Labor law

  • June 5, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Wilson Abney, an attorney and consultant who has advised federal agencies and Congress on government ethics, including as chief counsel to the Senate Ethics Committee and as an attorney for the U.S. Commerce Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

    The National Labor Relations Board has jurisdiction over union organizing drives, elections, and labor-management relations in the private sector. NLRB members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. On January 9, 2012, pursuant to a recess appointment by President Obama, Terrence Flynn was sworn in as a Member of the NLRB. On May 25, Mr. Flynn submitted his letter of resignation effective July 24. Mr. Flynn’s resignation follows two reports issued by the NLRB’s Inspector General (IG) criticizing conduct he engaged in as an attorney on the staff of NLRB member Brian Hayes.  

    Mr. Flynn began working at the NLRB in 2003 as Chief Counsel to Republican NLRB member Peter Schaumber. When Mr. Schaumber left the NLRB, Mr. Flynn joined the staff of Republican NLRB member Brian Hayes.

    According to the IG’s reports, in 2010 and 2011, during his tenure with Mr. Hayes, Mr. Flynn leaked to Mr. Schaumber (who at the time was co-chair of presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s labor advisory committee) and Peter Kirsanow, another former Republican NLRB member (who was serving as outside counsel to the National Association of Manufacturers) confidential information including drafts of NLRB decisions as well as materials constituting NLRB internal deliberations. In addition to Mr. Flynn’s unauthorized disclosure of confidential information received in the course of his official duties, the IG concluded that Mr. Flynn had secretly helped Mr. Schaumber prepare a newspaper opinion piece attacking an NLRB decision characterized as pro union.

  • May 17, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Bruce Goldstein, President, Farmworker Justice. For more coverage of efforts to improve the lives of farmworkers, see the blog Harvesting Justice.

    For Farmworker Justice, there’s unfortunately no shortage of examples of mistreatment of the people who harvest our fruits and vegetables to illustrate the need to continue fighting for farmworkers’ rights. Our mission is to empower agricultural workers to implement lasting solutions to systemic abuses. We focus on labor rights, immigration policy, health, occupational safety and access to justice.

    Last month, Farmworker Justice and Florida Legal Services filed a lawsuit in Florida on behalf of two farmworkers who were among the victims of human trafficking and labor violations while working for a potato grower in Hastings, Florida. The complaint alleges that a farm labor contractor took workers to a squalid, isolated labor camp, where they were supplied with decrepit housing, illegal drugs, and food, for which the workers were loaned money at 100 percent interest. Money was taken from their weekly wages to pay for their rent, food, drugs, and interest, resulting in debts which bound them to their labor contractor.   

    For decades, agricultural workers have suffered theft of wages and other abuses related to their jobs. As in the case in Hastings, Farmworker Justice’s litigation team brings cases aimed at ending employers' systemic deprivations of workers' rights.  Abuses associated with labor contractors are widespread. Many farm operators – or “growers” – hope to escape responsibility as “employers” under labor law and immigration law by claiming that their farmworkers are employed solely by the labor contractor. But everyone needs to be held accountable. That’s why Farmworker Justice works with attorneys and other public-interest organizations throughout the country to bring lawsuits to hold the grower jointly responsible with the labor contractor for complying with the minimum wage and other employment laws. We also advocate at the Department of Labor for greater use of the joint employer concept in its wage-hour enforcement. 

  • April 6, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    SEIU, which represents millions of workers nationwide and more than 100,000 in Alabama, has lodged a complaint with the International Labor Organization (ILO) of the United Nations urging it to press the federal government to move on immigration reform.

    SEIU and its affiliate, the Southern Regional Joint Board of Workers United, state in their complaint before the U.N. that Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, H.B. 56, “denies fundamental civil rights to immigrants and minorities and impacts trade union activities between and among union members, inhibiting freedom of association ….”

    In a press statement announcing the complaint, SEIU says, “Only federal legislative reform can stop the proliferation of laws like Alabama’s H.B. 56 that penalize unauthorized immigrants who apply for jobs or work; fine anyone who transports or harbors an undocumented immigrant; and prevent courts from enforcing contracts that involve a person without legal status …. Such provisions jeopardize the ability of workers to form and join trade unions and to bargain collectively.”

    SEIU’s complaint before the U.N. is available here.

    Authors of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, which The New York Times has dubbed the harshest in the nation, are pushing some revisions to it that aides to the state’s governor claim will significantly improve its treatment of undocumented immigrants. (The federal government has challenged in court several provisions of the law, saying they interfere with the government’s effort to create one national law on immigration. In March, a federal appeals court blocked some of the law’s provisions.)

    Brian Lyman, reporting for the Montgomery Advertiser, says the proposed changes to H.B. 56, sponsored by state Rep. Micky Hammon, “toughen some provisions while significantly scaling back others.”

    For example, Lyman notes, a proposed revision would allegedly soften the law’s controversial section requiring public school officials to check and report on the immigration status of students. A proposed revision would require “state schools superintendent to file an annual report on the fiscal impact of undocumented” immigrants on the school system.    

    Ala. Gov. Robert Bentley, in a press statement, however, said the proposed revisions would not undercut the “essence of the law …. Anyone living and working in Alabama must be here legally.”

    Civil rights and other public interest groups have argued that H.B. 56, and other harsh immigration laws, such as Arizona’s S.B. 1070, allow authorities to engage in racial profiling and discrimination against people based on how they look and speak. Those groups, moreover, point out that the individual state laws can create a confusing patchwork of laws that endanger constitutional freedoms.

  • March 30, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Eric M. Gutiérrez, Legislative & Public Policy Director for the National Employment Lawyers Association

    President Obama routinely gets high marks for his efforts to diversify the federal judiciary by nominating “non-traditional” candidates for federal judgeships. In fact, nearly three of every four nominees confirmed to the federal bench during his Administration are either women or minorities; he also is the first president who hasn’t selected a majority of white males for lifetime judgeships.

    Articles and commentary addressing judicial diversity, however, have focused typically on racial, ethnic, and gender diversity. The National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) recently published a report entitled, “Judicial Hostility To Workers’ Rights: The Case For Professional Diversity On The Federal Bench,” which targets another type of diversity that is equally as important and sorely lacking on the federal bench — professional diversity. Like his predecessors, President Obama’s nominees have largely been corporate lawyers, judges, or prosecutors prior to their nominations, while fewer have been public defenders, legal services attorneys, or public interest lawyers. Even fewer have devoted their professional careers to representing workers and civil rights litigants.

    Overlooking qualified candidates whose professional experience includes representing workers in employment, labor, and civil rights cases inevitably reinforces the image of a judiciary that is unfamiliar with, and therefore indifferent to, the plight of everyday Americans. Moreover, as the NELA report points out, the lack of professional diversity has contributed to the increasing judicial hostility workers face in employment cases and the deleterious effect on workers’ access to the courts to vindicate their rights.

    Justice Byron R. White remarked on the value of Thurgood Marshall’s professional diversity:

  • March 5, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Ariela Migdal, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Women's Rights Project

    Peggy Young delivered letters and packages sent by air for UPS. When she got pregnant after struggling with infertility and IVF, her doctor recommended that she not lift more than 20 pounds. She asked UPS, where she had worked since 1999, for a "light duty" assignment, so that she could continue working through her pregnancy. 

    UPS said no. It explained that its policy was to offer light duty assignments or "inside" jobs to lots of different kinds of workers who were temporarily unable to perform their regular tasks:  workers who were injured on the job, workers with a qualifying disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, workers who lose their commercial driving licenses because of an off-the-job injury, and workers involved in a car accident.

    As a result, Peggy was put on unpaid leave with no medical coverage.

    Sound illegal? It is, and has been since 1978, when Congress amended the civil rights laws to require employers to treat pregnant workers the same as any other worker who is similar in his or her ability or inability to do the job. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is supposed to guarantee that, if the boss offers any other class of temporarily disabled workers a benefit or accommodation – like light duty, extra bathroom breaks, access to water, or a modified schedule – pregnant workers are given the same treatment.