Labor Roundup | February 2021

Organized labor blamed Donald Trump for the violent insurrection on Jan. 6 that saw hundreds of white nationalist domestic terrorists overrun the U.S. Capitol. Union leaders, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and particularly National Nurses United Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, said Trump is liable for inciting the insurrection. Castillo called for punishment.

“The president has been encouraging sedition,” she said. “No one is above the law.”

Reps. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minn., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., sought accountability for Trump and wrote articles of impeachment against him.

“He deserves to be impeached,” said new Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., the first Black Lives Matter activist elected to Congress. “I come from protests…This was not a protest… This was an insurrection.”

Bush also said the members of Congress – about 140 of them – who enabled Trump’s lies about a stolen election violated their oaths of office and that she would introduce a resolution to expel them. Trumka commented that insurrectionists “are carrying out his [Trump’s] wishes. This is an effort to violate the constitutional rights of every law-abiding American, and the labor movement will not stand for it. Not ever.”

More than 50 people were arrested for breaking D.C.’s curfew. At press time, dozens of others are being rounded up for prosecution. The contrast between police non-reaction to white nationalists versus massive crackdowns on Black Lives Matter activists drew notice from Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry.

“This attack on the Capitol provoked by Trump is about wielding the power of whiteness to threaten what we hold dear: The chance for families of every race to thrive, to have good jobs and healthcare, for our kids to be safe and have clean air to breathe,” Henry said.

Almost 230 workers from Google’s parent company Alphabet launched a union in early January, a move that could encourage tech worker organizing. The Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) won’t have federal rights to collective bargaining because they didn’t seek a ratification by the National Labor Relations Board, but its model was common in the 1930s.

“We’ve been thinking some of [the decline of unions] is due to how people have been leaning on the legal structure, and it doesn’t give enough protection unless you fit a specific scenario,” said Chewy Shaw, a software engineer and AWU vice chair.

Affiliated with the Communications Workers of America in a partnership similar to CWA’s deal with Wells Fargo workers (Committee for Better Banks), the AWU plans to negotiate with the $1.2 trillion corporation, which has 200,000 employees. By the end of its first day of existence, its membership nearly doubled.

The Supreme Court is going to take on an especially unfair aspect of big-time college athletics: who profits. Justices in December put on their calendar a case about whether football and men’s and women’s basketball players from “power schools” have the right to get paid for use of their images and endorsements, or, as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has decreed for years, they don’t.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in 2020 the answer is “yes,” they can and should get paid, upholding a lower court decision. California, Nebraska and Florida (taking effect June 2021), passed laws allowing the athletes to be paid, and 27 other states are considering doing so. There were also two Senate hearings on the issue last year, when Republicans appeared to side with the NCAA., which insists the student athletes must remain amateurs.

The players want the Court to agree with the Ninth Circuit, uphold its ruling for them on anti-trust grounds, thus tossing out the NCAA’s ban on paying players.

That freedom to earn the value of their playing services is the players’ contention. Barring the players from getting anything violates “the rule of reason” governing anti-trust law and is a restraint of trade, the players’ lawyers argue.

A previous National Labor Relations Board case involving college athletes’ right to unionize, painted a picture of constant practicing and playing, pushing aside studies, and the athletes often live apart from other student population, in separate dorms.

The new Union of Musicians and Allied Workers says Spotify exploits recording artists. The music-streaming corporation accumulates money for its CEO and investors, plus record companies, “but we artists continue to be underpaid, misled and otherwise exploited by the company,” said Justice at Spotify

The union has seven key demands: Pay all artists at least 1 cent per song stream; adopt a user-centric payment model; make all secret contracts public; show where Spotify’s money comes from; reveal existing payola, then end it; credit all labor in recording; and end legal battles intended to further impoverish artists.

Before Trump left the White House, his administration wanted to rob “tipped” workers and reward employers who claim religion protection for discriminating against workers of different faiths.

The first scheme adds another federal “final rule” to Trump’s pile of anti-worker edicts that President Biden will have to try to overturn.

Tipped workers – including taxi drivers, restaurant servers and airport porters – are among the lowest-paid workers in the country. Tipped workers (except in states were minimum wages were raised) make a federal “tipped” minimum wage of $2.13/hour, which hasn’t risen since early in the Reagan administration.

If workers don’t earn the equivalent to that wage, employers are supposed to make up the difference between earnings and the standard federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour) or a state’s or city’s minimum, whichever is higher. But Trump’s Department of Labor wanted to make it easier for bosses to keep paying workers the tipped wage, even when the bosses shift the workers to jobs that normally would get regular pay.

Meanwhile, Trump’s Labor Department issued a final rule letting more groups – from parochial schools to food banks – discriminate against workers who are of different faiths.

DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance admits federal law bans contractors – entities taking federal cash – from discrimination in general and requires them to follow affirmative action rules.

However, starting in January the DOL will permit “employment of individuals of a particular religion” and expands the range of groups that “preferment” exemption covers.

Critics said the rule is too broad in allowing groups to call themselves “religious.” It now includes for-profit businesses, for example, some said. All they have to do is call themselves “religious.”

The new DOL rule says “religious corporations, associations, educational institutions or societies” can discriminate against workers of other faiths especially in hiring and firing. That could cover everyone from private hospitals to nursing homes, religious schools, churches, synagogues, mosques and even the Knights of Columbus.

Workers at a large Amazon warehouse will cast ballots by mail this month on whether to form a union, a National Labor Relations Board hearing officer has ruled.

Some 6,000 workers at the fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., will vote to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Ballots must be received by the NLRB’s regional office by March 29, then the board will count ballots starting the next day. The decision is a setback for Amazon, which has thwarted unionization and wanted the voting to be held in person despite the pandemic.

News briefs courtesy of The Labor Paper

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