Friday, November 30, 2018
One of the questions that followed the Supreme Court's Janus decision was whether unions had to give back dues that unions had already collected. Several employees, backed by anti-union groups, sued based on the theory that unions shouldn't be able to keep funds that the Court has announced were unconstitutionally required under collective-bargaining agreements with their public employers. Unions, on the other hand, responded that although the Court had long made clear its intention to overrule Abood and rule this way, clear precedent states that until the Court makes such a change, current caselaw applies. This isn't just an interesting legal question; there is a ton of money at stake for unions.
Yesterday, we got the first judicial decision on this question, in favor of unions. In Danielson v. AFSCME, the Western District of Washington dismissed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that past-paid fees were unconstitutional and seeking a return of those funds. At the heart of the dismissal was the court's holding that the union involved enjoyed a good faith defense against the Section 1983 claim because when they collected the fees, they were legal under both state and federal law. There's a general understanding among many courts that Section 1983 includes a good faith defense and the court held that it applied here. That's not surprising given that the Supreme Court has been very clear that lower courts should not try to predict what the Court will do--the law is what it is until the Court says it isn't.
This is a significant win for public-sector unions, but this issue isn't over. There are several other identical suits which could well come out differently, and I'm sure this case will be appealed. So stay tuned.
Tuesday, November 6, 2018
The Supreme Court issued its first decision of the term today, and it was the age discrimination Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido case. I'll claim credit for predicting a win for the public-sector plaintiffs--minus the fact that I was wrong about saying it wouldn't be unanimous. So, the outcome wasn't a surprise, but the unanimous support for both a group of employees and the Ninth Circuit was. You can read the full opinion here. For lazy readers, here's the syllabus:
John Guido and Dennis Rankin filed suit, alleging that the Mount Lemmon Fire District, a political subdivision in Arizona, terminated their employment as firefighters in violation of the Age Discrimina- tion in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). The Fire District responded that it was too small to qualify as an “employer” under the ADEA, which provides: “The term ‘employer’ means a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees . . . . The term also means (1) any agent of such a person, and (2) a State or political subdivision of a State . . . .” 29 U. S. C. §630(b).
Initially, both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the ADEA applied solely to private sector employers. In 1974, Congress amended the ADEA to cover state and local governments. A previ- ous, 1972, amendment to Title VII added States and their subdivi- sions to the definition of “person[s],” specifying that those entities are engaged in an industry affecting commerce. The Title VII amend- ment thus subjected States and their subdivisions to liability only if they employ a threshold number of workers, currently 15. By con- trast, the 1974 ADEA amendment added state and local governments directly to the definition of “employer.” The same 1974 enactment al- so amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), on which many aspects of the ADEA are based, to reach all government employers regardless of their size. 29 U. S. C. §203(d), (x).
Held: The definitional provision’s two-sentence delineation, set out in §630(b), and the expression “also means” at the start of §630(b)’s second sentence, combine to establish separate categories: persons engaged in an industry affecting commerce with 20 or more employees; and States or political subdivisions with no attendant numerosity limitation.
The words “also means” in §630(b) add new categories of employers to the ADEA’s reach. First and foremost, the ordinary meaning of “also means” is additive rather than clarifying. See 859 F. 3d 1168, 1171 (case below) (quoting Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary 34). The words “also means” occur dozens of times throughout the U. S. Code, typically carrying an additive meaning. E.g., 12 U. S. C. §1715z–1(i)(4). Furthermore, the second sentence of the ADEA’s definitional provision, §630(b), pairs States and their political subdivi- sions with agents, a discrete category that carries no numerical limitation.
Reading the ADEA’s definitional provision, §630(b), as written to apply to States and political subdivisions regardless of size may give the ADEA a broader reach than Title VII, but this disparity is a consequence of the different language Congress chose to employ. The better comparator for the ADEA is the FLSA, which also ranks States and political subdivisions as employers regardless of the num- ber of employees they have. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has, for 30 years, interpreted the ADEA to cover political subdivisions regardless of size, and a majority of the States impose age discrimination proscriptions on political subdivisions with no numerical threshold. Pp. 4–6.
In short, if you're an employee plaintiff, it really helps to have a strong textual argument.
Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Thanks to Paul Harpur (U. Queensland - Beirne Law) for sending word that today, the Australian State of Queensland introduced a new Human Rights Bill 2018 (Qld) before Parliament. As Queensland has only one House of Parliament, where the government currently has a majority, it is almost certain this bill will soon become law.
The Human Rights Bill 2018 (Qld) declares that Queenslanders have 21 Civil and political rights and two Economic, social, and cultural rights. Many of these rights are relevant to university students and workers/labour in Queensland. On the labor side, thee rights include:
- Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief,
- Freedom from forced work,
- Freedom of expression, and
- Peaceful assembly and freedom of association
On the education side, the right is extended, beyond K-12, to a right to “have access, based on the person’s abilities, to further vocational education and training that is equally accessible to all.” Ability equality is a concept that disability rights scholars across the globe have been arguing for. In Queensland, for example, Paul testified in 2018 to a Queensland Parliamentary Committee, arguing that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the declaration of ability equality.
Some recent labor and employment news:
- Wages look like they're finally rising in a significant way. A DOL report showed an almost 3% increase in wages for this time last year, which outpaces inflation and is the highest increase in a decade.
- A couple of joint-employer items. First, the NLRB has extended the time to comment on a proposed new rule to Dec. 13. Also, the tussle between Congressional Democrats and the Board over the proposed change continues. As this Bloomberg Law (subscription required) article details, the Democrats want evidence supporting the claim that the current, broader joint-employer test is causing the problems that critics claim. This touches on a broader area--the NLRB is really bad at using actual evidence to support its policy views. Some of this is the legacy of the ban on economic analysis (which is so stupid--why in the name of all that is rational can't we have a bipartisan agreement that analysis is useful for labor law, like, say, the rest of the government?). But some of this, frankly, is just lazy. There's nothing stopping the Board from citing others' studies, which it does far less that it could. And this is an equal-opportunity offense. Although some members have been better on this, Board from both parties tend to be woefully inadequate on this score.
- As is the case when the White House changes parties, the DOL has been adjusting how it regulates union finance requirements. Unsurprisingly, they're ratcheting up the requirements by increasing the number of entities covered and expanding what covered entities need to provide. This is shades of the Bush II administration, where the changes were challenged in court. Expect the same here.
- The General Counsel has announced that it's changing its approach to allegations of union negligence. In contrast to the long-standing deferential approach the Board has taken, the GC says he will now prosecute unions for negligence under Section 8(b)(1)(A) (for failure of the duty of fair representation) when it does things like lose a complaint or fails to return a call.
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Amazon has long been known as a high-tech Moneyball employer, striving to make data-driven decision when possible. But this week shows that there are limits to that approach. After working since 2014 to develop AI-driven hiring algorithms, Amazon recently abandoned that approach. The reason? The algorithms were biased against women. This is an issue that several folks, including Rick Bales, have been talking about (and is a small part of a larger tech project I'm working on), and isn't a surprise given the dearth of women in the tech industry. This is the classic garbage-in-garbage-out issue. Amazon was training its algorithms based on resumes it has received, and because men disproportionally applied to the company, the algorithms were spitting out decisions that undervalued women; indeed, they were specifically penalizing resumes that included references to women. If Amazon or other companies want to use AI (really Machine Learning) for hiring, they should first use the technology to analyze its current hiring practices to try to root out pre-existing bias. Only once that's addressed does AI have even the hope of being effective.
To be clear: Amazon says that it never actually used the algorithms for actual hiring decisions. It wasn't for a lack of trying though. Amazon realized what was going on in 2015, but didn't disband the program until the start of last year. In other words, despite working for quite a while to eliminate the bias, they couldn't do it to their satisfaction. That a company like Amazon couldn't pull this off should serve as a strong warning to everyone about the limits of AI. I'm actually more optimistic on AI's eventual potential to reduce employment discrimination than many, but I am still extremely cautious about the technology. There's definitely a right way and wrong way to use it and, as Amazon shows, the right way can be really hard. As a result, I think the greatest risk of AI in personnel decisions is its misuse by companies that are too lazy, cheap, or blinded by the shiny object that is AI to realize that is is only a tool and, like other tools, can be used the wrong way.
Tuesday, October 9, 2018
Last week (yeah, I'm still catching up), the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido. It's one of those technical cases that hinges on textual question's about the ADEA's definition of "employer." In particular, at issue is whether the ADEA's usual 20-employee small employer exception applies to government employers. There's no question that the exception applies to private employers, but because of the way the provision is written, its application to public employers is less clear. Because the text is so important, let me quote the relevant part (Sec. 11(b)):
(b) The term “employer” means a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year: Provided, That prior to June 30, 1968, employers having fewer than fifty employees shall not be considered employers. The term also means (1) any agent of such a person, and (2) a State or political subdivision of a State and any agency or instrumentality of a State or a political subdivision of a State, and any interstate agency, but such term does not include the United States, or a corporation wholly owned by the Government of the United States.
As you can see, the small-employer exception is in a separate sentence from the sentence that includes public employers under the ADEA. That's what the plaintiffs stress and the 9th Circuit held. But four other circuits went the other way, holding that "person" includes public employers. Charlotte Garden's (Seattle) provided an argument analysis in SCOTUSblog. Although she's too wise to make a prediction, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I think the plaintiff is going to win this one. Not unanimous, but questions from some of the conservative justices (e.g., Roberts) makes me think that the more grammatical reading of the text is going to win the day. Also, I hope someone mentions to Justice Alito that if the Court is going to align the ADEA's coverage to Title VII's simply because they were enacted a couple of years apart from each other, then the Court needs to overrule all of its cases where it expressly rejected that argument when it came to interpreting the 1991 Civil Rights Act Amendments (e.g., Nasser and Gross).
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Robert Iofalla at Bloomberg Law has an interesting article out today looking at the number of times the NLRB's new joint-employer test in Browning-Ferris has been applied. As readers know, there has been a lot of handwringing over this test. But according to the article, it's been applied in only 14 out of almost 1,100 ALJ and Regional Director cases since it was issued in 2015. But it's unclear what that figure means.
As the article points out, there are two ways to look at this. On one hand, it may mean that Browning-Ferris isn't that big of a deal and that employers easily adjusted to the new standard or, as was likely the case for the majority of businesses, the changed standard didn't affect them in the first place. On the other hand, the number of cases invoking Browning-Ferris doesn't capture its full impact, as businesses may have made significant changes to stay in compliance. I suspect there's truth to both views. For instance, the 14 cases almost certainly doesn't capture the new rule's full impact; it's impossible to believe that far more businesses didn't at least have Browning-Ferris as a consideration when making relevant decisions since 2015. However, this also reflects that the histrionics that followed Browning-Ferris--predicting the demise of franchising and the like--were grossly exaggerated. As the Board explained in Browning-Ferris, it was returning to an earlier version of the joint-employer rule and the changes it made from the immediately prior standard were not so great that it would fundamentally change business models like franchising.
Time may tell whether we'll see further evidence of Browning-Ferris' impact. Or not, if the tea leaves are correct that the NLRB will reverse it soon.
Two Fight for $15 stories today. The first is that Amazon has agreed to pay all of its U.S. workers at least $15 an hour. Notably, this includes part-time and temp workers. Effective November 1, this change is expected to apply to 350,000 workers (although I can't find a number on the number of those workers who currently make less than $15 an hour). Amazon is also raising pay in Britain. This follows other increases or promised increase by major companies like Target, but given Amazon's size and profile, it's unsurprising that this is making a bigger splash.
In related news, the Fight for $15 movement has organized a series of national walkouts, rallies, and protests from October 2-4. The aim of these actions are for higher pay and to help candidates that support labor rights. Its still early, but thus far some of the more notable actions seem to be focused in the Midwest, although there are certainly others as well.
Thursday, September 27, 2018
As we noted earlier, the NLRB has signaled another flip in its approach to regulating employees' use of employer email systems for NLRA-protected communications. This pending case, Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino, has also gotten entangled with the now-frequent battles over NLRB Member recusals. In Rio, several senators wrote to Chairman Ring expressing concern about the participation of Member Emanuel, whose former firm--Littler Mendelson--continues to represent the employer in Purple Communications. Purple is the case that the Board is threatening to reverse in Rio; indeed, Purple is still being litigated. Well, sort of. The Ninth Circuit just granted a motion to pause the appeal until the NLRB issues its Rio decision. Thus, the concern over recusal. Chairman Ring recently responded to the senators' letter and, without staking out a position, stressed both that the NLRB would follow its usual procedures on recusals and would keep an open mind on the issues in Rio.
With that open mind in mind, I have submitted an amicus brief in the case. As I stress in the brief, I think the legal precedents governing email usage are crystal clear, but I'm not holding my breath about the what the Board does.
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit issued its decision in O'Conner v. Uber, a class action that centered on drivers' claim that they should be classified as employees. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order to certify the class action, holding that the drivers must arbitrate their claims individually because arbitration agreements they signed with Uber prevented class claims. This, of course, is not a surprise, as the Supreme Court essentially forced such an outcome in its Epic Systems case from last term. However, this decision from the Ninth Circuit, contrary to some of the media reports I've seen, does not mean that the drivers lost on the question of whether they should be classified as employees. That question is separate from the arbitration one and, as Charlotte Garden has noted, in California at least, the classification issue looking promising for Uber drivers and other workers who might be on the fence in other jurisdictions.
Uber may discover that they should beware of getting what they asked for because they may soon be facing a lot of individual arbitration claims by its drivers. But we shall see.
Friday, September 21, 2018
Currently, two big strike events are in the news. One has already occurred and the other may be on the horizon.
First was a nationwide strike on Tuesday by some McDonald's employees. This strike was unusual for numerous reasons. One is that we don't usually see low-wage retail workers striking, although the Fast Food 15, OUR Walmart, and other similar efforts have begun to change that norm in recent years. As a result, what stands out most to me was the object of the strike. It wasn't the traditional bread & butter workplace issues like pay, benefits, and hours. Instead, the workers were striking to protest sexual harassment and to demand that McDonald's do more to address the issue. What this strike may be telling us is that there are new norms developing. Norms in which retail workers are more willing to strike and willing to do so for issues that aren't necessarily traditional, but are still vitally important, especially in the current #MeToo environment.
The second, potential, strike is far more traditional. It involves the steel industry, where steelworkers are threatening to strike United States Steel and ArcelorMittal if contract negotiations don't result in raises and other benefits that reflect those company's improving financial footing. An interesting twist is that part of the steelworkers' argument is that after taking many years of wage freezes, they want to share in the improving fortunes brought on in part by the new tax cuts and steel tariffs. An entirely predictable situation, but one that I expect will get settled because those companies won't want production halted.
Thursday, September 13, 2018
In case all of the prior signals weren't enough, the NLRB has now formally announced a "new" proposed joint-employer standard. Although it won't be released until tomorrow, the Board's announcement makes clear that it intends to return to the pre-Browning-Ferris standard. The Board describes this new/old standard (which the Browning-Ferris Board argued was itself a change from an earlier standard) as follows:
Under the proposed rule, an employer may be found to be a joint-employer of another employer’s employees only if it possesses and exercises substantial, direct and immediate control over the essential terms and conditions of employment and has done so in a manner that is not limited and routine. Indirect influence and contractual reservations of authority would no longer be sufficient to establish a joint-employer relationship.
This is a substantial change from the Browning-Ferris standard, which would allow a joint employment finding if employers share governance of essential terms and conditions of employment. Among the factors used for this determination are whether an employer has exercised direct control over terms and conditions of employment indirectly or whether it has reserved the authority to exercise control.
Obviously, the NLRB has to go through the notice and comment period, but the chance of the current Board majority (Member McFerran is dissenting) changing its mind about going back to something like the pre-Browning Ferris standard is about the same chance as my computer spontaneously levitating.
On one level this is just part of the normal ebb and flow that we see with new administrations. What I find more interesting is that the current Board seems to be using rulemaking as a means to make its changes harder to reverse. There's nothing inherently wrong with this--that's what most agencies do, after all--but it represents a significant shift from the Board's usual practice of using decision-making for substantive rules. I'm actually ambivalent about this as a general matter, but I'll be curious to see whether concerns about courts reversing Board rules more frequently than case decisions plays out.
Tuesday, September 11, 2018
The NLRB announced today that it is inviting briefs in Loshaw Thermal Technology and Casale Industries. Both cases involve a lesser-know rule under the NLRA (at least if you're not involved with construction union very often). Section 8(f), among other things, allows an employer and construction union to establish a bargaining relationship without a showing that the union has majority support (this reflects the reality that construction jobs are by their nature usually temporary). This provision essentially establishes a presumption of majority support, albeit one that can be challenged by a valid decertification petition.
In its 2001 Staunton Fuel decision, the Board concluded that parties could transform their bargaining relationship from Section 8(f) to Section 9(a)--the more typical mean of recognition, which usually involves a showing of majority support and is harder to challenge--through a collective-bargaining agreement that clearly states that the union said that it could show that it had majority support. It is that rule that the Board is currently questioning in Loshaw Thermal.
In Casale, the Board is also questioning the time period during which a construction union's Staunton 9(a) recognition can be challenged. Casale stated that an employer only had six months after the collective-bargaining agreement to argue that the union actually lacks majority support.
Sunday, September 2, 2018
Kate Griffith (Cornell, ILR) writes to share the August 2018 Special Issue of the ILR Review, which focuses on workplace conditions and immigration legalization initiatives cross nationally.
Below is an excerpt from the introduction entitled “Introduction to a Special Issue on the Impact of Immigrant Legalization Initiatives: International Perspectives on Immigration and the World of Work,” (authors are Maria Lorena Cook, Shannon Gleeson, Kati L. Griffith, and Lawrence M. Kahn)
“The articles in this special issue draw on studies of legalization initiatives in major immigrant destinations: Canada, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Together they underscore the importance of cross-national perspectives for understanding the range of legalization programs and their impact on immigrant workers, the workplace, and the labor market”
For more from this special issue, which will be free to read for a limited amount of time, click here.
Several labor & employment stories that have been in the news recently:
- The NLRB has extended the time to file briefs in the employee email case, Ceasars Entertainment. The new deadline is October 5. No word yet on why on why the Board decided on the extension.
- The President states that he is going to freeze federal pay, despite an apparent agreement on raises this year. He's using a provision that allows the President to make such actions because of economic exigency.
- The Washington Post has an interesting story on Lewis Hine--the photographer who talked his way into numerous early-1900s workplaces to take pictures of child laborers. Hine's photographs are credited as a major impetus for the FLRA's anti-child labor laws. Check out the Library of Congress collection of his photographs.
- Check out this opinion piece on "two-tier" unions.
And remember, Happy Labor Day tomorrow!
Wednesday, August 15, 2018
The NY Times has a story on Muriel Pénicaud, the French labor minister who has been leading the charge of reforming France's labor regulations. Macron, the French President, has been trying to get reforms through for a while but has been largely stymied by protests (you've got to hand it to the French, their capacity to protest may exceed even their cooking talent). As a result, Pénicaud has been embarking on a long series of negotiations with unions and businesses. Stay tuned for what the final results may be.
Also--shameless plug warning--if you want to compare France's legal and social welfare protections for dismissed workers, check out this article that I co-authored with Sam Estreicher, Comparative Wrongful Dismissal Law: Reassessing American Exceptionalism, 92 North Carolina Law Review 343 (2014). We compared not only the laws as written, but also how they operate (e.g., average win rates, average/maximum/minimum awards) for twelve countries, including the U.S.
Thursday, August 9, 2018
NYC's City Council just passed legislation to stop issuing new ride-hailing licenses for one year. The legislation also requires Uber and similar companies to ensure that drivers earn at least $17.22 per hour (calculated over a week)--like the FLSA tip rule, if drivers don't make that much, the companies must pay the drivers the difference. This can be significant especially in a city like NYC, where almost 85% of drivers make below $17.22/hour and two-thirds of drivers work full-time for ride-hailing companies.
I find the minimum pay provision to be interesting because it puts in motion something I've been thinking about for a while. One of the difficulties in the current "employee"/"not-employee" dichotomy is how much rides on that distinction (pun intended). It's always struck me that this definitional question misses the point. We're stuck with this outmoded definitional hang-up because of current law, but the real question we should be asking is what type of protections do we want for which type of workers. There will always be difficult line drawing, but I think there are areas of agreement. For instance, we've got a long-standing policy of ensuring a minimum pay for the vast majority of "employees." Are there many workers--even those currently classified as independent contractors--who shouldn't also receive at least $7.25/hour? I don't think so. Same for workplace safety and other protections. The devil's in the details, to be sure, but NYC's new legislation represents one step in the direction of ensuring worker rights, rather than just employee rights. And it's a move I'm glad to see.
Finally, a brief plug for a recent article I co-authored with Joe Seiner exploring non-traditional collective action in ride sharing and other modern industries. There's a lot of interesting things going on, but also a lot of legal questions prompted by new activity fitting into old laws.
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
The AP has just called the Prop A vote in Missouri, with votes currently in favor 63%-37%. This ballot measure strikes down the legislature's attempt to make Missouri a right-to-work state. Especially so soon after Janus, this is a good night for organized labor.
Wednesday, August 1, 2018
It's appearing that e-mail is becoming yet another issue on which the NLRB's views flip-flop depending on the party in charge of the White House. Today, the Board announced that it was seeking input on whether to reverse Purple Communications, itself a reversal of the earlier Register-Guard, decision. I've written about the issue of employees' use of employer e-mail quite a bit and won't rehash it all here. However, I will note that the Court's recent interest in the First Amendment (see: Janus among other cases) adds an additional spin. As I recently noted, Member Johnson's dissent in Purple Communications made a First Amendment claim; I thought it very weak, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it resurface in a new opinion by the Board. That, and the return of Register-Guard's "I slept through my 1L Property class in law school" treatment of personal property law. Apparently, it's time to update my amicus brief from the Purple Communications litigation.
Thursday, July 19, 2018
Ann Hopkins, of Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins fame, has passed away. You can see the NY Times obituary on her here. Especially in the current #MeToo movement, it's important to remember the major impact that her case has had on sex discrimination in the workplace.