ways to skirt federal labor law. They all warn about automation and worry that robots could replace humans in the workplace. But there’s actually not much evidence that the future of work is going to be jobless. Instead, it’s likely to look like a new labor market in which millions of Americans have lost their job security and most of the benefits that accompanied work in the 20th century, with nothing to replace them.
The scale of the change, for many economists, clearly suggests that it’s time for Congress to rethink the social contract around work, updating it for the new relationship between employers and workers in the 21st century. Letting it slide further risks hamstringing the country with an outdated system that hurts both middle-class workers and, experts fear, the economy that depends on them. The shift is already well underway. What’s far less clear is whether Washington is paying any attention.
Read the full article at Politico.
In other news:
USA Today: Richard Wolf previews an upcoming Supreme Court case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, that could deal a major blow to public-sector unions. Scheduled to be heard Feb. 26 with a decision expected in June, the case centers on the constitutionality of “fair share” fees — fees paid by workers who decide not to join the union, but still enjoy the benefits of union negotiations and collective bargaining agreements. The Obama administration had sided with unions during previous challenges against fair share fees, but Wolf reports the current Department of Justice is arguing that “issues such as tenure, merit pay and the size of the workforce are public policy issues that workers should not have to finance.” He writes: “On top of that, unions are braced for a slow bleed of full dues-paying members. Until now, those workers could save only about 10% to 20% of their costs by quitting the union; a ruling against fair-share fees would enable them to become ‘free riders.’ That could force unions to raise dues on those who remain or lose clout in states such as California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”
The New Food Economy: H. Claire Brown reports that New York’s Albany County Supreme Court has dismissed a case challenging the exclusion of farmworkers from state laws that protect workers’ right to organize. In particular, the court ruled that changing state labor law is up to the legislature, not the courts. The plaintiff in the case is Crispin Hernandez, a dairy farm worker who was fired for organizing for safer working conditions. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo administration’s had declined to defend the farmworker exclusion in court, but the New York Farm Bureau stepped in to defend it instead. The New York Civil Liberties Union, which represents Hernandez and the worker centers that brought the case, said it will appeal the ruling. (The Pump Handle wrote about Hernandez’s fight and the efforts of local worker centers to improve dairy farm working conditions in late 2016.) In an NYCLU news release, Hernandez said: “I am disappointed with today’s decision, but we will continue fighting for a victory. With the help of God and all of our supporters, we will change the conditions that we deal with as farmworkers and we will keep pushing to be treated like human beings.”
San Francisco Chronicle: David Baker reports that Cal/OSHA has cited automaker Tesla for alleged violations of state labor law, much of it related to the safe handling of hazardous chemicals at the company’s Fremont factory. Many of the allegations are similar to previous complaints against the company — namely, that workers aren’t being given adequate training with regard to chemical safety. Baker reports that Tesla, which has been cited by Cal/OSHA more than 30 times in the last five years, has rejected such accusations in the past, describing them as a “pressure tactic from people trying to unionize the factory.” Baker writes that the recent Cal/OSHA citation reports that: “Employees were not aware, for example, of the availability and location of safety data sheets which detail the potential hazards of specific chemicals used at the plant, according to the citation. They also did not receive information about the presence of some hazardous chemicals near their work stations or ways they could protect themselves, the citation says. Nor were they informed of the results of air monitoring within the factory.”
Reveal: Bernice Yeung reports that the country’s biggest janitorial company, ABM Industries Inc., is facing new allegations that it’s ignoring sexual abuse in the workplace — this is despite the company agreeing on multiple occasions in the past to get better at preventing sexual violence against its women workers. The three current cases are based in Fresno, California, but follow an unfortunate and similar pattern from previous cases: female janitors say their supervisors exploit the isolating nature of night shift janitorial work to harass, abuse and assault them. (Reveal first broke this story in 2015 with their “Rape on the Night Shift” investigation.) According to Yeung, the three Fresno janitors lodged their complaints in spring 2017; the company sent each a form letter saying the accused supervisors would no longer be assigned to their workplaces, but wouldn’t disclose whether the men had been punished. Yeung writes: “The current Fresno cases are an illustration of how, in the midst of the #MeToo movement and new efforts to include low-wage workers in the national conversation about sexual harassment, sexually abused janitors say they continue to face real barriers – such as the threat of deportation or losing the financial lifeline of their jobs – when they try to report the problem.”