Roundup: Workers' Rights News

Legal News

Gig Workers Face Setback in NYC but Gain Advantage at NLRB: On July 12, a New York City law establishing a minimum wage for app-based delivery workers was slated to come into effect. However, days before, a Manhattan judge issued a temporary restraining order in response to a lawsuit brought by Uber, DoorDash, and other app-based companies. The companies claim that the law is “arbitrary and capricious.” However, advocates and workers contend that this law is necessary because the workers are classified as independent contractors, and therefore excluded from other minimum wage laws.

This state-level development comes a month after the NLRB issued its decision in Atlanta Opera which looked at the standard for determining whether someone is an independent contractor and therefore excluded from the National Labor Relations Act. In the decision, the Board returned to its previous FexEx II standard, overturning the Trump-Board decision in SuperShuttle that made it easier to find that someone is an independent contractor. The core difference between the two standards is the role that “entrepreneurial opportunity” plays. Now, the Board will just look at entrepreneurial opportunity as one of multiple factors, and will only look at actual, not just theoretical, opportunity. Applying this standard to the case, the Board found that the stylists employed by the Atlanta Opera were employees, and therefore eligible to unionize.

NLRB Issues First Complaint Against Amazon and Sues Starbucks: The NLRB issued a complaint against Amazon for their refusal to bargain with the union representing workers at its JFK8 fulfillment center. The complaint seeks a bargaining order as well as remedies to make bargaining unit members whole for the lost opportunity to be covered by a collective bargaining agreement during this period.

The NLRB also brought an action in federal court against Starbucks, alleging that its reorganization plan in its Seattle stores chilled union activity. The petition seeks an injunction to block Starbucks from firing and disciplining workers for their union activities, or taking other actions because of their activities such as forcing them to reapply or denying higher wages and benefits. The petition also seeks back pay and reinstatement for the 33 impacted workers.

Organizing and Strike News

Hollywood on strike: SAG-AFTRA, which represents over 150,000 actors, announced the start of a strike, its first since 1980. Their core demands relate to protections from the use of AI technology and getting a greater share of profits from streaming services, which have transformed the industry and eliminated “residuals.” The actors join screenwriters in the Writers Guild of America (WGA) who have been on strike since May. This marks the first time that actors and writers are on strike simultaneously since 1960. SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher announced the strike in a speech condemning Hollywood’s extractive business model, and connecting actors’ demands to the demands of the labor movement as a whole. Watch the full speech here.

LA Hotel Workers: Hotel workers represented by Unite Here Local 11 engaged in a series of strikes demanding better pay to address the soaring cost of living in the Los Angeles area. Thousands of workers at over 30 hotels have gone out on strike, which comes after the expiration of many contracts this past June. So far only one hotel has reached an agreement. In addition to wage increases, the union is focused on staffing levels, digital tipping, and strong benefits. A group representing the hotels has filed charges with the NLRB, alleging that a proposal that hotels support an affordable housing ballot measure is beyond the scope of bargaining. The union however points out that it is low-wage hotel workers who are most impacted by the affordable housing crisis.

Labor is Everywhere

Workers are everywhere and even news stories that on their face are about something completely different often have a labor angle. At WRI we want to show how labor movements in the U.S. and abroad make and shape all sorts of news. Accordingly, we will try to bring you a labor angle to a big news story that is otherwise being covered from a different perspective.

International Labor Solidarity:

The strike wave discussed above is not limited to the United States, and there have been international pronouncements of solidarity in key labor disputes:

  • The South African Guild of Actors (SAGA) announced full support for the actors strike in the US, noting that the same issues affect actors globally.
  • On July 13th, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Canada reached a tentative agreement after a 13-day strike. This comes after the TILWU U.S. West Coast chapter announced it would not work diverted containerships that had to be re-routed due to the strike.

Amazon workers in the UK, Germany, and the US engaged in strikes surrounding Amazon’s “Prime Day.” Workers in the UK demanded higher wages and union recognition; workers in Germany demanded better working conditions and workloads; and workers in the US went on strike in response to Amazon’s Unfair Labor Practices.

Workers take action in the courtroom and on the streets to assert their rights: developments over the past month show how workers are using both the legal system and protests to have their demands met:

  • A Brazilian labor union launched a class action suit against JBS, the world’s biggest meatpacker. The suit is on behalf of the degrading conditions that chicken workers must contend with, which include long hours, limited breaks, low pay, and a hazardous environment.
  • Kenyan farm workers can proceed with a lawsuit against James Finlay Kenya Ltd. (JFK), a global tea company. The lawsuit was filed in Scotland, where JFK is registered, but the company contended the court didn’t have jurisdiction. A Scottish court rejected this argument, which means that the suit that covers up to 2,000 workers may proceed. The suit alleges that workers are subjected to strenuous conditions, leading to musculoskeletal injuries, for extremely low pay. The company includes Starbucks as one of its customers.

The Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU) launched nationwide protests to call for interest rate cuts, electricity reforms, and job additions. In March, negotiations between COSATU and the government led to an increased minimum wage, but workers are still struggling to navigate high costs resulting from inflation.