Saturday, July 7, 2007

Baker on the Problem with Upaid Work

Kbaker_web Katharine Baker (Chicago-Kent) has posted on SSRN her forthcoming piece in the University of St. Thomas Law Journal entitled: The Problem with Unpaid Work.

Here's the abstract:

This article examines the problems with a social norm that assumes women should shoulder a disproportionate amount of unpaid family work. It evaluates the most recent empirical data which suggests that women continue to do substantially more unpaid work than men, and men continue to do substantially more paid work than women. It then briefly reviews two standard explanations for where this gendered division of work may come from, biological inclination and/or systems of male dominance. It suggests that neither of these traditional explanations have given adequate consideration to the normative question begged by the extant division of labor. Is there something wrong with the fact that women seem to choose to do more unpaid work than men do? This article answers that question both for women who forego paid work entirely and for (the much larger class of) women who combine paid and unpaid work but still perform the lion's share of their household's home work.

The article suggests that the problem with the unpaid work norm is not so much that women do not get paid for as much of their work as men do, because many women do end up getting paid – by their husbands – for the work they do in the home. Instead, the problem with the unpaid work norm is the messages that it sends with regard to the need for and ability to combine paid and unpaid work. The analysis presented suggests that women opting out of paid work entirely is problematic because it puts insufficient pressure on the workplace to afford flexibility for the many workers who need it. More important, the article suggests that the extant division of unpaid labor, even in households in which both spouses perform paid work, is putting many of the equality gains that women have made in jeopardy. If so many women continue to subordinate their own paid work so that their spouses do not have to, the workplace is likely to take notice and start assuming precisely that. Employers may well start resisting equality legislation that prevents firms from making accurate predications about women's likelihood of working less hard (at paid work) than do men.

A very provocative article and one that challenges the very foundations of the social norms surrounding our working culture. I very much look forward to reading this article in more depth to see what its implications are for workplace flexibility debates currently percolating through this country.


July 7, 2007 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Gould on Modern Labor Arbitration

Gould_bill Not just out, but just came across this interesting piece by former NLRB Chairman William Gould (Stanford) in the Emory Law Journal entitled: Kissing Cousins?: The Federal Arbitration Act and Modern Labor Arbitration (Westlaw subscription required).

From the introduction:

The Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 was signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge in an entirely different era. Indeed, the Act's purpose, as the Supreme Court noted just a few years ago, “was to reverse the longstanding judicial hostility to arbitration agreements that had existed at English common law and had been adopted by American courts, and to place arbitration agreements upon the same footing as other contracts.” This statute, focused as it was upon commercial agreements and arrangements and designed to both confront and diminish judicial hostility toward arbitration, has experienced substantial transformation. Most significantly, it has come to have a major impact upon the employment relationship that may rival the impact of both the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and the civil rights statutes of the 1960s. One of the paradoxes here is that the Federal Arbitration Act was shaped at a time of overt, explicit, and now illegal discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, union activity, and other forms of conduct. Yet now, the Act has become a major employment statute with an impact not only upon the individual contract of employment in and out of the discrimination context, as is obvious, but also potentially, the collective bargaining agreement itself.

Definitely an important read from one of the great labor arbitrators in this country.


July 7, 2007 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, July 6, 2007

Facial Discrimination and the Attractiveness Halo

Face Here is an interesting piece on facial discrimination by Richard Conniff in the New York Times. 

Conniff makes the following interesting observations:

We almost never talk out loud about physiognomy, the bogus science of judging character on the basis of facial features. But we all do it. We like or dislike people, hire and sometimes fire them, steer them onto the fast track or nudge them into the oubliette based in part on facial prejudices of which we are scarcely even aware . . . .

In one study tracking more than 500 cases of intentional wrongdoing in Boston small-claims court, judgments went against mature-faced defendants 92 percent of the time, but against baby-faced defendants only 45 percent of the time. The perception, says Brandeis University psychologist Leslie Zebrowitz, is that “baby-faced people are too honest and naïve to have a high probability of committing a premeditated offense.” . . . .

Businesses still often act as if the stereotypical markings of executive style are a prerequisite for promotion. At a veterinary medicine company not long ago, a vice president got hired in part because he had, no kidding, “managerial eyebrows.”

Apart from the tendency to lead us into utterly superficial snap judgments, there is a darker side to facial stereotyping. Ugly people get overlooked. (They “develop complexes due to the humiliation and abuse they endure over the years,” one executive told me, to justify not hiring them.) Meanwhile handsome people often enjoy the unfair advantage of the “attractiveness halo.”

Facial or appearance discrimination is no small problem when it comes to employment discrimination law as the Jespersen make-up case recently illustrated and also the Abercrombie & Fitch case in which the store "paid $40 million a few years ago to settle a lawsuit alleging that it staffed its stores with hip, attractive young people — who happened disproportionately to be white."

The question is whether such discrimination should be considered acceptable as long as it does not specifically cause intentional or nonintentional discrimination against a protected group.  Or at the very least, should such forms of discrimination be considered acceptable bona fide occupational qualifications (bfoqs) for certain professions?


July 6, 2007 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Scoring the Supreme Court's Labor and Employment Decisions

Estreicher Sam Estreicher (NYU) has put together a nifty chart to measure the judicial performance of the U.S. Supreme  Court in labor and employment cases during the 2005-2006 term.  Sam writes in the Spring 2007 newsletter for the ABA Section on Labor & Employment Law:

Establishing political criteria for judging the Supreme Court’s work is a hopelessly unsatisfying endeavor as long as we reserve the right to have different political views and legal philosophies and the Court continues to have a completely discretionary docket. I propose, instead, a more limited criterion that may generate a measure of agreement: In the cases that it accepts for plenary review, does the Court decide what it has to and no more than it has to? In other words, does the Court reach out for issues that the case does not properly present or deliberately avoid deciding issues that are both properly presented by the case and important (as evidenced by the Court’s grant of certiorari)?

Sam's chart of labor and employment cases and an explanation of his scoring system can be found here. Interestingly, this "conservative" Supreme Court didn't do too well based on Sam's criteria: "The maximum score [the Supreme Court] could have received was 9. It instead received a grade of 4."


July 6, 2007 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

NLRB Finds Disabled Workers are Statutory Employees

Nlrb In Goodwill Industries of North Georgia, Inc., 350 N.L.R.B. No. 5 (June 21, 2007), the Board recently found that disabled janitorial workers should be classified as statutory employees.  In rejecting the employer's argument that it lacked a primarily employee/employer relationship with the disabled workers, the Board applied its "typically industrial/primarily rehabilitative" test, which it had reaffirmed in its 2004 decision of Brevard Achievement Center, 342 N.L.R.B. 982 (2004):

If the relationship is guided primarily by business considerations, such that it can be characterized as “typically industrial,” the individuals will be found to be statutory employees; alternatively, if the relationship is “primarily rehabilitative” in nature, the individuals will not be found to be employees.  In conducting this analysis, the Board examines numerous factors including, inter alia, the existence of employer-provided counseling, training, or rehabilitation services; the existence of any production standards; the existence and nature of disciplinary procedures; the applicable terms and conditions of employment (particularly in comparison to those of nondisabled individuals employed at the same facility); and the average tenure of employment, including the existence/absence of a job-placement program.

In applying this test, the Board found that "in contrast to the evidence in Brevard that 80 to 85 percent of that employer’s disabled workers were either mentally impaired or had severely disabling mental illness, . . . examples of specific disabilities of the Employer’s workers are limited to hearing impairment, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol.  Included among those the Employer classifies as disabled are the highest-ranking personnel working at [the site], the site manager and supervisor."  The Board also rejected the employer's attempt to use the ADA's definition of disability, concluding that the tests are independent of each other.  Finally, in applying the other factors, the Board found that:

[T]he Employer offers limited counseling and rehabilitative services (perhaps because the workers the Employer classifies as disabled have comparatively little need for such services); it does not make any significant distinctions between its disabled and nondisabled workers with regard to terms and conditions of employment and production standards; and it has not shown that it seeks to and does transition its disabled workers to private competitive employment. Although the factor of disciplinary standards cuts the other way, it is insufficient by itself to dictate a different outcome.

One important element of this case is the clarification of which party has the burden of proof under the "primary rehabilitative" standard.  Brevard had left that question open, and the Board in Goodwill concluded that the party seeking to classify the employer's relationship with disabled workers as primarily rehabilitative, rather than as employee/employer, must prove that assertion.  As the Board noted, this analysis is fully consistent with the well-established precedent (see, for example, Kentucky River) that the party seeking to exclude a worker from classification as a statutory employee bears the burden of proof.

This is potentially good news.  Brevard created some worries that the Board was going to do to disabled workers what it has done to graduate students and nurses.  This case hopefully indicates that the Board will look seriously at the facts of each case, particularly given that none of the members on the panel--Liebman, Schaumber, and Kirsanow--dissented (although Liebman reiterated her dissent in Brevard and her disagreement with the primarily rehabilitative test).  We'll see what happens in later cases.


July 5, 2007 in Labor Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

Sexual Orientation Discrimination and the Religious Liberty of Employers

Gavel Art Leonard (New York Law School) passes along this interesting decision in Fairchild v. Riva Jewelry Manuf., Inc., from a New York state trial court decision.  At issue, does the defendant have to answer certain questions about his religious beliefs in a sexual orientation discrimination case.

The facts concern a rampantly, homophobic employer who cited the Bible frequently to his employees for the view that homosexuality is a sin against God. When the employer found out that the plaintiff was gay, he told the employee that he was doomed to eternal damnation and the employer was fired the next day without any reason being given.  Plaintiff brought a sexual orientation discrimination claim under New York state law and New York City local law.

During discovery, the employer refused to answer interrogatories on the basis that revealing his views on homosexuality interfered with his free exercise of religion.  The court ordered the defendant answer the questions stating:

It is the duty of every Court to guard jealously the great right and privilege of free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship without discrimination or preference, with all the power the Court possesses, but no person should be permitted to use that right as a cloak for acts of discrimination or as a justification of practices inconsistent with the protections against invidious discrimination proscribed in New York State law.

Needless embellishment of the rights to religious liberty to one side, the court was right on the mark in coming  to this decision.


July 5, 2007 in Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

English-Only Amendment Attached to EEOC Budget Bill

Eeoclogo Thanks to CCH WorkWeek for pointing out the following troubling development:

The full Senate appropriations committee approved a fiscal year 2008 spending bill that includes $378 million for the EEOC, $50 million above the President's budget request. The committee also narrowly adopted an amendment added by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that would prevent the agency from using those funds to sue companies that require employees to speak English. "The Senate has declared English our national language," said Alexander, "and requiring it in the workplace is not discrimination—it is common sense."

I am, of course, happy to see more funding for the habitually under-funded EEOC, but this English-only amendment does not provide the needed national origin discrimination protection that the law was meant to provide in certain contexts. 

And when did the Senate declare English to be our national language?  And why should that matter if a worker is fired because his or her employer does not like the way the employee speaks English?

Rick provides more information on this controversial issue in this previous post. And here are the current English-only EEOC regulations.


July 5, 2007 in Beltway Developments | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

New Guidance on ERISA Partial Terminations

Deloitte_logo The recent edition of the Deloitte Washington Bulletin has the following information on new guidance on partial terminations of employee benefit plans:

The IRS on June 26, 2007 issued Revenue Ruling 2007-43 to provide guidance on the rules for determining when an employer-initiated reduction in the number of pension plan participants will result in a partial termination of the plan. Those who have followed the partial termination saga over the years might argue with some (or all) of the positions the IRS has staked out, but the revenue ruling represents a much-needed attempt to cut through the complex web of prior IRS guidance and case law and give some meaningful guidelines that plan sponsors and participants can follow when trying to determine if a partial termination has occurred . . . .

Whether a partial termination of a plan occurs is still a “facts and circumstances” test, with one factor being “the extent to which participating employees have had a severance from employment.”

If the turnover rate for the “applicable period” is 20 percent or higher, there is a presumption of a partial termination. The applicable period depends on the circumstances. It could be the plan year, but if the plan year is less than 12 months the applicable period is the plan year plus the preceding plan year. The applicable period can be even longer if there are “a series of related severances from employment.”

Even if the turnover rate for the applicable period is 20 percent or higher, the presumption of a partial termination can be rebutted by other facts and circumstances. For example, a showing that the turnover rate for an applicable period is routine for the employer favors a finding of no partial termination.

This is welcome guidance in an area that is all-too-confusing for even the most seasoned ERISA practitioner.


July 5, 2007 in Pension and Benefits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Request for Amicus Participation in ERISA/Employment Discrimination/Arbitration Case

Gavel Judge Nancy Gertner, of the District Court of Massachusetts, has sent us a request for amicus participation in a case before her.  The case is Massachusetts Nurse Assoc. v. Essent Healthcare of Massachusetts, Inc.

Here is a brief summary of the facts:

In this case, a Massachusetts-based employer has extended health insurance benefits, under an ERISA-covered employee welfare plan, to “legal spouses” of employees, but has expressly limited that coverage to legal spouses “of the opposite sex.” This policy was the subject of arbitration between the employer and a labor organization representing employees at the employer’s workplace. The arbitrator determined that the policy does not violate the terms of a collective bargaining agreement in place between the employer and the labor organization. The case comes to the Court on appeal from the arbitrator’s decision.

The courts poses two question to potential amici:

1. Is there is a “clear public policy” against sexual preference discrimination and/or in favor of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, that meets the standards of Eastern Associated, 531 U.S. at 62, and if so, what are its sources in positive law, i.e. regulations, statutes, constitution, jurisprudence?

2. Is that state public policy – if it exists – preempted by the breadth of ERISA preemption? 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a). Is there any difference in the reach of the
ERISA preemption clause when it is applied to an area - marriage - that is traditionally a core area of state authority, as compared to when it is applied to preempt state laws concerning other forms of discrimination, as in Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 463 U.S. 85 (1983),
Air Transp. Ass'n of Am. v. City & County of San Francisco, 992 F. Supp. 1149, 1172 (N.D. Cal. 1998), or Catholic Charities of Me., Inc. v. City of Portland, 304 F. Supp. 2d 77, 90-93, 96 (D. Me. 2004). Can ERISA preempt a provision of a state constitution?

Amicus briefs are due August 1, 2007.  The full Request for Amicus Briefing is here.


July 3, 2007 in Pension and Benefits | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (1)

Parents Involved and the Future of Employer Diversity Plans

Dreiband Over at SCOTUSblog, Eric Dreiband, a labor and employment partner with Akin Gump in Washington D.C., writes about the potential impact of the recent Supreme Court school affirmative action decisions on employer voluntary affirmative action plans.

Here's some of what Eric has to say:

Although Thursday's decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District rejected race-conscious school assignment programs, its rationale about the use of race will extend beyond schools to employment and other areas. Parents Involved will also add fuel to the anti-diversity fire that has been raging in the federal courts in the four years since Grutter v. Bollinger decided that race-conscious diversity programs in higher education can be lawful. The case is also likely to have a significant impact beyond the educational arena: the federal courts will strike down employment diversity programs that seek nonremedial "racial balancing," and diversity plans that explicitly consider race in employment are vulnerable to Title VII challenges.

Particularly telling to me is how circuit courts have been responding to employer diversity plans since Grutter in 2003:

After Grutter, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Third, Fifth, Seventh and Eighth Circuits sustained Title VII challenges to race-conscious diversity programs used by the cities of Milwaukee, Newark, Shreveport, Chicago, and Omaha, as well as at least one major private employer, Xerox Corporation. And, perhaps surprisingly, the courts cited Grutter as compelling the conclusion that the challenged diversity programs violated Title VII.  See Alexander v. City of Milwaukee, 474 F.3d 437 (7th Cir. 2007); Lomack v. City of Newark, 463 F.3d 303 (3d Cir. 2006); Kohlbek v. City of Omaha, 447 F.3d 552 (8th Cir. 2006); Dean v. City of Shreveport, 438 F.3d 448 (5th Cir. 2006); Biondo v. City of Chicago, 382 F.3d 680 (7th Cir. 2004); Frank v. Xerox Corp., 347 F.3d 130, 133, 137 (5th Cir. 2003) . . . .

After Thursday's decision, it seems clear that in the absence of a "manifest imbalance," an employer will expose itself to Title VII liability if it uses a diversity plan that seeks a "racially balanced" workforce by explicit consideration of race or other protected traits. Parents Involved will add to the courts' post-Grutter skepticism about workplace diversity programs, and may increase it.

I don't agree that Grutter and Parents Involved should necessarily speak to Title VII, as the Court has made clear in Johnson and Weber that different analyses should apply to Title VII voluntary cases than apply to equal protection challenges under the 14th Amendment.  Nevertheless, I do agree that the Weber factors already make it unlikely that employer diversity plans will survive outside the need to "eliminate manifest racial imbalances in traditionally segregated job categories."

But this is so because of Title VII precedent, not because of equal protection holdings made in Grutter and Parents Involved.  But like Eric, I wonder what impact Justice Kennedy's concurrence in Parents Involved will have on employer's ability to voluntary undertake workplace AA plans in the future.  If an employer diversity plan is challenged in front of this Court, one would expect it to face a very tough legal challenge.


July 3, 2007 in Commentary | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Are Workplace Illnesses and Injuries Really Declining?

Slip_and_fall So asks Brent Hunsberger at the The Oregonian At Work Blog:

Steven Hecker of the University of Washington had a bone to pick with an assertion made by Oregon OSHA's administrator in our story Thursday on the agency's low fine amounts.

In the story, we reported that the agency's administrator, Michael Wood, cited the state's declining number of fatalities and workers compensation premiums as evidence that the system works. ... the state's injury and illness rate has dropped from 10.1 per 100 full-time workers in 1990 to 5.4 per 100 in 2005.

Hecker alerted At Work to a four-month-old study, a summary of which you can read at The Pump Handle blog, that found that much of the decline in injury and illness rates can be attributed to changes in how accidents are reported to the government. The changes were made in 1995 and 2001.

One wonders whether recently trumpeted declining workplace injury rates by federal OSHA can be attributed to government reporting reforms?  Anyone out there know?


July 3, 2007 in Workplace Safety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

BJIR Call for Papers: Comparative Studies of the Workplace

Bjir From the Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA) listserv, a call for papers:

In recent years big strides have been made to collect both quantitative and qualitative data on employees and their workplaces in such a way as to permit comparative analyses across countries  . . . .

BJIR [British Journal of Industrial Relations] is calling for papers for a special edition of the Journal devoted to comparative studies of the workplace.  The objective is to see what we can learn about work and the workplace that we might not have known by confining analyses to single countries.  Underlying this endeavour is a concern to identify empirical regularities across countries and to consider the role of institutions and other country-specific features in understanding the nature of workplace employment relations.

A selection of papers will be chosen for presentation at a special conference to be held at the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) of the London School of Economics, on 14 March 2008.  The papers presented at the conference will be included, subject to BJIR’s refereeing process, in a special issue of the journal which will be published in 2008 or 2009.

Those interested are invited to submit papers to Sylvia Roesch ( by 26 October 2007. If you wish to discuss a proposed paper then please contact Alex Bryson ( ).


July 3, 2007 in Conferences & Colloquia | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Senate Bill on Paid FMLA Leave Introduced

Capitoldome From

The Family Leave Insurance Fund Act of 2007 would create a fund to finance benefits via employer and employee premiums, according to a statement on Senator Chris Dodd's (D-Connecticut) Web site. Dodd and Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) introduced the bill in the Senate on June 21.

Under the program, employers will pay leave benefits to employees through their regular payroll,and will be reimbursed from the Family Leave Insurance Fund, the statement said. Employees must have paid premiums for 12 months and have worked for their employer for at least one year to be eligible for the benefit - which provides eight weeks of paid leave within a 12-month period.

The program would be mandatory for all businesses with more than 50 employees, but companies with equivalent or better benefits may choose to self-insure. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees and self-employed workers may opt in to the program, with a 50% discount on premium payments.

Employees and employers each would pay a premium equivalent to 0.2% of each employee's earnings. Benefits paid by the program are tiered based on employee salaries, ranging from 100% of weekly earnings for employees earning up to $20,000 to 40% of weekly earnings for employees with salaries between $60,001 and $97,000.

Sounds like a plan that even might be bought into by the Chamber of Commerce.  I guess we'll see.


July 3, 2007 in Beltway Developments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 2, 2007

Another Court Rejects "Mixed Motive is King" Theory

Scales Thanks to Ross Runkel's Employment Law Memo for bringing to my attention the decision in the Title VII race discrimination case of Fogg v. Gonzales, 05-5439 (DC Cir. June 29, 2007).
Ross provides this handy summary of the case:

On remand from a reversal of a denial of a motion for equitable relief after a jury verdict in favor of the employee in a Title VII race discrimination case, the trial court awarded equitable relief of back pay to the date of the order, a 14% increase for adverse tax consequences, and other relief, but denied front pay. The DC Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part.

The court rejected the employer's argument that Title VII set a single standard of liability for "mixed motive" and "single motive" cases. The court could not infer from the 1991 addition of section 2000e-2(m) the implicit repeal of section 2000e-2(a) as a standard for establishing liability in preference to the more straightforward inference that section 2000e-2(m) added an additional way of establishing liability. The court noted that no circuits had interpreted the 1991 amendment as the employer argued.

More specifically, Chief Judge Ginsburg, writing for the panel (with a thoughtful concurrence by Judge Henderson on the proper characterization of mixed motive cases), found that:

On its face Title VII provides alternative ways of establishing liability for employment practices based upon the impermissible use of race or other proscribed criteria — one in § 2000e-2(a), which has been in the law since 1964, and another in § 2000e-2(m), which the Congress added in 1991, see Civil Rights Act of 1991, Pub. L. No. 102-166, § 107(a), 105 Stat. 1071, 1075, in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Price Waterhouse . . . .

If the Government is correct that § 2000e-2(m) now provides the “single standard” for establishing an unlawful employment practice, then it must be because the 1991 Amendments somehow repealed the standard in effect theretofore. But nothing on the face of the 1991 addition suggests a case may no longer be brought under § 2000e-2(a) — as they have been since 1964 — and repeals by implication are very much disfavored, see TVA v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153, 189-90 (1978) . . . .

Therefore, we cannot infer from the addition of § 2000e-2(m) the implicit repeal of § 2000e-2(a) as a standard for establishing liability in preference to the more straightforward inference that § 2000e-2(m) adds an additional way of establishing liability. See Desert Palace, 539 U.S. at 94 (stating that § 2000e-2(m) “establishes an alternative for proving that an ‘unlawful employment practice’ has occurred”) (dictum).

We note also that no Court of Appeals, and only one district court, has interpreted Title VII, as amended, as the Government would have us do. Compare Dare v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 267 F. Supp. 2d 987, 990-92 (D. Minn. 2003) (concluding that after Desert Palace, § 2000e-2(m) applies to single-motive claims), with, e.g., Carey v. Fedex Ground Package Sys., Inc., 321 F. Supp. 2d 902, 915 (S.D. Ohio 2004) (criticizing and declining to
follow Dare).

Under the current state of the law, I think the D.C. Circuit got the distinction between mixed motive and pretext cases right.  The more important question, however, is whether this should be the state of the law or whether we should just have one standard for finding liability in individual disparate treatment cases under employment discrimination law.  Personally, I'm all for simplifying this area of the law and adopting a motivating factor/CRA 1991 analysis for all such cases.


July 2, 2007 in Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

House Committee Passes Public Safety Workers Collective Bargaining Rights Bill

Capitoldome The House Education and Labor Committee has overwhelmingly passed a bill which would extend collective bargaining rights to firefighters, police officers, and first responders.  Here's the press release:

By an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 42-1, the House Education and Labor Committee today approved legislation to guarantee the rights of firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical service workers in all 50 states to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions . . . .

Approximately twenty states do not fully protect the collective bargaining rights of public safety employees, and two states – Virginia and North Carolina – prohibit public safety employees from collectively bargaining.

The bill would provide basic labor protections for state and local public safety workers.

The bipartisan nature of the bill leads to hope that the bill will actually pass the House and be seriously considered by the Senate.  But like Mitch Rubinstein at Adjunct Prof Blog, I am not holding my breath that there won't be a Republican senate filibuster or a veto of this bill by one of the most anti-union Presidents in the history of this country.


July 2, 2007 in Beltway Developments | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Labor Law Reform in China

Chinese_flagUpdate: Thanks to Steve Befort (Minnesota), who is currently teaching in China, for sending along this summary that he prepared for his class on the principal changes embodied in China’s new Contract Labor Law.

The New York Times reported on Friday that China has enacted sweeping labor law reforms:

China’s legislature passed a sweeping new labor law today that strengthens protections for workers across its booming economy, rejecting pleas from foreign investors who argued that the measure would reduce China’s appeal as a low-wage, business-friendly industrial base.   

The new labor contract law, enacted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, requires employers to provide written contracts to their workers, restricts the use of temporary laborers and makes it harder to lay off employees.

Although this is a great first step in a country that has been called to answer for numerous human rights violations, there are still some questions that have to be answered about how this law will actually impact the lives of Chinese workers:

But it may fall short of improving working conditions for the tens of millions of low-wage workers who need the most help unless it is enforced more rigorously than existing laws, which already offer protections that on paper are similar to those in developed economies.

In other words, enactment of such laws is great, but enforcement is the key (are you listening OSHA, etc.?).


July 2, 2007 in Labor and Employment News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (2)

Update on Massachusetts Universal Health Plan

Massachusetts No one has challenged the Massachusetts universal health plan on ERISA preemption grounds (yet), but there seems to be other challenges the plan is facing.

From yesterday's New York Times:

With the mandate that everyone in Massachusetts have health insurance taking effect on Sunday, more than 130,000 people — about a third of those who were uninsured a year ago — now have coverage, officials say.

But most of those who have signed up are poor enough to qualify for free or state-subsidized insurance.

People who must pay the full cost themselves, who are crucial to the success of the nation’s most ambitious effort to achieve near-universal coverage, may now be a majority of the state’s uninsured and not all are rushing to get coverage. Many of them are healthy young people in their 20’s and 30’s, state officials say.

“A lot of the population we’re trying to reach right now are young folks who don’t have insurance for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is they don’t think they’re ever going to be sick,” Gov. Deval Patrick said.

Other hurdles include the fact that some businesses, especially small ones, are struggling with the requirement that employers with more than 10 workers offer insurance.

These, of course, are not insurmountable hurdles, but it gives you sense of some of the non-ERISA challenges that states (actually a commonwealth) face when implementing these ambitious universal coverage plans. 

But expect things to pick up after December 1st, when people start facing penalties for not having insurance:

Massachusetts is deliberately taking things slowly. In 2008, the penalty for those not insured will be a loss of state tax exemption, worth about $219; later the penalty will be up to half of a monthly insurance premium for each month a person is uninsured. Also, while any insurance is acceptable at first, by January 2009, everyone must have drug coverage.

Officials estimate that 60,000 people will be exempt from getting insurance altogether because they will be ineligible for subsidies but unable to afford other options.


July 2, 2007 in Pension and Benefits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Weber on Understanding Disability Law

Weber Kudos to Mark Weber (DePaul) for the publication of his treatise, Understanding Disability Law (Lexis-Nexis 2007).

Here's a description of the book:

Understanding Disability Law discusses important statutory and constitutional issues relating to disability discrimination. It is designed to help students in Disability Law courses synthesize and apply the materials they are learning. It is also designed to function as a compact treatise for practicing lawyers and others looking for an analysis of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Fair Housing Act Amendments, and other laws, as they relate to controversial issues of disability rights. The book discusses the leading cases on each of the major topics of disability law, and suggests ways of thinking about unresolved questions and debates over legal policy.

Check it out!


July 1, 2007 in Book Club | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sin, Eternal Life, and Public Employee Union Dues

Church Here is a controversial public employment decision by the Southern District of Ohio in Katter v. Ohio Employment Relations Board, 2:07-CV-43 (S.D. Ohio June 21, 2007).  The case concerns a:

Plaintiff [who] never joined the St. Marys Education Association/Ohio Education Association/National Education Association (“Union”). Namely, Plaintiff objects to supporting the Union because the Union supports abortion rights. Thus, Plaintiff believes that if she supported the Union, she too would be supporting abortion. Consequently, Plaintiff alleges that if she were a member in the Union, she would violate her obligations to the Church, commit sin against God, and potentially lose her eternal life.

At issue was whether "Plaintiff was required to either join the Union or pay an agency fee to the Union as a condition of employment," as required by a new collective bargaining agreement entered into in 2005.  Instead, the Plaintiff sought a religious exemption from having to pay fees to the union.  Ohio law allows individuals an exemption if the "public employee . . . is a member of and adheres to established and traditional tenets or teachings of a bona fide religion or religious body which has historically held conscientious objections to joining or financially supporting an employee organization. . . .”  In accordance with law, Plaintiff desired to redirect her union contribution to a nonreligious charitable fund.

The Employment Relations Board found that the Plaintiff was not eligible for the exemption because she was not a member of a religion that historically has held conscientious objections to union support. Plaintiff brought a Section 1983 action claiming that the Ohio religious exemption provision violated the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment by impermissibly discriminating against her religious beliefs.

Even though the Union subsequently agreed to accommodate the Plaintiff's religious beliefs, the court turned aside standing and mootness challenges, and found that the religious exemption provision violated the establishment clause because it discriminated against the Plaintiff based on her religion.  More specifically, the Court found:

Section 4117.09(C) facially differentiates between religions. It distinguishes between two employees who have the same religious beliefs and attend the same church, when one has actually become a formal member of the church. The statute further differentiates between two employees who have the same religious beliefs, are members of churches with formal doctrines against supporting labor unions, but one of the churches has recently embraced a doctrine, while the other church has historically embraced it. It then creates a denominational preference by providing special treatment to members of the religious organizations described in the statute. Specifically, the statute requires employers to provide a substituted charity accommodation to members of religions having the beliefs described in the statute. On the other hand, non qualifying employees–who may have the same religious beliefs– must file an action under § 701(j) of Title VII. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j). Therefore, § 4117.09(C) has the effect of increasing the advantages of membership in religions such as Seventh-day Adventist and Amish Mennonites that have previously received exemptions.

I assume this ruling will be appealed to the Sixth Circuit because its holding seems to suggest the public unions must exempt all religious adherents from paying union dues or none at all.  Of course, the latter approach would almost certainly run afoul of the religious clauses of the First Amendment.

Combined with the recent Supreme Court Davenport decision which allows States to adopt an opt-in mechanism for nonmember, public union employees, this ruling strikes another significant blow against public unions' abilities to collect fees from public employees who benefit from the union's services.

Hat Tip:  Steve Sholk


July 1, 2007 in Labor Law | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Occupational Safety and Amusement Parks

Amusement_park Yesterday came news of a horrific tragedy involving a worker at an amusement park near New York City which highlights the limits of workplace safety laws (via

An amusement park worker was thrown off a gyrating ride and killed, and park officials acknowledged Saturday that a safety precaution put in place after a fatal accident on the ride in 2004 wasn't followed.

Gabriela Garin, 21, of White Plains, New York, was killed Friday night after fastening some late-arriving riders into their seats on the Mind Scrambler, the same ride where a 7-year-old girl was killed three years ago at the landmark Playland Amusement Park in Rye. The ride was immediately shut down for the rest of the summer.

It was the fourth fatality at the park in just over three years.

Garin was operating the ride, a spider-arm-style attraction that spins riders around in two-seat cars, park spokesman Peter Tartaglia said. She had changed shifts with a new ride operator but stayed to take on a few new passengers before leaving for the night, he said.

The woman told the operator she would fasten the last riders into the car, and the new operator, whose name wasn't immediately available, stepped into a booth and started the ride, Tartaglia said.

He looked up, noticed Garin still on the ride and shut it down 15 to 20 seconds after it began, Tartaglia said. But Garin, who started working at the park when she was 14, already had been thrown from it, he said.

This appears to be an instance of where even the best safety rules and precautions cannot in the end overcome human error.


July 1, 2007 in Workplace Safety | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)