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Depending on Employers for Abortion Access is a Nightmare

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Sarah Lazare

Following last week’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down federal protections for abortion rights, major companies, including a number of Silicon Valley giants, publicly broadcast their intention to assist their workers in traveling out of state to obtain an abortion.

Meta, Apple, Disney, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Condé Nast were among them, the New York Times noted, joining companies that had made similar pledges in May, when a leaked memo revealed that the Court would overturn Roe v. Wade. These companies include Reddit, Tesla, Microsoft, Starbucks, Yelp, Airbnb, Netflix, Patagonia, DoorDash, JP Morgan Chase, Levi Strauss & Co. and PayPal, the Times reports.

Meanwhile, Google pledged to allow workers to apply to relocate “without justification” if they live in states that do not allow abortion. Uber reiterated that its “insurance plans in the U.S. already cover a range of reproductive health benefits, including pregnancy termination and travel expenses to access healthcare.”

On its face, these gestures by employers may seem like a good thing.

But this response opens up another door to hell: The reality that workers will be even more reliant on capricious and self-interested employers to provide basic, necessary healthcare, handing bosses even more power, while giving workers one more thing to fight tooth and nail to protect.

The Problems with Employment Health Care

Let’s look at how this approach has worked out for general health coverage.

In a country that, unlike other industrialized nations, does not provide free and universal healthcare to its people, individuals rely on employers for this vital good. This means that a worker’s boss has control over their ability to get emergency heart surgery without going bankrupt, to pay for a child’s leukemia treatment, to get preventative healthcare to ward off serious complications, to afford insulin in order to not die from diabetes, etc.

Routine, day-to-day matters — like asking for time off, or asking a boss not to sexually harass you, or even banding together with your coworkers to organize a union — have higher stakes under this system. If you lose your job, you lose your healthcare. And if this healthcare is extended to your dependents and spouse, so does your family.

And what of other, more-difficult-to-quantify matters, like personal happiness and fulfillment at work? According to a May 2021 survey from West Health and Gallup, one out of six adults who receives employer-provided healthcare is staying in a job they don’t want because they’re afraid of losing these benefits.

In a capitalist society, work is how we spend our lives. Squandering our one precious life in an unwanted job is a tragic waste.

Unions Can Protect Workers’ Health

Of course, the best way to protect one’s health benefits, short of winning universal healthcare, is to organize a union.

Union workers are significantly more likely than their non-union counterparts to have health benefits at all. But imagine all the things workers could win if they didn’t have to spend their time at the bargaining table negotiating over their members’ ability to survive. If healthcare were off the table, because it was already provided by the government, maybe we would have stronger common good wins, or clauses protecting the right to strike under any circumstance, or 30-hour work weeks.

Now, apply this principle to the realm of abortion.

To think of having to add protection of one’s ability to get an abortion to the list of things employers provide, and can therefore take away, is terrifying. Some of the companies that publicly claim they will protect abortion rights are among the most viciously anti-union employers of our time.

There are Employers who Leverage Employees’ Health Against Them

How will they use this new form of leverage to crack down on workers’ rights to demand better conditions?

We are already seeing an example in Starbucks, which has said that it can’t “make promises” that any benefits for workers in need of abortions will be guaranteed for unionized shops, though they are currently provided.

Other companies making such pledges have pursued astoundingly anti-worker policies, like Uber, which is currently fighting against classifying its workers as employees, a move that would give workers access to key benefits, like the right to form a union and access to workers’ compensation.

Do we really think that a company that doesn’t want its workers to have basic rights is truly committed to ensuring they’re able to receive abortions when they need one?

Abortion travel funding shouldn’t have to be a chip on the bargaining table. But this is the terrain that unions must fight on. And they are, right now, some of their members’ best protection.

There are a host of other things unions could be doing to protect union members. Dr. Rebecca Givan, a labor law expert, has suggested creative solutions, including using union release time, to help people get abortions, drive them there, or provide childcare.

Unions should absolutely be thinking along these lines. Any step that could put abortion protections in the hands of workers, rather than their bosses, is a good thing.

Attacking Abortion Rights is Attacking Workers’ Rights

But let’s be clear-eyed about what the attack on abortion rights does.

Suddenly stealing a fundamental right to bodily autonomy helps place workers in a lower social class. It strips away workplace leverage — to give people who need abortions one more thing they have to beg their bosses for. One more thing to protect in a society where the safety net is already thin, and working-class people face rising prices and a potential looming recession. One more reason employers can claim benevolence as they crush union drives.

We can’t only rely on the bargaining table to win back the societal rights we have lost. It’s time for the resurgent labor movement to organize like hell to say that this attack on self-determination and humanity is unacceptable, and will not be tolerated — in the workplace and beyond.

This is a shortened version of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on June 27, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Sarah Lazare is a web editor and reporter for In These Times.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions to learn about them and your rights as an employee.


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This Supreme Court also hates worker power

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Laura Clawson

This week, the Supreme Court gutted abortion rights. This is a workers’ issue, in a country where many struggle to afford an abortion and lack the paid leave needed to take multiple days off work to travel out of state for abortion access as state bans go into effect. The Economic Policy Institute’s Heidi Shierholz points out research showing that people who want but cannot get an abortion experience long-term financial consequences and increased poverty. Also highlighted here: The states where abortion bans are most likely are also states where wages and worker power are low.

The Supreme Court also essentially nullified states’ rights to limit permits to carry firearms, sending a signal that it would become more and more extremist on guns. This, too, is a workers’ issue, in a country where workplace shootings are all too common.

But make no mistake that this Supreme Court is also specifically opposed to workers’ rights and efforts to build worker power. Justice Samuel Alito may end his career most remembered for his spiteful opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, but he also has a long and equally spiteful track record of anti-union activism. As Jenny Hunter wrote at Balls and Strikes in 2021, “Alito’s ‘impartiality’ in cases about unions can not only ‘reasonably be questioned’; it simply does not exist. There is no doubt he will rule to limit workers’ collective power at every opportunity. The only question is how quickly he’ll upend the law in order to engineer his desired result.”

This month, the court gutted an important California workplace enforcement rule. Because, of course, Alito has company in his basic anti-worker stance. A lot of company on this Trump-packed court. Workers around the country are showing renewed interest in unions, but they will encounter a hostile Supreme Court for a generation or more, unless Democrats expand the court.

This is a blog that originally appeared on Daily Kos on June 25, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Laura Clawson is the assistant managing editor for Daily Kos.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions to learn about them and your rights as an employee.


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The Sign Says It All: How Unions Can Stop Employers from Crying Poor

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My wife and I were motoring down the main avenue in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2017 when I yelled out, “Stop! I gotta have this sign!”

Nancy pulled over. I jumped out and yanked out of the roadside a real estate sign that announced, “From the Upper $1 Millions, New Luxury Condos,” with a big arrow telling you to turn so you could buy one.

Back when we moved here in 1992, this had been an affordable place to live, just across the river from Washington, D.C. But soon after that, gentrification kicked in full throttle.

Today, working people are priced out of home-buying completely, forced to pay exorbitant and climbing rents.

I wrestled the big sign into the back seat. “We can show this to the politicians and bosses around here when they tell us they can’t afford a big raise,” I told Nancy, who works for the city of Alexandria as a paramedic and belongs to the Firefighters Union (IAFF). And that’s what we’ve done for the past five years.

Mayors, city councilors, and county commissioners have seen the sign. So have transit authority bosses, corporate managers, company negotiators, state representatives, and many, many rank-and-file members.

It gets attention. At first people are puzzled: “Why do you have this real estate sign here?” But everyone gets the point when I explain that the mortgages and rents are “too damn high” and working people need a big raise now!

Can’t Cry Poor

I took the sign to a union meeting with the workers of the Alexandria DASH transit company in 2018. Coincidentally, it was the day after Amazon had announced it was setting up a new corporate headquarters here.

I held the sign up as I laid out why we had to win the union authorization election by a big margin so we could win long overdue and major wage increases. Every head in the room was nodding—that sign said it all. Several workers volunteered that their landlords had already given them rent increase notices as a result of the Amazon announcement.

We won the election 9 to 1. The economic settlement we negotiated was one of the best in our international union’s recent history. The sign came with us to union meetings, city council meetings, and DASH board meetings. None of the powers that be wanted to cry poor in a city with this sort of tax base—not with that sign staring them in the face.

So if you see a sign like this in your town, grab it and put it to work.

This is a blog that originally appeared on Labor Notes on June 1, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Chris Townsend is the former national organizing director of the Amalgamated Transit Union and retired United Electrical Workers international representative.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions to learn about them and your rights as an employee.


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Reversing Labor Laws Rooted in Slavery

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Rebecca Dixon

As we celebrate Juneteenth this year, it is important to acknowledge the lasting impacts of slavery on the workplace and the labor market. The at-will employment doctrine, which allows employers in most states to discharge workers for any reason, and the subminimum wage for tipped workers are both rooted in the employer backlash to Emancipation. These laws continue to disadvantage workers—Black and Latinx workers in particular.

The at-will doctrine stems from the period after the Civil War when employers, largely in the railroad industry, sought to limit the growing power of organized workers—including formerly enslaved Black workers—by reserving the right to fire them for any reason. Proponents argued that if workers now had the “right to quit” without restrictions, employers should have a “right to fire” without reason or explanation. Though never turned into legislation, this practice became entrenched in US law through judicial decisions over the course of several decades.

Today, most employers can legally fire anyone without warning or explanation, a power imbalance that forces many workers to accept exploitative working conditions out of fear of losing their jobs.

Under the at-will doctrine, it is exceedingly difficult for workers to prove when they have been illegally fired for discriminatory or retaliatory reasons or for government agencies to enforce laws protecting workers against discrimination or retaliation. These circumstances disproportionately affect Black and Latinx workers, who are more likely than white workers to have low-paying jobs and express concern about retaliation for speaking out about unsafe or unfair working conditions.

As a step toward addressing this power imbalance, state, local, and federal legislators must enact just-cause laws that protect workers against sudden and unjust firings. Just-cause job protections would require employers to provide and prove a justifiable reason for discharging a worker and to give fair notice. In turn, workers could more safely insist on better working conditions with less risk of losing their livelihoods.

Tipping in lieu of wages is another practice that became widespread following Emancipation, when hospitality-sector employers hired many formerly enslaved Black workers. Even after the Reconstruction era, the labor hierarchy that expected servitude from Black workers remained intact, and compensation for their labor was left to customer discretion. Despite the organizing efforts of tipped workers, most service industries were excluded from the first federal minimum wage law in 1938.

While employers are now required to pay tipped workers at least a subminimum wage, it has been frozen at a paltry $2.13 per hour at the federal level for more than 30 years. State law protections are little better in the 43 states with a subminimum wage. As a result, these workers’ livelihoods are still dependent on the good will of patrons. These laws technically require employers to cover differences between total tips and the minimum wage, but that requirement is hard to enforce and often ignored. As a result, tipped workers still earn fluctuating wages for their labor and may have to endure harassment from the customers they rely on. Black tipped workers—and Black women in particular—are at an even greater disadvantage because they earn less in tips than their white counterparts on average, with Black women making nearly $5 less per hour than white men.

The Raise the Wage Act of 2021, currently stalled in Congress, would phase out this unfair subminimum wage for tipped workers and raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour by 2025. According to the Economic Policy Institute, this shift would help eliminate poverty wages and raise the earnings of nearly a quarter of the US workforce—about 32 million workers. Nearly one in three Black workers, one in four Latinx workers, and one in five white workers would benefit from a raised minimum wage. Black and Latinx women in particular are overrepresented among workers who stand to benefit. According to the One Fair Wage campaign, which advocates for eliminating the subminimum wage, paying tipped workers the minimum wage, with tips on top, could reduce the race-gender wage gap in the restaurant industry by 35 percent.

Members of Congress must act now to pass the bill to make a living wage mandatory across the country.

This Juneteenth, we are in solidarity with workers taking to the streets as part of the Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly & Moral March on Washington and to the Polls to demand the right to an adequate standard of living and to work with dignity. Protecting workers from at-will firings, eliminating the subminimum wage, and raising wages overall are some of the minimum requirements for an equitable society, one in which all jobs pay a living wage and all workers can advocate for their rights without fear of retaliation or discrimination. Reversing unjust labor laws rooted in slavery is one step toward this vision—and it is long overdue.

This is a blog that originally appeared in full at Nelp on June 17, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Rebecca Dixon is the executive director of Nelp and an advocate for workers’ rights interested in the intersection of labor and racial equity.


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How America Can Stop Violence Against Health Care Workers

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The young man in Cleveland Clinic Akron General’s behavioral crisis intervention unit hadn’t communicated much during his hospitalization, but he showed no signs of violence until Brian Eckley tried to draw his blood early one morning.

The patient stood up, sat back down, rose again and then punched Eckley, a state-tested nurse aide and senior technician, in the left jaw.

Keeping his cool despite the pain, Eckley dodged more punches as he held the needle and tourniquet out of the patient’s reach, banged on the treatment room windows and called for help.

Legislation is Pending

Attacks on health care workers have reached epidemic levels across the country, exacerbating turnover, turning caregivers into patients and further fraying systems of care already worn thin by COVID-19. The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, twice passed by the House and just reintroduced in the Senate, would require employers to implement the safeguards needed to help keep Eckley and millions of his peers safe on the job.

The legislation—supported by numerous labor unionstrade groups and other stakeholders—would direct the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop a standard requiring health care providers to implement safety plans for clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and other treatment facilities.

The bill calls for facilities to consider measures such as alarm systems, physical barriers and strategic staffing, including having workers in hazardous situations operate in teams. To ensure the plans are as comprehensive and effective as possible, facilities would have to devise them with the input of workers on the front lines and address the specific hazards in each work area or unit.

“Having a safety officer on the unit 24/7 would be a wonderful first step,” observed Eckley, a member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1014L, who had calmed down his combative patient by the time a security guard in another part of the hospital complex arrived at the behavioral health unit.

“They just don’t have what we need to do the job safely,” he said of health care employers around the country. “They do the bare minimum, and it’s more reactive than proactive.”

Even before COVID-19, health care workers faced five times more violence on the job than their counterparts in most other professions. Incidents skyrocketed during the pandemic. The crisis exacted a heavy toll on Americans’ emotional health and patients, relatives and community members grew frustrated with staffing shortages at medical facilities.

Violence Against Workers is Increasing

The violence is now so pervasive that many health care workers are victimized over and over again.

Eckley, for example, has been punched repeatedly, stabbed with a pen, and bitten by an HIV-positive patient who disliked the meal he was served. He’s also witnessed numerous attacks on coworkers and once watched a patient batter a door to get to a jar of candy on the other side.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, the legislation’s chief sponsor in the Senate, said of the surging number of assaults. “We know we need to do more to protect these workers.”

Under the legislation, employers would not only have to implement safety plans but also train workers to report assaults, conduct real investigations when incidents occur, keep records of injuries and ensure workers get immediate treatment when harmed.

Right now, as Jackie Anklam, president of USW Local 9899, knows all too well, many facilities across the country minimize incidents, dismiss assaults as part of the job, or try to pin the blame on the victims.

Anklam recalled getting a frantic phone call late one night from an emergency department technician at Ascension St. Mary’s Hospital in Saginaw, Michigan. The technician was pushed and threatened by about 20 highly emotional family members who gathered at the facility after a loved one arrived there with a fatal gunshot wound.

The victim’s relatives somehow managed to enter a locked treatment area off the waiting room, and Anklam said the technician was roughed up while following a doctor’s orders to usher them out. Anklam said she expected a robust investigation given the family members’ dangerous breach of a secure area.

Instead, she said, “we reported it, and their investigation was, ‘they don’t know who pushed the button and let them in.’ I think it was downplayed and swept under the rug.”

Action is being Delayed

Amid tireless advocacy by health care workers and their unions, the Democratic-controlled House first passed the violence prevention bill in 2019. But the Senate, then controlled by Republicans, refused even to bring it to a vote.

Under the leadership of Connecticut Representative Joe Courtney, the House passed it again last year with bipartisan support. Now, it’s more crucial than ever that the Senate swiftly take up the bill and pass it.

Some states have attempted to address the crisis by considering or passing laws imposing stiffer penalties on people who assault health care workers. But Eckley and his coworkers know it’s even more essential to prevent violence in the first place.

“As time goes on, it will grow,” Eckley warned, noting attacks are becoming not only more numerous but also more brutal. “The severity seems to keep going up. It doesn’t go down.”

This is blog was originally produced by the Independent Media Institute. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

Visit our page on Workplace Fairness to learn more about workplace safety.


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How Unions Are Fighting to Protect Abortion Rights

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On May 2, Politico issued a bombshell report based upon a leaked draft of a majority opinion by the Supreme Court fully overturning Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Roe v. Wade—a devastating repeal of nearly 50 years of federal protection for abortion rights. The decision is expected this month, but the unprecedented revelation triggered a political earthquake and widespread alarm.

Organized labor began to issue a slow wave of statements opposing the draft opinion and pledging support for abortion and reproductive rights. AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, the first woman to head the national labor federation, issued a statement on May 3 condemning the draft decision — a stark reversal of the AFL-CIO’s historic reticence on abortion rights. Even the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, a member of the typically more conservative Building Trade Department, issued a statement defending “women’s fundamental right to healthcare and bodily autonomy.”

The response reflects a significant change in organized labor. Some unions, seeing the threat of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, even intervened in the case early: AFSCME and SEIU signed amicus briefs supporting reproductive rights. But responses since the Politico report reveal some trepidation in the movement, with most unions making general statements in support of reproductive rights while a small number — such as the NewsGuild-CWA and Vox Media Union — have pledged more concrete action to collectively bargain protections for abortion.

According to Dr. Rebecca Givan, a professor of labor and industrial relations at Rutgers University, there’s a lot unions can do to protect abortion access. “I think that unions will try to protect access of their members through making sure contracts and health insurance coverage combined are sufficient to support anyone who needs access to abortion care.”

Unions like the NewsGuild-CWA are intent on doing exactly that. Jon Schleuss, the President of the union, described being stunned by the leak, but quickly realizing that action needed to be taken. “It was really important to immediately bring in members and other leaders in the Guild to start discussing how we collectively felt,” said Schleuss. “That way we could channel our anger and outrage into productive collective action.”

For the NewsGuild-CWA, strengthening existing collective bargaining agreements — like Givan suggests — is a natural starting point for discussing how unions can protect abortion access. “We have a lot of members in states that have a lot of these trigger laws,” Schleuss explained.

“There’s three different newsrooms in Texas, several in Missouri, and we’ve got national members who are spread across the country. So how do we actually affirm abortion access inside our contracts?”

According to Jaya Saxena, a senior writer at Eater and activist with Vox Media Union, workers are facing similar challenges protecting a dispersed membership spread across states with trigger laws. “We’re an extremely remote company,” said Saxena. “Vox Media has headquarters in New York and D.C., but there are a lot of people who work from home and work in different states.”

Vox workers had anticipated an attack on abortion rights, and had already made proposals strengthening abortion access for their members. In addition to ensuring that health insurance covers the cost of abortions, they’re looking at the broader question of access, such as assistance and financial support to employees who have to travel from states where abortion care isn’t available. With the leaked ruling, workers are looking ahead at future attacks, like on same sex marriage. But, Saxena says, “It’s so hard to anticipate what might happen in the future and try to write a contract or proposed wording that would account for these awful hypotheticals.”

Securing a strong contract may prove to be a fight. The Vox Media Union has issued notice of its intent to strike if a new deal isn’t reached before June 13, when the current contract expires, though the strike does not appear to hinge on the reproductive rights measures. An impressive 95% of workers have signed strike pledges.

But fighting to strengthen collective bargaining agreements is only a starting point, according to Givan. She’s concerned about whether organized labor will organize to fight back, and whether labor will consider unorthodox approaches — like using union release time to do the abortion access work of providing transportation and childcare, similar to how many unions use release time for elections.

A key battleground, however, may prove far bigger than individual collective bargaining agreements: union healthcare trusts.

Trusts, sometimes called “Taft-Hartley Trusts,” are nonprofit entities administering the funds for health insurance and healthcare plans — usually covering multiple employers with employees represented by the same union — with trustees split between participating unions and management.

According to Form 5500s, a standard annual report on benefit performance and operations filed with the Department of Labor, just 10 of the largest union healthcare trusts cover approximately 581,000 plan participants, with nearly $25 billion dollars in assets. Millions of Americans are covered by union healthcare trusts, some of which — like the 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund, which covers approximately 154,000 plan participants — already guarantee abortion coverage.

However, not all do: The United Food and Commercial Workers and Food Employers Benefit Fund explicitly excludes medications that induce abortion from prescription drug coverage, and the Teamsters Health and Welfare Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity excludes elective abortion.

How far unions go to defend abortion access, either at the bargaining table or elsewhere, remains to be seen. Givan thinks that the muted response from some segments of organized labor demonstrates profound anxiety about the November midterm elections.

This is a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on June 8, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: C.M. Lewis is a contributor for In These Times, an editor of Strikewave, and a union activist in Pennsylvania.

View Workplace Fairness’ page on unions if you are interested in learning more about them.


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The Lie that Helped Kill the Labor Movement

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Ian Ward

In late March of 1969, Dominick Manoli, an associate general counsel at the National Labor Relations Board, appeared before the Supreme Court to deliver oral arguments in National Labor Relations Board v. Gissel Packing Company, Inc. At issue in the case was the NLRB’s policy regarding labor unions formed by “card check,” a process that allowed workers to form a union by collecting signed authorization cards from a majority of their bargaining unit rather than by participating in a formal, NLRB-supervised election. The NLRB’s policy toward these unions, known as the “Joy Silk doctrine,” was clear: In the absence of a “good faith doubt” about the union’s majority status, employers were obligated to recognize it as the workers’ exclusive bargaining agent. If the employer refused without a good faith doubt, the NLRB would issue a bargaining order to compel them to come to the table.

But when Associate Justice Byron White asked Manoli to explain how the Joy Silk doctrine would apply to a situation in which an employer, without a good faith doubt about the authenticity of the union’s majority, declined to recognize a union on the grounds that the employer preferred a formal election, Manoli’s response came as something of a surprise: He stated the exact opposite of the board’s position.
“The [NLRB’s] general counsel will not issue a complaint … in that kind of situation where the employer says to the union, ‘I don’t wish to rely upon cards,” Manoli told White.

“‘I don’t care how many cards you’ve got. I just don’t like it,’” said White, ventriloquizing the position of an employer.

“That’s right,” Manoli replied.

No one knows for sure why Manoli misstated the board’s position — but regardless of his true motives, his arguments stuck. In its decision in Gissel, the Supreme Court concluded that the NLRB had abandoned Joy Silk altogether and put forward a new standard according to which the board would in general only issue bargaining orders if it could prove that an employer had committed “outrageous” or “pervasive” unfair labor practices that made the conduct of a fair election unlikely or impossible. Two years later, in 1971, Richard Nixon’s NLRB formally amended its policy to align with the court’s decision in Gissel, indicating in a written decision that it would no longer inquire into employers’ good faith — or lack thereof — when deciding whether to issue a bargaining order to an employer who declined to recognize a card check.

Half a century later, this episode has taken on new relevance as the labor movement and its allies in the Biden administration seek to correct Manoli’s mistake. In April, Jennifer Abruzzo, President Joe Biden’s choice to serve as the NLRB’s general counsel, filed a brief in an ongoing dispute before the NLRB recommending that the five-member board readopt Joy Silk as its governing policy. (The brief makes only passing mention of Manoli’s role in the end of Joy Silk, noting in a footnote that “the Associate General Counsel misrepresented controlling Board law regarding the Joy Silk doctrine” during oral arguments in Gissel.) The board, composed of three Democratic-appointed members and two Republican-appointed members, is expected to issue a decision on Abruzzo’s recommendation in the coming months.

For many labor advocates, reinstating Joy Silk would be the first step toward addressing the lasting consequences of Manoli’s reversal. Today, it remains virtually impossible for unions to receive recognition via card check, forcing workers to rely instead on the more protracted and legally-complex process of a board-supervised election. According to some labor experts, the election process in the post-Joy Silk era remains weighted heavily in favor of employers, who are able to use an array of unfair practices to disperse support for a union without triggering a bargaining order under the Gissel standard.

“It’s striking to look at the surge in unfair labor practices that basically started precisely after 1969,” says Brian Petruska, general counsel at LIUNA Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizing Fund and the author of a 2017 article about the Joy Silk doctrine for the Santa Clara Law Review that Abruzzo cites in her brief. “What [the data] shows is that the situation has continued to get worse.”

Against this background, Manoli’s performance before the Supreme Court holds more than merely antiquarian interest. In a policy area that’s often assumed to be governed by impersonal economic laws and abstract market forces, the end of Joy Silk is the rare instance where a major change in labor law can be traced more or less directly to the actions of a single individual. If Manoli’s decision to abandon Joy Silk in March 1969 contributed to the presently anemic state of the labor movement, then what possibilities could its readoption hold for the movement’s future?

This is part of a blog that originally appeared in full at Politico on June 7, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Ian Ward is a contributing editor for Politico Magazine.


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A Man Won a Lawsuit for an Unwanted Office Birthday Party: What it Means for Workplace Discrimination

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Madeline Messa

Like the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit, this is one of those cases that leaves an absurd first impression but earns sympathy when its details are explored.

In April, a jury awarded a man $450,000 after he sued his former employer for throwing him a birthday party at work. 

However, there is more to the story. The man, Kevin Berling, asked his employer, Gravity Diagnostics, not to throw him a party as they usually did for their employees’ birthdays. He had an anxiety disorder, and he explained he feared his “bad memories” associated with his birthday would trigger a panic attack.

Disregarding his request, the employer threw a party anyway. 

Berling had a panic attack, and his employer fired him shortly after for “workplace violence.” Berling then sued Gravity Diagnostics for disability discrimination.

Despite the clickbait-sounding headlines this case made for, it is realistically about disability discrimination in the workplace. It should serve to remind employers they are obligated to make accommodations for disabled employees, including those whose disabilities are related to mental health. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title I requires employers to provide disabled employees with reasonable accommodations to perform their jobs and enjoy the same access and benefits as their coworkers. 

In this case, the jury sided with Berling, finding his request to not have a birthday party was a reasonable accommodation for his disabling anxiety disorder. His employer did not deny the accommodation because of any undue hardship, but simply because they did not take the request seriously. Further, the employer fired Berling due to his panic attacks, creating a relatively clear-cut case for disability discrimination.

When people think of discrimination, they often think of race or gender and overlook disabilities. 

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last year that people with disabilities were far more likely to be unemployed than people without disabilities, regardless of age or education. Disabled people were also more likely to be self-employed than people without disabilities.

Accommodations are meant to close these gaps by providing disabled employees with tools and modified work environments needed to perform their jobs successfully. Accommodations can include allowing a cashier with chronic pain to sit at their register rather than stand all day, a sign language interpreter for a deaf job applicant — or respecting the request to not throw a birthday party for an employee who made it known it could give them a panic attack.

Accommodations are flexible, and not all disabilities call for the same accommodations. Employees should be able to comfortably ask their employer for an accommodation for their disability without fear of retaliation. 

Workplaces that are ignorant to disability law and unwilling to grant reasonable accommodations reinforce the unemployment disparity between people with and without disabilities, marginalizing disabled employees. 

Mental health is valid, and work is on the rise as a major source of stress for many people. In response to a Harvard Business Review survey, 76% of people suffered from at least one negative mental health symptom. Employers who deny reasonable accommodations to mitigate disabling anxiety only exacerbate the issue. 

Employers need to acknowledge the law and be receptive to disabled employees and job applicants. Putting up motivational posters in the break room to encourage overwhelmed employees to count to ten and imagine they are in a happier place is not going to cut it. 

This blog was published with permission.

About the Author: Madeline Messa is a law student at Syracuse University with a BA in journalism from Penn State. She is currently working as a legal and communications intern for Workplace Fairness.


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Promoting Sobriety in the Workplace

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Dan Matthews

Although its effects can be hidden, substance abuse is one of the most common social issues affecting the modern workforce. According to research, more than 20 million American adults are in recovery from some type of substance use disorder. What’s more, the bulk of those individuals are part of the national labor force. Individuals in recovery often find that their otherwise dynamic workplace serves as a trigger of sorts, especially during networking sessions and similar events. 

The issue is so prevalent that top-tier companies and regional governments alike have taken notice. Connecticut’s Department of Labor, for example, offers employers a comprehensive online toolkit for promoting a workplace that’s recovery-friendly. 

For starters, employers should remain flexible and be willing to step in at a moment’s notice to assist employees in recovery who may be struggling. Consider providing mental health days to struggling workers who need a breather. You may also want to take a hard look at your workplace culture and the ways that alcohol is part of it, addressing any glaring issues.

Whatever route you take to promote sobriety, here’s what employers and managers across industries need to know about building a workplace culture that’s inclusive and safe for people in recovery: 

Photo licensed by Unsplash and provided by Dan Matthews.

How to Build a Strong (but Dry) Workplace Culture

Your employees in every stage of recovery have the right to feel safe in the workplace rather than burdened by their addiction. The unfortunate reality is that addiction often carries a negative stigma. Recovering workers are thus likely to hide their previous substance abuse from their coworkers and managers alike.  

As such, it’s your duty as a compassionate employer to build a strong workplace culture that’s free from alcohol and other illicit substances – a “dry” environment. Start with your networking strategy. To better promote sobriety in the workplace, consider hosting dry networking events for your team, where the focus is truly on building work relationships rather than getting intoxicated. 

Further, make sure to maintain your healthy networking and workplace culture strategies over time, ensuring a continued safe environment for employees in recovery. You can’t completely take away workplace triggers, but dry networking events may help reduce stress among your employees.

Reducing Employee Stress via Workplace Wellness

Even for those of us who love what we do, the workplace can be stressful. For individuals in recovery, stressful situations at work – like a looming deadline or an unsatisfied customer – can be powerful triggers, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. 

While you can’t mandate that your workers give up alcohol entirely, you can offer incentives and implement initiatives in the name of employee wellness. For the greatest benefit, workplace wellness programs should be tailored to the personal needs of your employees as well as their overall goals, including substance abuse recovery. Via wellness initiatives, workers can build healthy habits over the long term. 

To keep workplace anxiety low and cravings at bay, employers can also offer stress leave to those in recovery. Even just a few days off can make a huge difference for stressed-out workers on the brink of relapse. During periods of stress leave, whether paid or unpaid, employees are encouraged to prioritize self-care and get the professional support they need.

Key Takeaways

Recovering from substance abuse is a personal journey, and it’s often a difficult one. Triggers can come from everywhere, including the workplace. But that’s not the whole story. Employers can support workers in recovery by providing mental health days, implementing wellness programs, and offering other forms of assistance as appropriate.

This blog was printed with permission.

About the Author: Dan Matthews is a writer, content consultant, and conservationist. While Dan writes on a variety of topics, he loves to focus on the topics that look inward on mankind that help to make the surrounding world a better place to reside.


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