Labor Board Reverses Ruling That Helped Workers Fight Large Chains

From today’s New York Times:

The National Labor Relations Board on Thursday overturned a key Obama-era precedent that had given workers significant leverage in challenging companies like fast-food and hotel chains over labor practices.

The ruling changes the standard for holding a company responsible for labor law violations that occur at another company, like a contractor or franchisee, with which it has a relationship.

The doctrine also governs whether such a corporation would have to bargain with workers at a franchise if they unionized, or whether only the owners of the franchise would have to do so.

While most labor law experts expected the labor board, which gained a Republican majority only in late September, to overturn the board’s so-called joint-employer decision from 2015, the speed of the change came as a surprise to many.

“Frankly, it’s shocking,” said Wilma B. Liebman, a former Democratic appointee on the board who once served as its chairwoman.

The board’s 3-to-2 vote, along party lines, restores the pre-2015 standard, which deemed a fast-food corporation a joint employer only if it exercised direct and immediate control over workers at the franchise, and in a way that was not limited.

Employer groups had been agitating to undo the standard that was set under President Barack Obama almost from the moment it was decided, and they applauded the decision on Thursday.

The key question in determining whether a company, like a fast-food corporation, is a joint employer of workers employed by another company, like one of the chain’s franchisees, is the degree of control exercised by the corporation over workers at the franchise. The ruling on Thursday declared that such control must be direct.

Under the Obama-era doctrine, the fast-food corporation could be held liable for labor violations that occurred at the franchise even if the control it exerted was indirect — for example, if it required the franchisee to use software dictating certain scheduling practices — or if it had the right to exercise control over workers that it nonetheless didn’t exercise.

The reversal could have important implications for the ability of workers to win concessions from employers through collective bargaining. In many cases, a contractor or franchisee has such low profit margins that it could not afford to raise wages or improve benefits even if it wanted to.

Read the complete article here.

Women and Power in the Workplace

From today’s New York Times:

“Revolution will come in a form we cannot yet imagine,” the critical theorists Fred Moten and Stefano Harney wrote in their 2013 essay “The Undercommons,” about the need to radically upend hierarchical institutions. I thought of their prophecy in October, when a private document listing allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by dozens of men in publishing and media surfaced online.

The list — a Google spreadsheet initially shared exclusively among women, who could anonymously add to it — was created in the immediate aftermath of reports about sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein. The atmosphere among female journalists was thick with the tension of watching the press expose the moral wrongs of Hollywood while neglecting to interrogate our own. The existence of the list suggested that things were worse than we even imagined, given all that it revealed. It was horrifying to see the names of colleagues and friends — people you had mingled with at parties and accepted drinks from — accused of heinous acts.

A few days after the list appeared, I was in a van with a half dozen other women of color, riding through the desert on our way to a writing retreat. All of us worked in media; most of us had not realized the extent to which harassment polluted our industry. Whisper networks, in which women share secret warnings via word of mouth, require women to tell others whom to avoid and whom to ignore. They are based on trust, and any social hierarchy is rife with the privilege of deciding who gets access to information. Perhaps we were perceived as outsiders, or maybe we weren’t seen as vulnerable. We hadn’t been invited to the happy hours or chats or email threads where such information is presumably shared. The list was F.T.B.T. — for them, by them — meaning, by white women about their experiences with the white men who made up a majority of the names on it. Despite my working in New York media for 10 years, it was my first “whisper” of any kind, a realization that felt almost as hurtful as reading the acts described on the list itself.

As a young business reporter, no one told me about the New York investor known for luring women out to meals under the guise of work. I found out the hard way. I realized he was a habitual boundary-crosser only after The New York Observer reported on him in 2010. Most recently, after I complained in a media chat room about a man who harassed a friend at a birthday party, everyone chimed in to say that he was a known creep. I was infuriated. That information never made its way to me, and worse, it was taken as a given. Was keeping that secret hidden worth the trauma it caused my friend?

The list’s flaws were immediately apparent. It felt too public, volatile and vulnerable to manipulation. But its recklessness was born out of desperation. It detonated the power and labor dynamics that whisper networks reinforce. Information, once privileged to a select few, became decentralized and accessible to all. And the problem of sexual harassment no longer belonged solely to women to filter and share.

Read the complete article here.

Proof Retail Jobs Don’t Need to Be Bad

From today’s New York Times by Eduardo Porter

Bethamy Magrow is grateful that the minimum wage in New York City is rising to $13 at the end of next month. Earning the current minimum of $11 an hour at a Times Square fashion retailer and scheduled to work some weeks for only 19 hours, the 25-year-old sales worker realizes she doesn’t quite clear New York’s poverty line.

It would be nice if her schedule didn’t change so much from week to week, she told me, so she could set up her doctors’ appointments in advance. But at least New York bars retailers from changing the schedule from one day to the next. In any case, jobs she has had at Whole Foods and Pokéworks, a restaurant on Union Square, were no better or worse.

Millions of Americans have similar stories to tell. For all the talk about the “end of retail,” it is one of the largest employers in the country, accounting for about one in eight workers in the private sector. For every miner toiling in the United States, there are almost 25 retail workers. Manufacturing, the apple of President Trump’s eye, doesn’t employ nearly as many.

Typically paying full-time employees less than $33,000 a year, well below the midpoint across the economy, retail jobs have become the work of the lower class, the main source of support for Americans left behind by economic change.

This raises a fairly urgent question: If retail work sets the living standard for so many low-income families, why doesn’t it get more attention?

Read the entire article here.