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Amy Coney Barrett could influence workers’ rights, other economic issues if she joins Supreme Court

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The debate surrounding Amy Coney Barrett’s potential appointment to the Supreme Court has focused largely on the fate of abortion rights. But her tenure could significantly affect workers’ rights as well, experts say. 

While no one can predict how justices will ultimately rule once they have a seat on the nation’s highest court, their past records offer a meaningful window into how they interpret the law. And in cases ranging from harassment on the job to debt collection, Barrett’s opinions have often tilted toward bosses and business.

“Through her record on the Seventh Circuit … her rulings have favored employers as opposed to workers,’’ says Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, referring to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Chicago.

Barrett’s appointment could have a particular influence on the most vulnerable in the workplace, says Judy Conti, government affairs director for the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group.

“They’re the final arbiter of whether legislation that is designed to help workers is read expansively or narrowly, and everything about her record tells me that she will view things narrowly,” Conti says. She adds that she worries that the balance of the court would tip further from the needs of people who earn lower wages and who are vulnerable to workplace abuse.

But Noah Finkel, a partner in the labor and employment department of the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, says that while Barrett will likely typically side with the five current conservative members of the bench, she will not push the court in a dramatically more right-wing direction.

“I don’t really see her as all that radical,” he says. “I don’t see her bringing a lot of change in the employment sphere. Obviously, Justice (Ruth Bader) Ginsburg is well known for some opinions that are pro-employee, but many are dissents that she offered. So ultimately what it might mean is there’s a 6-3 decision instead of a 5 to 4.” Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.

Finkel added that Barrett’s record on the 7th Circuit is “fairly even-handed.” And he noted that it was Justice Neil Gorsuch, a conservative, who wrote the decision that enshrined workplace protections for the LGBT community because he stuck to the letter of the law as defined in the statute. Barrett would do the same.

“While many times that results in a pro-employer decision, it doesn’t necessarily,” Finkel says. “It could also be pro-employee. And she’s demonstrated great respect for jury decisions that are in favor of employees and has not upset those decisions.’’

Workplace discrimination 

In the case of Terry L. Smith vs. the Illinois Department of Transportation, a district court ruled against Smith, an emergency traffic patrol worker, who said he had dealt with a hostile work environment and was fired after he complained about being subjected to racial bigotry on the job.

In an August 2019 ruling upholding the lower court’s decision, Barrett wrote that even though Smith had been called the ‘N’ word by Lloyd Colbert, a supervisor – “an egregious racial epithet” – Smith didn’t prove that the slur caused him another type of distress or increased the stress he was already under.

“That won’t do under Title VII,” Barrett wrote, referring to the section of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits workplace discrimination based on factors like race or religion. “Without evidence that Colbert’s outburst changed Smith’s subjective experience during his last two weeks at the department, a reasonable jury could not resolve the hostile work environment claim in Smith’s favor.”

That ruling is troubling, Conti says.

“For a white woman to say a Black person hearing the ‘n’ word doesn’t change their experience at the workplace,” she says, that it “doesn’t make it subjectively hostile to that person and abusive … shows me that she is deeply out of touch with the experience that certainly Black people, and other people of color experience when they’re the victims of that sort of harassment and verbal violence.”https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

‘A hostile work environment’ 

But Barrett has sometimes sided with workers. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued on behalf of a one-time Costco employee named Dawn Suppo, who said she endured a hostile work environment when she was harassed by a customer for more than a year.

A district court ruled in favor of Suppo, and Barrett later agreed, writing in a 2018 decision that “a reasonable jury could conclude that” the harassment “was severe or pervasive enough to render Suppo’s work environment hostile.”

Age and the workplace

In a decision that was not unanimous, Barrett joined fellow judges in ruling against a then 58-year-old attorney, Dale Kleber, who accused CareFusion Corporation of age discrimination when Kleber applied for a job that went to a 29-year-old instead.

The “disparate impact” Kleber was alleging applied to employees, not job applicants, the decision said.

“As a judge, her rulings have sided with corporations over people 76% of the time,” says Maggie Jo Buchanan, director of legal progress at the Center for American Progress.

Debt collection 

In the case Paula Casillas v. Madison Avenue Associates Inc., Casillas filed a class-action suit against a company that was trying to collect a debt but had failed to specify that if she wanted to seek verification of what she owed, her request had to be in writing.

Barrett wrote in the June 2019 decision that Casillas did not have grounds to bring that suit based on “a bare procedural violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.” 

“Casillas caught the defendant in a mistake, but it was not one that hurt her,” Barrett concluded. 

Three of Barrett’s fellow 7th Circuit judges disagreed.

“It is a fair inference from Casillas’s complaint that Madison’s omissions at a minimum put her in imminent risk of losing the many protections in the act that are designed to regulate the debt?collection process as it goes forward,” they wrote in a dissenting opinion.

Barrett’s ruling could affect many others, Buchanan says, making “it more difficult for people to protect themselves against abusive debt collection practices.”  

Health care

In her writings, Barrett has been critical of the reasoning that led Chief Justice John Roberts to cast a pivotal vote preserving the Affordable Care Act. And just two years after the act passed, she signed a petition against the law’s provision stating employers should cover birth control in their insurance offerings.

Now, one week after Election Day, the Affordable Care Act will once again be before the justices, and if appointed to the court, Barrett “might well join a majority to basically strike down what’s left of the ACA,” Tobias says. 

“Not only would this mean people would have their health insurance ripped from them,” Buchanan says, “but insurers could once again charge women more just for being a woman, which could cost women $1 billion more annually than men.”

Unions and dues

The funding of unions may also be among the issues Barrett helps decide if she gains a seat on the nation’s highest court.

In June 2018, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 that public sector workers did not have to pay the fees that fund the work of their collective bargaining units, on the grounds that such mandatory payments violated workers’ First Amendment rights. 

Justice Samuel Alito Jr., who wrote the majority opinion “signaled he’s willing to consider that same rule for private-sector unions,” Conti says, “and I certainly worry about where Judge Barrett would come down on that issue should she be a member of the court.’’ 

This blog originally appeared at USA Today on October 5, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Charisse Jones covers retail and workplace issues for USA Today.


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How to Boost Unions’ Power? Sectoral Bargaining.

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sec•tor•al bar•gain•ing

noun

1. a labor pol­i­cy that enables unions to set stan­dards for their whole indus­try, boost­ing their lever­ag­ing power 
“Sectoral bargaining could shift employers from competing based on who can pay their workers the least, to competing based on the quality of their services.” —Charlotte Garden, Professor, Seattle University School of Law

Why can’t unions do “sec­toral bar­gain­ing” now? 

In the­o­ry, they can—and have before. In 1980, for exam­ple, about a tenth of work­ers were cov­ered by mul­ti-employ­er agree­ments that set indus­try-wide stan­dards, espe­cial­ly work­ers in steel, auto, truck­ing, con­struc­tion and mining. 

What hap­pened? An onslaught of dereg­u­la­tion and anti-union attacks reversed those gains. 

Only 11% of work­ers are cov­ered by union con­tracts today, total. (And just 6% of the entire pri­vate sec­tor.) Unions sim­ply lack the pow­er and mem­ber­ship to orga­nize entire sec­tors and indus­tries. Sec­toral or mul­ti-employ­er bar­gain­ing does exist—in heav­i­ly union­ized indus­tries, like hos­pi­tal­i­ty—but, most­ly, unions nego­ti­ate wages and improve con­di­tions at one indi­vid­ual work­site at a time. 

How much of a dif­fer­ence would sec­toral bar­gain­ing make? 

You may have already heard of the “union dif­fer­ence”—that the aver­age union­ized work­er has high­er wages, bet­ter ben­e­fits and safer work­ing con­di­tions than a non-union work­er. There’s also a “sec­toral bar­gain­ing dif­fer­ence” (the phrase just isn’t as catchy). In Euro­pean coun­tries where indus­try-wide bar­gain­ing is rou­tine, union con­tracts cov­er more work­ers and have an even greater impact on decreas­ing eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty while improv­ing work-life bal­ance. Ger­man met­al­work­ers, for exam­ple, won a 28-hour work week in 2018. 

Less inequal­i­ty and more pow­er for work­ers sounds good. Howdo we get sec­toral bargaining? 

We have a bit of a chick­en-and-egg prob­lem: To build a stronger labor move­ment, we could use bet­ter labor law that favors work­ing peo­ple—pre­vail­ing wage laws, for exam­ple, would help force employ­ers to nego­ti­ate indus­try-wide stan­dards. But to win bet­ter labor law, we could real­ly use a stronger labor movement. 

So the place to start is wher­ev­er you hap­pen to be: Labor needs more union mem­ber­ship. And pret­ty much every­one in labor agrees it needs to be eas­i­er for work­ers to join unions.

The Pro­tect­ing the Right to Orga­nize Act would remove some of the major dif­fi­cul­ties faced by union orga­niz­ers and passed in the House ear­li­er this year. It now waits in the Sen­ate. Like so much else, its chance of becom­ing law any time soon great­ly depends on who wins in Novem­ber. If it does pass, unions can begin the process of rebuild­ing their bar­gain­ing pow­er from the bot­tom up. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on October 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: This blog was written by the editors of In These Times as part of their Big Idea series.


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Unemployment is sky-high for young workers in the COVID-19 economy

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The Great Recession dragged down Millennials, putting them years behind economically. Now, the COVID-19 recession is damaging another generation of young workers. Workers aged 16 to 24 typically have higher unemployment and underemployment than older workers (and remember here that you only count as unemployed if you’re trying to find work—it’s not like this statistic counts kids who don’t want to work), but “The overall unemployment rate for young workers ages 16–24 jumped from 8.4% to 24.4% from spring 2019 to spring 2020, while unemployment for their counterparts ages 25 and older rose from 2.8% to 11.3%,” the Economic Policy Institute reports. “Spring 2020 unemployment rates were even higher for young Black, Hispanic, and Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) workers (29.6%, 27.5%, and 29.7%, respectively).”

That’s not just a problem now. It puts young people behind the curve on getting job experience, it means debts can build up faster, and “Research on prior recessions finds substantial evidence that workers who enter the labor market during an economic downturn are scarred for many years. These unlucky workers are more likely to experience lower earnings, greater earnings instability, and more spells of unemployment in the long term compared with similar individuals who entered the labor market in better times.”

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on October 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.


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Nursing home workers strike over unfair labor practices

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Workers at the Four Seasons Rehabilitation and Nursing home on Monday walked off the job over what they called unfair labor practices during a pandemic. 

Essential workers at the home off Newburgh Road say they are working without a contract and without enough personal protective equipment to stay safe. They also want better staffing levels and higher wages.

Workers at Four Seasons Rehabilitation and Nursing walk off the job Monday morning, stating unfair labor practices, in Westland, Michigan on October 19, 2020.

After agreeing to hold off striking for 30 days in August, it’s now back on, they said. 

The home is part of a chain where workers represented by the SEIU Healthcare Michigan union are negotiating a contract. 

“Governor Whitmer said it best: ‘With COVID-19 cases in Michigan on the rise, we cannot allow our most vulnerable patients to lack vital care.’ But nursing home owners have refused to come to an agreement that would equip us to provide the care our residents deserve,” said Carolyn Cole, a worker at the home, in a statement released by the union.

“We’re going on strike because if our workplace isn’t up to standard, it’s the residents who suffer.”

The nursing homes involved in the effort include the  Charles Dunn chains. Calls to them were not returned Monday. 

Ciena Healthcare and Villa Healthcare facilities are not included in the strike and reached an agreement with union members last week, the facilities said on Monday. 

At 6 a.m., a group of workers gathered along Newburgh Road to march and chant. Workers inside the building walked off the job to join the picket line. A Facebook live video shows workers as they marched in the dark. 

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, showed her support for the workers by making an appearance at the strike, tweeting: “The intimidation & racially-charged bullying is disgusting & must stop. Workers deserve a contract.”https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=detroitnews&dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1318206599610159105&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.detroitnews.com%2Fstory%2Fnews%2Flocal%2Fwayne-county%2F2020%2F10%2F19%2Fnursing-home-workers-strike-over-unfair-labor-practices%2F3706738001%2F&siteScreenName=detroitnews&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=550px

Workers protested in shifts, planning to stay outside of the nursing home until 6 p.m. Monday. Workers say they will continue to strike until a deal is made. 

“We’re here until it starts snowing if he doesn’t give us a deal,” said Ken Haney, the executive vice president of SEIU. 

Haney said the union and Dunn were in negotiations until 10 p.m. Sunday, but talks ended when Dunn refused to give in to the workers’ demands. 

Some of those demands include better health care and more premium coverage, and increased wages for the certified nursing assistants, who say they’ve had to do more work during the pandemic. 

“We’ve all just been working all over the place and we’re just tired. He can’t keep staff because of the pay … but you’ll have me as a CNA doing a two- to three-person job, and it’s not right,” said Iyone Pruiett, a CNA at Four Seasons Nursing Home. 

Haney said Dunn is violating the union contract by direct bargaining and offering members an extra $1.25 a day to not strike. 

“He’s creating violations against the National Labor Relations Act, against the contract by implementing wages without negotiating with the unions, changing working conditions without negotiating with the unions,” Haney said. “We’re still willing to go to the table, but it has to be on the terms and conditions that these employees, these members are saying they want.”

As the pandemic hit Michigan earlier this year, workers inside some of the state’s hardest hit nursing homes rationed protective gear, went without COVID-19 tests and struggled to care for seniors who carried a deadly virus.

Mashala Pate with SEIU,  Service Employees International Union, on the sidewalk in front of the Four Seasons Rehabilitation and Nursing where workers have walked out stating unfair labor practices in Westland, Michigan on October 19, 2020.

About a third of the 21 nursing homes that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration selected to care for elderly individuals with COVID-19 at the pandemic’s peak appear not to meet new quality standards under a revamped policy.

On Sept. 30, Whitmer announced an executive order to establish “care and recovery centers” to replace her “regional hubs,” existing nursing homes across the state tapped to care for people with the virus who are discharged from hospitals or reside in facilities that can’t properly isolate them.

The Legislature and Whitmer are still working out details and trying to come to an agreement. Whitmer’s handling of nursing homes has been a topic of heated debate for months. About 32% of Michigan’s 6,781 COVID-19 deaths have been nursing home residents, according to state data.

A sign on the side door of Four Season Rehabilitation and Nursing where workers have walked off the job, stating unfair labor practices in Westland, Michigan on October 19, 2020.

In Detroit, where the COVID-19 virus has devastated communities of color and the majority of nursing home workers are Black women, workers aim to draw attention to racial justice disparities inherent to their fight.

“COVID-19 just reinforced what the Black women who work in nursing homes have always known — these homes put profits over people,” said Izella Hayes, a worker at Imperial Nursing Home in Dearborn Heights, in a statement.

“As long as owners continue to treat us like we’re expendable instead of the heroes we are, we’ll continue to stand up for what’s right: a living wage so we can afford to get healthcare just like we provide it, and proper safety protocols and guaranteed PPE throughout the pandemic.”

This blog originally appeared at The Detroit News on October 19, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Ariana Taylor is a breaking news reporter with The Detroit News.


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The Nightmare Facing the Poor and Working Class If There’s Not Another Stimulus

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As mil­lions of U.S. work­ers face unem­ploy­ment, food inse­cu­ri­ty and evic­tion amid the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic, the lim­it­ed aid pro­vid­ed by the fed­er­al government’s flawed CARES Act from March has long since dried up. 

Last week, fol­low­ing more than six months of stalled nego­ti­a­tions with con­gres­sion­al Democ­rats over a new eco­nom­ic relief pack­age, Pres­i­dent Trump abrupt­ly announced he was halt­ing talks until after the Novem­ber election.

While the pres­i­dent quick­ly back­tracked and is now report­ed­ly con­tin­u­ing to nego­ti­ate, the fed­er­al government’s ongo­ing fail­ure to pass a new relief pack­age spells cat­a­stro­phe for a U.S. work­ing class already pushed to the brink by an eco­nom­ic cri­sis seem­ing­ly on par with the Great Depression. 

Here’s a break­down of what the con­tin­ued lack of fed­er­al help means for workers:

Sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced unem­ploy­ment checks

Per­haps the most ben­e­fi­cial part of the CARES Act was the extra $600 a week it pro­vid­ed to work­ers on unem­ploy­ment—a tem­po­rary life­line that the GOP-led Sen­ate allowed to expire on July 31. 

Week­ly unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits vary wide­ly by state, rang­ing from $44 in Okla­homa to $497 in Wash­ing­ton. The $600 week­ly sup­ple­ment was an across-the-board ben­e­fit that ensured unem­ployed work­ers in any state main­tained a decent income despite los­ing their jobs due to the pandemic.

The Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy Insti­tute found that the con­sumer spend­ing gen­er­at­ed by that extra $600 per week sup­port­ed over 5 mil­lion jobs, and that con­tin­u­ing the sup­ple­ment through the mid­dle of next year would have raised U.S. gross domes­tic prod­uct (GDP) by a quar­ter­ly aver­age of 3.7 percent.

After this ben­e­fit expired, rather than agree to Democ­rats’ demands to extend it, Pres­i­dent Trump signed an exec­u­tive order slash­ing it by 50 per­cent—allow­ing states to use fed­er­al funds to pro­vide only a $300 week­ly unem­ploy­ment sup­ple­ment. At least sev­en states have already exhaust­ed these funds. 

Mean­while, by los­ing the week­ly $600 boost, unem­ployed work­ers saw their incomes drop by two-thirds, mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult to pay the bills and afford gro­ceries. There are cur­rent­ly 25.5 mil­lion work­ers receiv­ing unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits. With at least 14 mil­lion more job­less work­ers than job open­ings, mil­lions will be forced to rely on unem­ploy­ment insur­ance for the fore­see­able future—but now with a great­ly reduced check.

Mass fur­loughs in the air­line industry

Anoth­er one of the CARES Act’s most help­ful pro­vi­sions was the Pay­roll Sup­port Pro­gram (PSP), which pro­vid­ed $32 bil­lion in grants to the avi­a­tion indus­try for the sole pur­pose of keep­ing work­ers on pay­roll and pro­vid­ing ben­e­fits dur­ing the Covid-19 cri­sis. The avi­a­tion indus­try employs 750,000 work­ers, many of them union­ized, and accounts for 5 per­cent of GDP.

The Sen­ate allowed the PSP to expire on Octo­ber 1, result­ing in 40,000 air­line work­ers imme­di­ate­ly being fur­loughed with­out pay or health insur­ance. The industry’s unions are wag­ing an aggres­sive cam­paign to extend the pro­gram. With­out the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment con­tin­u­ing the PSP, more fur­loughs are like­ly to come as pas­sen­ger air­lines suf­fer a loss in busi­ness due to the pandemic.

More lay­offs at small businesses

The Pay­check Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram (PPP), anoth­er com­po­nent of the CARES Act, offered up to $659 bil­lion in for­giv­able loans to small busi­ness­es to keep work­ers on pay­roll. The pro­gram has been crit­i­cized for allo­cat­ing mil­lions of dol­lars to large cor­po­ra­tions and com­pa­nies con­nect­ed to politi­cians, but it has also offered much-need­ed finan­cial sup­port to small busi­ness­es across the country.

The appli­ca­tion dead­line for PPP loans was on August 8. While the Trump admin­is­tra­tion claims the pro­gram saved 51 mil­lion jobs, econ­o­mists have put that num­ber at any­where from only 2.3 mil­lion to 13.6 mil­lion.

What­ev­er the pre­cise num­ber, the PPP’s impact is quick­ly run­ning out of steam. Bor­row­ers say they expect to lay off work­ers with­in six months, while a Nation­al Restau­rant Asso­ci­a­tion sur­vey indi­cates that a whop­ping 40 per­cent of all U.S. restau­rants could go out of busi­ness in the com­ing months, lead­ing to mil­lions of more layoffs. 

No sec­ond $1,200 stim­u­lus check

While Sen. Bernie Sanders and pro­gres­sive Democ­rats have been call­ing on the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to pro­vide a $2,000 month­ly check to every U.S. adult for the dura­tion of the pan­dem­ic, the CARES Act instead pro­vid­ed a one-time check of $1,200—which exclud­ed many undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants and col­lege-age adults. Econ­o­mists report that the checks did vir­tu­al­ly noth­ing to stim­u­late the econ­o­my, though they did help poor and unem­ployed work­ers par­tial­ly cov­er a few weeks’ worth of basic expenses.

Pres­i­dent Trump and con­gres­sion­al lead­ers have been say­ing for months that a sec­ond $1,200 check is on the way. But with­out anoth­er relief bill, even this mea­ger finan­cial assis­tance will not materialize.

An uncer­tain future

On Octo­ber 1, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic-con­trolled House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed a scaled-down ver­sion of the HEROES Act, an eco­nom­ic relief pack­age they orig­i­nal­ly passed in May that extends the lim­it­ed aid from the CARES Act. 

Among oth­er things, the $2.2 trillion bill would con­tin­ue the $600 week­ly unem­ploy­ment sup­ple­ment to the end of Jan­u­ary (mak­ing it retroac­tive to Sep­tem­ber 6), allo­cate anoth­er $25 bil­lion for air­line work­ers, allow small busi­ness­es to apply for a sec­ond PPP loan, send out a sec­ond $1,200 stim­u­lus check, pro­vide $50 bil­lion in emer­gency rental assis­tance, and give an addi­tion­al $10 bil­lion to the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Assis­tance Pro­gram (SNAP).

Over the week­end, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion coun­tered with a small­er, $1.8 trillion pro­pos­al that would include a $400-per-week unem­ploy­ment sup­ple­ment, $20 bil­lion for air­lines, anoth­er $330 bil­lion for PPP loans, and a sec­ond $1,200 check, among oth­er mea­sures—but nei­ther House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi nor Sen­ate Repub­li­cans appear ready to push this bill in their caucus.

While mil­lions of U.S. work­ers are left in the lurch and mass lay­offs con­tin­ue to mount, Trump and Sen­ate Repub­li­cans are instead focus­ing their atten­tion on ensur­ing right-wing, anti-union judge Amy Coney Bar­rett is hasti­ly con­firmed to the Supreme Court in time for the election.

“If this gov­ern­ment doesn’t work for us, then we need to focus on the fact that it is our labor that gives all the val­ue to this coun­try,” Asso­ci­a­tion of Flight Atten­dants pres­i­dent Sara Nel­son—who famous­ly called for a gen­er­al strike to end Trump’s fed­er­al shut­down in Jan­u­ary 2019—said last week. “This coun­try doesn’t run with­out us as work­ers. So we have to think about that option as well.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on October 19, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke has been a Work­ing In These Times con­trib­u­tor since 2013. He has a Ph.D. in His­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Chica­go and a Master’s in Labor Stud­ies from UMass Amherst. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @JeffSchuhrke.


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A McDonald’s worker accuses the chain of firing her after she protested against a lack of masks and other safety concerns in a new whistleblower lawsuit.

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McDonald’s is facing a whistleblower lawsuit from a former worker, who claims she was fired after protesting the fast-food giant’s safety policies during the pandemic. 

On Friday, Maria E. Ruiz Bonilla filed the whistleblower retaliation suit against McDonald’s in the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Santa Clara. 

Ruiz had worked for McDonald’s in San Jose, California for more than 16 years when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March. Despite being a diabetic, Ruiz said she wasn’t provided personal protective gear or even allowed to wear a mask on the job. 

“We didn’t have sanitizer, masks, gloves,” Ruiz told Business Insider through a translator. “We didn’t even have Clorox, sometimes, to clean and disinfect the store. I was in panic.” 

McDonald’s was among the many chains that did not provide workers with personal protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic, and originally discouraged employees from wearing masks in accordance with the CDC’s guidance at the time. Dozens of fast-food workers told Business Insider in March that they were terrified to go to work, as many wondered how they could avoid getting sick and if they would be able to financially support their families. 

But Ruiz went further than most when it came to speaking out about safety concerns. She started protesting, leading a series of walkouts in late March and early April, and filed complaints with health officials. 

“I was afraid, of course. I was thinking about losing my job,” Ruiz said. “But, at the same time, my fear of getting sick with COVID and dying was bigger.” 

Ruiz said that her work hours were cut in April, after she began protesting and speaking to the press. She was suspended in mid-July and fired later the same month, according to the complaint. 

“These allegations are untrue and cannot be substantiated,” McDonald’s said in a statement to Business Insider. “The employee was terminated after a thorough review found that she falsely reported a safety violation, created and provided false evidence, and lied during the investigation.”

McDonald’s said that, despite national shortages, the company worked to provide masks to employees, and that masks and gloves arrived at the San Jose location on April 12. 

Ruiz was involved in high-profile protests against McDonald’s during the pandemic 

When Ruiz began protesting against McDonald’s, she told media outlets that her location lacked masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and hand soap. Working with the Service Employees International Union-backed Fight for $15 movement, she also called for McDonald’s to provide paid sick leave for all workers. 

Ruiz and other workers filed complaints with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA), the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, and the Labor Workforce Development Agency (LWDA).

“On April 16, the local Department of Health conducted a review at the restaurant and found no major or minor violations — the DOH’s report concluded there was ample hand sanitizer and soap available, and that instructions on social distancing were prevalent and being followed by crew,” McDonald’s said in a statement. 

According to Friday’s complaint, McDonald’s managers responded to Ruiz and other employees who reported safety concerns by “rudely and yelling at them,” as well as disciplining them disproportionately.

Soon after Ruiz was fired in July, the Service Employees International Union filed a complaint on her behalf with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that she faced illegal retaliation for her workplace activism.

As part of the lawsuit filed on Friday, Ruiz is seeking to be reinstated in her position at McDonald’s, as well as given back pay and compensation for damages. 

“We were called essential workers, but this is the way that they treat the essential workers?” Ruiz asked. 

Companies facing repercussion for their pandemic policies 

Attorneys told Business Insider in April that it would be difficult for workers to win against employers in court if they tried to sue after catching COVID-19 on the job. 

“The biggest hurdle infected employees will face if they seek compensation from an employer will be proving where they contracted the virus,” attorney James Biscone said. “Was it at work? On the way home? On the subway or bus?”

Workers recently told Business Insider’s Catherine LeClair and Áine Cain that they feel as if they have been deserted by organizations like OSHA intended to enforce workplace safety during the pandemic. Republicans have pushed to give businesses a “liability shield” to protect employers from lawsuits related to the coronavirus, as part of the proposed SAFE TO WORK Act. 

Recently, there has been an uptick of litigation and action on the part of health officials. While OSHA issued few COVID-related citations early in the pandemic, the administration has recently fined Amazon and meat-processing giants JBS and Smithfield over safety violations. Reuters reports “take home” lawsuits, filed by people sickened by family members who were infected at work, could cost businesses up to $21 billion, citing risk analytics firm Praedicat. 

Ruiz’s case highlights that pandemic-related lawsuits will not be limited to workers who caught COVID-19 at work. Law firm Fisher Phillips reports that there has been a surge in whistleblower lawsuits due to the pandemic, as employees report safety violations such as a lack of personal protective equipment and social distancing failures. According to the firm, 136 of the 674 federal employment-related lawsuits since March 2020 were related to whistleblower allegations.

This blog originally appeared at Business Insider on October 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kate Taylor is a correspondent for Business Insider, covering restaurants, food, beverage, and retail. Companies that she covers include McDonald’sStarbucks, and Chick-fil-A. Kate previously covered food and franchises for Entrepreneur. Find her on Twitter at @Kate_H_Taylor.


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Tracking Remote Employees: How To Not Cross The Line

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With the COVID-19 on the current agenda, the offline work seems to be far away. However, remote work is trending now because more and more businesses realize which benefits it drives. However, hiring top talent from different parts of the country and saving from rent come with the liabilities of remote working employment law.

One of the frequent questions that entrepreneurs discuss during a labor law free consultation is tracking remote employees. It’s only logical that they want to know how much time their workers dedicate to tasks daily. But what about the related remote work legal issues?

Tracking Remote Employees: Definition and Advantages

Basically, tracking remote employees implies the usage of special software that monitors the activity of a worker during the day. It tracks the amount of working time and presents them in an Excel or CSV file.

However, some programs offer much more. They can monitor keystrokes. Record videos or make screenshots, track the location, and assess productivity. Thus, employers can know almost everything about their remote employees.

Since Gartner claims that almost 80% of the businesses will monitor the employees with tracking software by the end of 2020, we can conclude that they see a number of benefits. Among them can be:

  • Privacy and Security: Remote work increases the risk of a cyberattack. Some of them can be even initiated from inside since employees can use personal devices and store valuable data on cloud storage. Monitoring their activities allows detecting an unreliable employee timely.
  • Improved Productivity: Its human nature to be more productive when being under control. Therefore, workers are likely to be more diligent working remotely if they are monitored.
  • Tracking of Assets: In case a business provides hardware for remote employees, it’ll want to locate it for the safety measures. Tracking applications show the data.

A Sustainable Approach to Tracking Remote Employees

Not all employees can be satisfied with the tracking apps being installed on the working computer. Therefore, it’s vital to prepare them, preferably at the hiring stage. But before we move to the educational and psychological part, let’s cover some legal issues.

The legal aspect of employee tracking highly depends on the implementation. The answer that will solve all the problems is a remote work policy that will state how the management can use the collected data. The policy should be clarified, signed and accepted at the recruitment. If you implement it when the company already employs workers, they also need to sign the acceptance.

As for the psychological part, it’s essential to adhere to several principles in implementing a tracking system:

  1. Gradual percolation
  2. Systematic education on what benefits the tracking system drives
  3. Communication with every employee to resolve any issues
  4. Periodic training in order to reinforce the initial message.

As you can see, implementing a tracking software is pretty easy. You just have to prepare a special policy and communicate it to the employees. Would you use tracking software for your remote employees?

About the Author: Yuriy Moshes is the CEO of Moshes Law and attorney with broad expertise. He has two bachelor’s degrees. Being an experienced expert, he is considered one of the most in-demand specialists in the employment law field. Apart from that, he provides labor law attorney free consultation for everyone who faces discrimination in the workplace.


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4 Overlooked Workplace Safety Hazards and What You Can Do About It

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According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, there were 2.8 million injuries in the workplace. On average, a worker injury costs a company between $38,000 and $150,000. As a facility safety manager, your job is to minimize hazards and save the company money by decreasing injuries in the workplace.

However, that’s often easier said than done. This is especially true if you work in a warehouse or factory, where hazardous equipment is part of the job. You probably already follow the standard advice, like cleaning up spills or enforcing safety training. But you might be overlooking some hidden hazards.

Here’s a look at four commonly overlooked workplace safety hazards with some tips to overcome them.

1. Overworking Employees

Every company has quotas, minimums, and costs to cut. Unfortunately, this often leads to overworked employees. Overworked employees are often suffering from severe fatigue. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleepy workers are 70% more likely to have a workplace accident.

Aside from fatigue, overextended employees are often burnt out and suffering from a lack of motivation. This not only hurts company efficiency, but it can lead to these employees being more lackadaisical about safety precautions or take more shortcuts.

Tips to Decrease the Risk: Be sure that workers aren’t working too many hours. Foster an environment that encourages a work-life balance. A happy and rested staff leads to more focused work.

2. Too Much Clutter

Keeping your facility clean is crucial, but it’s not just about deep cleaning. Clutter and disorganization can be more disrupting than a stain on the floor. If workers have to navigate machinery around a maze of clutter, the chance for an accident increases exponentially.

Inventory, trash piles, and general stuff can pile up quickly. Additionally, liquids and standing puddles can cause catastrophes. It’s not uncommon for facilities to allow standing water or liquids because their existing solutions aren’t cutting it.

Tips to Decrease the Risk: Work on developing cleaning routines for your workers and promote an environment of cleanliness. Encourage workers to keep their work areas clean and clutter-free. If there are areas that lack organization, get in, and organize them. If your facility is struggling with spills and standing water, be sure to upgrade your solutions. Consider using an industrial pre sloped trench drain system versus a standard grate drain. Or, if standing water in the parking lot is an issue, look into permeable paving.

3. Not Accounting for Comfort

While this one aligns with overworked employees, worker comfort can also become a safety hazard. If your employees work in confined spaces, uncomfortable temperatures, or in environments laden with pollutants and toxic air, they aren’t going to be comfortable.

Why does this matter? The Workers’ Compensation Board wrote an entire book on the hazard of confined spaces. Workers who work in tight areas are at higher risk of toxic fumes, low levels of oxygen, falling objects, poor visibility, and more. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s also dangerous.

Temperature extremes have obvious consequences like heat exhaustion and hypothermia. Beyond that, if it’s too hot or too cold, your workers are going to feel demotivated, exhausted. As we’ve already talked about, an exhausted and unmotivated worker can lead to dangerous situations. 

Tips to Decrease the Risks: Take inventory of your workers’ comfort level. If they’re complaining about discomfort, the chances are that those uncomfortable working conditions have more serious implications. If confined spaces, temperatures, and toxic fumes are unavoidable, allow for more frequent breaks. Additionally, to combat dust build-up (which accounts for 12% of serious employee lung issues), invest in an industrial vacuum cleaner. These vacuums also ensure that the air stays breathable while minimizing the risk of combustion.

4. Ignoring Ergonomics

You probably had your employees watch a training video or read a manual about ergonomics. If they have to do any heavy lifting or maneuvering, ergonomics is crucial. According to The National Safety Council, the second leading cause of injury in adults is overexertion. It’s also the cause of 35% of workplace injuries. Additionally, it’s the most significant contributor to workers’ compensation, and it’s the primary reason for missed workdays.

It’s the simple things, like lifting with your legs and taking breaks. It’s avoiding repetitive motions. Taking ergonomics into account is all about thinking about people’s efficiency and body movements in the workplace.

Tips to Decrease Risks: Encourage proper maneuvering habits with your employees. That one-time training when the company hired them isn’t enough. Instead, ergonomic training should be ongoing and enforced. Consider regular assessments of your workers’ form to make sure that they know how to safely and effectively do their jobs. 

Creating a Safe Work Environment

Eliminating safety hazards is an ongoing and ever-evolving process. It requires diligence and attention to detail. Facility safety managers often overlook these four hazards. However, ignoring them could be dangerous and costly.

Do yourself and your company a favor by being proactive and taking action to avoid these common hazards. Moreover, be diligent about stopping any problematic behaviors or habits in their tracks. Your job isn’t an easy one, but it’s necessary for the safety of your employees and the posterity of your company.

About the Author: Matt Lee is the owner of the Innovative Building Materials blog and a content writer for the building materials industry. He is focused on helping fellow homeowners, contractors, and architects discover materials and methods of construction that save money, improve energy efficiency, and increase property value.


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Jobless claims jump, hitting highest level since mid-August

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American workers continued to hit the unemployment line in large numbers last week, with 898,000 new claims filed for jobless benefits.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for 830,000.

The total for the week ended Oct. 10 was the highest number since Aug. 22 and another sign that the labor market continues to struggle to get back to its pre-coronavirus pandemic mark as cases rise and worries increase over a renewed wave in the fall and winter. The number represented a gain of 53,000 from the previous week’s upwardly revised total of 845,000.close dialogThe top moments in business and politics – wrapped with exclusive color and context – right in your ears

Despite the higher-than-expected total, the level of continuing claims continues to fall at a brisk pace, declining by 1.165 million to just over 10 million. Continuing claims data runs a week behind the headline claims number.

The economy has recaptured some 11.4 million positions, or about half those who were sidelined. The unemployment rate has come down to 7.9% but is still more than double its pre-pandemic level.

The four-week moving average of continuing claims fell by 682,250 to 11.48 million.

The insured unemployment rate, a simple measure that compares those receiving benefits against the total labor force, slid 0.9 percentage point to 6.8%.

Those receiving first-time benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program continued to decline, sliding by more than 91,000 to 372,981. That program provides compensation to those who normally wouldn’t be eligible for benefits, such as freelancers and independent contractors.

However, recipients under the program accounted for more than half of those getting unemployment benefits as of Sept. 26. Those receiving benefits under the emergency claims portion of the pandemic program increased by more than 800,000, though that data also is two weeks old.

“Although the absolute level of claims remains well above the pre-pandemic level, the declining trend of continuing claims is more important to watch,” Citigroup economist Andrew Hollenhorst said in a note. “The decline in claims over the past few weeks, even after netting out those who transferred to federal PEUC, is encouraging, pointing to still-robust rehiring in late September, and should continue into Q4.”

Total benefit recipients also declined, to 25.3 million from 25.5 million, also as of the week ended Sept. 26.

Reporting of claims continues to be impacted by California, which has halted processing of its claims as it cleans up backlogs and looks to implement technology aimed at preventing fraud. The Labor Department has been using the 225,000 figure reported the week before the effort began.

This blog originally appeared at CNBC on October 15, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Cox is the finance editor for CNBC.com where he manages coverage of the financial markets and Wall Street. His stories are routinely among the most-read items on the site each day as he interviews some of the smartest and most well-respected analysts and advisors in the financial world. He also is a frequent guest on CNBC.


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This Crisis Makes Clear: We Need a Four-Day Work Week, Now

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The pan­dem­ic inspired politi­cians and coun­try lead­ers across the world to speak in favor of a reduced work week. New Zealand Prime Min­is­ter Jacin­da Ardern has brought it up, as has San­na Marin, the Prime Min­is­ter of Fin­land. Germany’s largest trade union, a met­al­work­ers’ union, is push­ing the idea hard, with sup­port from the country’s Fed­er­al Min­istry of Labor and Social Affairs. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is con­sid­er­ing a wage sub­sidy pro­gram to short­en work­ers’ hours.

Accord­ing to a study by the Cana­di­an Labor Eco­nom­ics Forum, low-income work­ers in Cana­da expe­ri­enced both the sharpest decrease in work­ing hours and the sharpest increase. That’s because the Cana­di­an Emer­gency Response Ben­e­fit (CERB), a month­ly stipend of 2,000 Cana­di­an dol­lars, was avail­able to any­one who lost work due to the pan­dem­ic, and whose month­ly earn­ings were now 1,000 Cana­di­an dol­lars or less. But it didn’t apply to any­one who vol­un­tar­i­ly left their job.

Among those who kept their jobs were essen­tial work­ers, most of whom are paid para­dox­i­cal­ly low wages—they saw their jobs become more demand­ing and more dan­ger­ous. For non-essen­tial work­ers whose work shift­ed online, where their work­ing hours did increase, this may have been mit­i­gat­ed by the decrease in com­mute time. Every­one in between—peo­ple whose pan­dem­ic-relat­ed job loss brought them under the $1,000 thresh­old—sud­den­ly had more income and more time. Some actu­al­ly saw an increase in income, as the CERB amounts to more than a month­ly wage at the fed­er­al min­i­mum wage. Leah Gazan, a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment in the province of Man­i­to­ba, has put forth a motion to con­vert the CERB into a uni­ver­sal basic income with­out cut­ting oth­er social sup­port networks. 

Politi­cians aren’t alone in think­ing about the ben­e­fits of short­er hours. Among the loud­est pro­po­nents for cut­ting hours is a New Zealand hedge fund that tri­aled a four-day week and saw an increase in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. Oth­er firms have seen sim­i­lar results, espe­cial­ly in office set­tings. Employ­ees work­ing exces­sive hours are tired, stressed and more vul­ner­a­ble to men­tal ill­ness or dis­eases. Work­ing exces­sive hours also means we strug­gle to meet our own needs—like social­iz­ing, exer­cis­ing, eat­ing prop­er­ly or even hav­ing hob­bies. As a result, work­ers com­mod­i­fy things they would oth­er­wise do for fun, like car­ing for chil­dren or cook­ing din­ner. They hire migrant work­ers for pal­try wages or buy ready-made din­ners assem­bled by under­paid fac­to­ry workers.

A rad­i­cal short­er work week goes fur­ther than ask­ing whether we can cut hours with­out cut­ting prof­its. It chal­lenges the cen­tral role of work in our lives and asks what life could look like if the ben­e­fits of indus­tri­al­iza­tion were redis­trib­uted rather than accu­mu­lat­ed at the top. 

When the pan­dem­ic hit, Erin Socall lost her job as a pri­vate chef in Toron­to. She gave her­self a day off, and then start­ed bak­ing full-time. She made bread for peo­ple whose liveli­hoods were affect­ed by the cri­sis, deliv­er­ing up to 20 loaves across the city sev­er­al times a week. This helped sup­port a heav­i­ly over­bur­dened food secu­ri­ty sys­tem, and also helped her escape the unat­tain­able stan­dards set by her indus­try that wore on her phys­i­cal and men­tal health. Astrid Mohr, a stu­dent at McGill Uni­ver­si­ty, also start­ed bak­ing: She learned how to make crois­sants, and start­ed sell­ing them to give the pro­ceeds to food banks in the city. Both Mohr and Socall found them­selves with time on their hands as the pan­dem­ic began. It’s that leisure time that allowed them to recon­sid­er the pur­pose of their work, and build work­ing habits that are health­i­er and more sus­tain­able for them.

Cook­ing at home is one exam­ple of what Auton­o­my, a U.K.-based think tank that stud­ies work, calls “low-car­bon soft” alter­na­tives to con­sumerist behav­ior. Its 2019 report on the short­er work week found that reduc­ing work­ing hours would reduce car­bon emis­sions and improve gen­er­al soci­etal wel­fare. It would reduce com­mute traf­fic and part­ly replace it with walk­ing or bik­ing—more low-car­bon soft activ­i­ties. Auton­o­my also lays out a tran­si­tion­al path that pro­pos­es a frame­work for com­pa­nies to ensure that increased prof­it leads to bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions for employ­ees. An exam­ple is the cre­ation of a gov­ern­ment orga­ni­za­tion that would ensure that tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion, like the cre­ation of new machin­ery that makes pro­duc­tion faster and eas­i­er, trans­lates to bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions instead of mass lay­offs and increased profit.

Could we replace the whole food sup­ply chain with home-baked bread? Unlike­ly. But we could reduce depen­den­cy on labor-inten­sive, high-ener­gy prod­ucts like microwave lasagna. Giv­en that Amer­i­cans waste up to 40% of food, we could fur­ther reduce indus­tri­al food pro­duc­tion. Our cities could pro­mote local food pro­duc­tion like com­mu­ni­ty-sup­port­ed agri­cul­ture and urban farm­ing.

We could imag­ine a food pro­duc­tion sys­tem that relies much less on indus­tri­al­ized agri­cul­ture. Fac­to­ry farms, whose work­ing con­di­tions and envi­ron­men­tal impact have been under increased scruti­ny dur­ing the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic, could be replaced with small­er alter­na­tives that are more friend­ly to work­ers and the envi­ron­ment. Food fac­to­ry work­ers who also ben­e­fit from the short­er work week could work less and in bet­ter con­di­tions to sup­ple­ment the local sup­ply chain as need­ed. That food sys­tem would also bet­ter resist crises like Covid-19, and improve food secu­ri­ty for peo­ple who, under the cur­rent econ­o­my, can’t always access food.

Food pro­duc­tion is the most tan­gi­ble exam­ple of the ben­e­fit of a short­er work week, but there are count­less oth­ers. By giv­ing peo­ple more time to care for them­selves and each oth­er, a short­er work week pol­i­cy would increase over­all health in soci­ety, and par­tial­ly reduce the bur­den of health­care work­ers. We’d need few­er desk work­out gad­gets, less cof­fee, and few­er med­ica­tions to treat sleep depri­va­tion. Once we start point­ing out indus­tries that prof­it off of the col­lec­tive exhaus­tion caused by over­work, it’s hard to stop.

But if our tran­si­tion to a short­er work week con­tin­ues to evolve with­out a social frame­work behind it, it will con­tin­ue to repro­duce the same inequal­i­ties we have seen dur­ing this cri­sis. Mohr, a stu­dent with a finan­cial­ly sta­ble fam­i­ly that housed and fed her dur­ing the cri­sis, was able to take this time to inten­sive­ly learn a new skill. Oth­ers with the same inter­ests, more needs, and per­haps more knowl­edge didn’t have that opportunity.

Cheyenne Sun­dance, who runs a social-jus­tice ori­ent­ed urban farm in Toron­to named “Sun­dance Har­vest,” spoke to this issue. “Some­one who has the priv­i­lege of being able to go to their par­ents’ land … can start a farm much, much soon­er than some­one who lives in a high-rise apart­ment,” she notes. Some­one with less income is more like­ly to live in a small apart­ment with­out access to land or space to grow food, and might have to wait years to access a plot.

The ben­e­fits of a short­er work week won’t reach those who need it the most: peo­ple with low­er incomes, who are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly Black, Indige­nous and peo­ple of col­or, unless it’s accom­pa­nied by social poli­cies that very inten­tion­al­ly include them. For instance, it’s impor­tant to con­sid­er poli­cies that would return land to Indige­nous peo­ple and sup­port tra­di­tion­al agriculture.

In order for a short­er work week to cre­ate struc­tur­al change, we have to under­stand it as nei­ther a panacea nor a reform, but rather a re-imag­in­ing of the pur­pose of work and leisure, and a re-envi­sion­ing of the role that pro­duc­tiv­i­ty plays in our lives.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on October 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Anna Roach is a fel­low at the Toni Sta­bile Cen­ter for Inves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ism at the Colum­bia School of Jour­nal­ism. She writes about top­ics includ­ing social move­ments, gen­der and labor. 


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