Facebook settles federal lawsuit over allegations it favored foreign workers

From today’s NPR News Online:

Facebook is paying a $4.75 million fine and up to $9.5 million to eligible victims to resolve the Justice Department’s allegations that it discriminated against U.S. workers in favor of foreigners with special visas to fill high-paying jobs.

Facebook also agreed in the settlement announced Tuesday to train its employees in anti-discrimination rules and to conduct more widespread advertising and recruitment for job opportunities in its permanent labor certification program.

The department’s civil rights division said the social network giant “routinely refused” to recruit, consider or hire U.S. workers, a group that includes U.S. citizens and nationals, people granted asylum, refugees and lawful permanent residents, for positions it had reserved for temporary visa holders.

Facebook sponsored the visa holders for “green cards” authorizing them to work permanently. The so-called H-1B visas are a staple of Silicon Valley, widely used by software programmers and other employees of major U.S. technology companies.

Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than U.S. citizens. The tech companies maintain that’s not the case, that they turn to foreign nationals because they have trouble finding qualified programmers and other engineers who are U.S. citizens.

“In principle, Facebook is doing a good thing by applying for green cards for its workers, but it has also learned how to game the system to avoid hiring U.S. tech workers,” said Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “Facebook started lobbying to change the system more to its liking starting back in 2013 when the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate was being negotiated.”

The settlement terms announced Tuesday are the largest civil penalty and back-pay award ever recovered by the civil rights division in the 35-year history of enforcing anti-discrimination rules under the Immigration and Nationality Act, officials said. The back pay would be awarded to people deemed to have been unfairly denied employment.

Read the complete story here.

As Starbucks Workers Seek a Union, Company Officials Converge on Stores

From today’s New York Times:

During her decade-plus at Starbucks, Michelle Eisen says she has endured her share of workplace stress. She points to the company’s increased use of productivity goals, inadequate attention to training and periods of understaffing or high turnover.

But she had never encountered a change that the company made after workers at her store and two other Buffalo-area locations filed for a union election in late August: two additional “support managers” from out of state, who often work on the floor with the baristas and who, according to Ms. Eisen, have created unease.

“For a lot of newer baristas, it’s an imposing force,” Ms. Eisen said. “It is not an easy job. It should not be complicated further by feeling like you’re having everything you’re doing or saying watched and listened to.”

Workers and organizers involved in the unionization effort say the imported managers are part of a counteroffensive by the company intended to intimidate workers, disrupt normal operations and undermine support for the union.

Starbucks says the additional managers, along with an increase in the number of workers in stores and the arrival of a top corporate executive from out of town, are standard company practices. It says the changes, which also include temporarily shutting down stores in the area, are intended to help improve training and staffing — longstanding issues — and that they are a response not to the union campaign but to input the company solicited from employees.

“The listening sessions led to requests from partners that resulted in those actions,” said Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesman. “It’s not a decision where our leadership came in and said, ‘We’re going to do this and this.’ We listened, heard their concerns.”

None of the nearly 9,000 corporate-owned Starbucks locations in the country are unionized. The prospect that workers there could form a union appears to reflect a recent increase in labor activism nationwide, including strikes across a variety of industries.

Read the complete story here.

Texas Sues Biden Administration Over Transgender Worker Rights

From today’s Forbes Online:

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Monday, seeking to block enforcement of guidance focused on transgender workers and employment discrimination, which was released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last year, arguing that it is “unlawful” and “increases the scope of liability for all employers.”

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court Northern District of Texas against Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chair Charlotte Burrows and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Paxton claims in the lawsuit that the EEOC violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which came under scrutiny in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year, Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the court found that Title VII protects employees against discrimination because they are gay or transgender, according to the Texas Tribune.

The EEOC guidance, released in June following that ruling, said that employers couldn’t stop employees from dressing according to their gender identity and transgender employees couldn’t be denied from entering bathrooms, locker rooms or showers that correspond with their gender identity, according to The Hill.

Paxton said in the lawsuit that the guidance “misstates the law, increasing the scope of liability for the State in its capacity as an employer” and “allows private individuals to sue their employers for violating EEOC’s interpretation of Title VII.”

Read the complete story here.

New rules on extreme heat means more air conditioning and breaks for workers

From today’s Business Insider:

The Biden administration announced Monday that it is beginning work on a new workplace regulation to address safety during extreme heat events, a process that will likely take years to move through the slow-churning federal bureaucracy, but could eventually impact millions of people who must work in increasingly high temperatures.

In practical terms, a federal heat workplace standard — as sought for years now by organized labor and Democratic legislators — could change day-to-day life for people who work not just outside, on farms and on construction sites, but in warehouses shipping goods for online shoppers. Employers could be required to offer more shade and more air conditioning, as well as additional breaks and opportunities to hydrate.

Since 2010, at least 384 people have died from extreme heat exposure on the job, according to a recent report by NPR and Columbia Journalism Investigations. Over the past 30 years, the rate of heat-related worker deaths has doubled.

It’s only getting worse. This summer was the hottest on record, and it was lethal. At a farm in Oregon, Sebastian Francisco Perez, a 38-year-old migrant worker who had just come from Guatemala, was found lying in a field, motionless, at the end of his shift. It was 107 degrees that day.

Despite the rising death toll, there is currently no federal regulation that deals specifically with threats to worker safety posed by heat. In October, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will initiate a process that aims to change that. 

“Rising temperatures pose an imminent threat to millions of American workers exposed to the elements,” President Joe Biden said in a statement announcing an “all-of-government effort to protect workers” and others from extreme heat.

Read the complete story here.

Families Of Undocumented Workers Lost On 9/11 Search For Closure

From today’s NPR News Online:

For a brief moment, on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Teresa Garcia thought she’d seen a ghost.

She was in her office in midtown Manhattan, watching the news of the attacks on the World Trade Center, when he walked in.

“He was covered with dust. All white dust. And we couldn’t even recognize him,” Garcia says, recalling that day. “But he talked to my coworker and he said ‘Esperanza.’ And she said, ‘Chino, is that you?’ “

Garcia works at Asociacion Tepeyac de New York, a non-profit that assists mostly Latino immigrants with English language skills, legal aid and tax assistance.

The man who walked in, Chino, was an undocumented immigrant. Garcia is using only nickname to protect his identity. He had been heading over to start his shift at a restaurant at one of the towers, when the first plane hit. In shock, he made his way to Asociacion Tepeyac, to see Garcia and her colleague Esperanza Chacon.

“He came over to her (Esperanza),” Garcias says, “and he embraced her, and they started crying.”

Little by little, dozens of workers started filing into Tepeyac’s offices, looking for comfort among friends. But what stood out were those who were missing, their friends who worked as cooks and cleaners, at or near the World Trade Center.

The workers who’d gathered at Tepeyac started compiling a list, which in the next few days grew to 700 missing people. Almost all immigrants, many undocumented.

That list was important. In order to get financial or medical aid, New Yorkers or their families had to prove they worked at or near ground zero and that they were affected by the attack. Knowing who was there also would allow families to mourn, to bring closure.

Read the complete story here.

Post-COVID, Americans Don’t Want to Return to Lousy Low Wage Jobs

From today’s New York Times:

The hopes for a booming pandemic recovery — growth led by jobs gains in the millions every month — were dealt a blow in recent weeks by a disappointing April jobs report. Perhaps we will see better when results for May are released this week, on Friday. But, for weeks, many in Democratic policy and political circles have been queasy about addressing the connection between federally supplemented unemployment insurance benefits and the slowing pace of re-employment at this stage of the recovery from the pandemic. There is almost certainly a common sense connection: If you were a low-wage worker, why aggressively attempt to go back to work at a lousy, low-paying job, when you can make more money collecting unemployment benefits.

Still, Republican politicians are getting it wrong too. They are citing countless news reports that businesses are struggling to fill certain positions as both a reason to end federal unemployment benefits and as evidence that the extra benefits were too generous in the first place. They worry that the ability of some workers to stay on the sidelines of the labor market, unless employers offer wages that trump jobless benefits, could result in dangerous “wage inflation” — a potential increase in labor costs that, they believe, consumers will pay for in the form of higher priced goods and services.

That argument simply does not hold water either: Over the coming weeks and months as this aid for the jobless phases out, there will be a flood of anxious job seekers pouring into labor markets. Even if a significant share of workers are temporarily avoiding taking low-paying jobs while benefits remain generous, then there is no true “labor shortage,” as many economists and market commentators are calling it.

When Congress passed the CARES Act last May and the American Rescue Plan Act this March, it was hard, even impossible, for policymakers to forecast the demand for labor or the pace of the economic recovery. The pandemic was still stubbornly lurking. The economic (and humanitarian) risk of doing too little far exceeded the risk of being generous. And in spite of some recent comments from Democrats facing political pressure, the entire point of the enhanced unemployment checks, at least originally, was to tide Americans over until it was safe for more people to work again.

Now enhanced benefits are ending every day for the millions of Americans who have benefited from the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, program, which extends unemployment insurance for 13 weeks to those who exhausted their conventional state and federal unemployment benefits. All extra federal supplements for the unemployed will end on Sept. 6, including the general $300 weekly benefit, as well as the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, program, which provides aid to those who were self-employed. (Some states are in the process of cutting them early.)

Republican-controlled states, as well as some more politically mixed states, are doing this because they presume there is a macroeconomic upside to millions of workers returning to lower-income jobs. They shouldn’t be so sure.

Read the complete article here.

Fact Check: Federal law does not prevent states, businesses, employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccines

From USA Today:

As millions of Americans continue to get vaccinated against COVID-19, some employers, colleges and businesses are weighing whether to make vaccination mandatory. A widely shared claim on social media says those measures are against the law.

An Instagram post published May 10 says Americans “have the right to refuse” coronavirus vaccine mandates.

“Under Emergency Use Authorization, no employer, biz, or govt can make the #COVID19vaccine mandatory until it’s evaluated in 2 yrs,” says text in the post, which is a screenshot of an April 1 tweet.

As evidence, the tweet cites “21 US Code SS 360bbb-3,” a federal law that has to do with “authorization for medical products for use in emergencies.” Instagram posts mentioning that law have received thousands of interactions over the past month, according to CrowdTangle, a social media insights tool.

The law cited in the posts has to do with emergency use authorizations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The law says nothing about a required two-year evaluation period for vaccines approved for emergency use. While there is a legal gray area for mandating vaccines authorized for emergency use,businesses, employers and state governments generally have the power to require vaccination, experts say. 

“There is no legal basis for what is being claimed,” said Ana Santos Rutschman, an assistant professor at Saint Louis University who specializes in food and drug law, in an email.

Read the complete article here.

A proposed California law, AB 257, could transform fast-food work for the better

From today’s Fortune Magazine:

A new policy strategy emerging in California holds the potential to transform fast-food work from some of the lowest-paying jobs in the state into good jobs, with solid wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Workers, employers, and policymakers in the state and around the country should pay close attention to this model, because setting and enforcing high standards in the fast-food industry is notoriously challenging—due to the industry’s franchising model, its numerous small employers with little ability to profitably raise standards, and its largely non-union workforce.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 16: Flags are flown at a car caravan and rally of fast food workers and supporters for passage of AB 257, a fast-food worker health and safety bill, on April 16, 2021 in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. The rally was held outside of a McDonald’s location where a worker lodged public health complaints and a wage theft complaint. Some fast food workers are on strike in Los Angeles County today in support of the bill. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Fast food workers earn some of the lowest wages in California—$13.27 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—with only farm workers earning less in the state. Benefits are also meager: Researchers have estimated that just 13% of fast-food workers receive health benefits through their employer. A 2021 study found that more than two-thirds of the families of fast-food workers in California were enrolled in at least one public-safety net program, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid, at a public cost of $4 billion a year.

Compounding these problems is that nearly 9 in 10 fast food-workers, say they are subject to illegal working conditions—refused overtime pay, forced to do off-the-clock work, denied breaks, or placed in unsafe situations.

At the heart of the strategy to improve conditions for fast food workers in California is a “sectoral council,” which would bring together representatives of workers, employers, and public-sector regulators to make recommendations regarding minimum compensation, safety, scheduling stability, and training standards for the industry.  A hearing on the FAST Recovery Act—a bill that would establish the sectoral council—was held on April 22, and some think the bill could pass this year.

Sectoral councils and similar bodies have succeeded in helping raise working standards in a number of industries and regions. The state of New York used a wage board to bring together representatives of workers, employers, and the public to raise wages for fast-food workers;  the city of Seattle Domestic Workers Standards Board provides a forum for domestic workers, employers, private households, worker organizations, and the public to improve conditions for that sector; and a number of countries, including Australia and Britain, have used similar bodies in labor relations.

A fast-food sectoral council could form the backbone of fundamental change in the industry: It could not only raise standards for workers but also provide a way for workers as well employers—both franchisees and franchisors—to have a strong voice on the standards in their industry, while helping ensure standards are actually implemented and complied with.  These features are critical, because the structure of the fast-food industry makes it difficult to improve working conditions with traditional measures that have succeeded in other industries, such as actions by high-road employers that want to provide good compensation, the push of collective bargaining, or stand-alone legislated standards.

Read the complete article here.

Health Advocate or Big Brother? Companies Weigh Requiring Vaccines

From today’s New York Times:

As American companies prepare to bring large numbers of workers back to the office in the coming months, executives are facing one of their most delicate pandemic-related decisions: Should they require employees to be vaccinated?

Take the case of United Airlines. In January, the chief executive, Scott Kirby, indicated at a company town hall that he wanted to require all of his roughly 96,000 employees to get coronavirus vaccines once they became widely available.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Kirby said, before urging other corporations to follow suit.

It has been four months. No major airlines have made a similar pledge — and United Airlines is waffling.

“It’s still something we are considering, but no final decisions have been made,” a spokeswoman, Leslie Scott, said.

For the country’s largest companies, mandatory vaccinations would protect service workers and lower the anxiety for returning office employees. That includes those who have been vaccinated but may be reluctant to return without knowing whether their colleagues have as well. And there is a public service element: The goal of herd immunity has slipped as the pace of vaccinations has slowed.

But making vaccinations mandatory could risk a backlash, and perhaps even litigation, from those who view it as an invasion of privacy and a Big Brother-like move to control the lives of employees.

In polls, executives show a willingness to require vaccinations. In a survey of 1,339 employers conducted by Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, 44 percent of U.S. respondents said they planned to mandate vaccinations for their companies. In a separate poll of 446 employers conducted by Willis Towers Watson, a risk-management firm, 23 percent of respondents said they were “planning or considering requiring employees to get vaccinated for them to return to the worksite.”

Read the complete article here.

Biden administration blocks Trump-era rule affecting gig workers’ employment

From today’s Reuters News Service:

The Biden administration on Wednesday blocked a Trump-era rule that would have made it easier to classify gig workers who work for companies like Uber and Lyft as independent contractors instead of employees, signaling a potential policy shift toward greater worker protections.

Shares of companies that employ gig labor such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash immediately pared gains. At 2.15 p.m. ET (1815 GMT) Uber shares traded down 3.2%, Lyft was down 5.8% and DoorDash fell 5%.

“By withdrawing the independent contractor rule, we will help preserve essential worker rights and stop the erosion of worker protections that would have occurred had the rule gone into effect,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in a statement.

“Too often, workers lose important wage and related protections when employers misclassify them as independent contractors,” he said.

Walsh told Reuters in an interview last week that a lot of U.S. gig workers should be classified as “employees” who deserve work benefits. His comments hurt stocks of companies that employ gig labor.

Walsh said in the interview that his department would have conversations in coming months with companies that employ gig labor to make sure workers have access to consistent wages, sick time, healthcare and “all of the things that an average employee in America can access.”

An Uber spokesman acknowledged on Wednesday the current employment system is outdated.

“It forces a binary choice upon workers: to either be an employee with more benefits but less flexibility, or an independent contractor with more flexibility but limited protections.”

Read the complete article here.