Whole Foods Claims Right to Prohibit Workers’ ‘Black Lives Matter’ Masks

From today’s Yahoo Finance:

U.S. labor board prosecutors are trying to violate Whole Foods Market’s copyright and constitutional rights by forcing it to let employees wear “Black Lives Matter” masks at work, the Amazon.com Inc. subsidiary claims.

In a Dec. 17 filing with the National Labor Relations Board, Whole Foods denied the agency general counsel’s allegations that the company violated federal labor law by banning employees from wearing “Black Lives Matter” insignia and punishing staff around the country who did. The filing is a response to the labor board’s accusation that by prohibiting Black Lives Matter messages at work, the company interfered with employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act to engage “in concerted activities for their mutual aid and protection.”

Whole Foods counters that it’s the one whose rights are being violated. The company’s filing, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, accuses the labor board’s general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, of trying to unconstitutionally “compel” speech by Whole Foods in violation of its First Amendment rights. The upscale grocer also accuses her of “unlawfully infringing upon and/or diluting WFM’s protected trademarks” by trying to mandate that it allow the display of a “political message in conjunction with” its trademarked uniforms and logos.

Whole Foods contends that Section 7 of the NLRA, which protects employees’ right to take collective action related to working conditions, doesn’t extend to workers’ BLM messages, which it calls “political and/or social justice speech.” The company’s filing argues that “BLM” and related phrases “are not objectively understood to relate to workplace issues or improving working conditions at WFM’s retail grocery stores” or employment terms and conditions in general. “Employees do not have a protected right under Section 7 of the Act to display the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘BLM’ in the workplace,” the company’s attorneys wrote.

A Whole Foods spokesperson declined to comment Friday on the filing. The company said last month that its dress code policy doesn’t single out specific slogans but prohibits any messages unrelated to its business. The case is slated to be heard by an agency judge at a trial in March.

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Europe Pushes New Rules Turning Gig Workers Into Employees

From today’s New York Times:

In one of the biggest challenges yet to the labor practices at popular ride-hailing and food-delivery services, the European Commission took a major step on Thursday toward requiring companies like Uber to consider their drivers and couriers as employees entitled to a minimum wage and legal protections.

The commission proposed rules that, if enacted, would affect up to an estimated 4.1 million people and give the European Union some of the world’s strictest rules for the so-called gig economy. The policy would remake the relationship that ride services, food delivery companies and other platforms have with workers in the 27-nation bloc.

Labor unions and other supporters hailed the proposal, which has strong political support, as a breakthrough in the global effort to change the business practices of companies that they say depend on exploiting workers with low pay and weak labor protections.

Uber and other companies are expected to lobby against the rules, which must go through several legislative steps before becoming law. The companies have long classified workers as independent contractors to hold down costs and limit legal liabilities. The model provided new conveniences for traveling across town and ordering takeout, and gave millions of people a flexible new way to work when they want.

But in Europe, where worker protection laws are traditionally more robust than in the United States, there has been growing momentum for change, particularly as the pandemic highlighted the fragile nature of gig work when food couriers and others continued to work even amid lockdowns and rising Covid-19 cases.

While there have been some important legal victories and laws passed in some countries targeting Uber and others, the policy released by the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, is the most far-reaching legislative attempt to regulate companies to date.

The rules would affect drivers, couriers, home cleaners, home health care aides, fitness coaches and others who use apps and online platforms to find work. As employees, they would be entitled to a minimum wage, holiday pay, unemployment and health benefits, and other legal protections depending on the country where they worked.

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Uber Must Overhaul Business Model in U.K. after High Court’s Ruling

From today’s The Guardian:

Uber will be forced to change its business model in London to contract directly with passengers who book, after a high court ruling that will affect all private hire operators in the capital.

The judgment was hailed by unions for giving both drivers and passengers more protection, by underscoring previous legal rulings that drivers are workers with rights, and making firms responsible once bookings are accepted.

The ruling could indirectly lead to a price rise, with Uber and others now liable for VAT, which could add up to 20% more to the cost of a trip.

The high court case was brought by Uber after supreme court judges suggested, in the case this year where it ruled that drivers were workers and not contractors, that Uber could not be viewed simply as an agent.

Uber sought clarification on the point, hoping to retain its existing model, but in a ruling on Monday, the judges said the law required a contractual obligation between operators and passengers once a booking is made, adding: “To interpret the act in this way gives effect to the statutory purpose of ensuring public safety.

“If the passenger’s only contractual relationship is with a driver he or she has never heard of and who is in any event unlikely to be worth claiming against, any claim is likely to be practically worthless.”

Transport for London has written to the larger operators to review their contracts to ensure compliance. A TfL spokesperson said: “All operators will need to carefully consider the court’s judgment and take steps to ensure that they comply with it, including considering whether any changes to their way of working are required.”

Others said it was a “damning” verdict for TfL, as well as Uber. Sian Berry, a Green party London assembly member, said TfL had, since Uber emerged, been “failing properly to use the powers it has to regulate and protect London’s private hire operators and drivers”.

She added: “In the interests of passenger safety, they must now follow the court ruling and make sure all operators are compliant with the correct legislation without delay.”

The GMB union said the ruling confirms London private hire drivers are legally classed as workers and should be treated as such under law, adding: “It means TfL’s guidance is now incorrect and it means most operators are acting illegally and must get their house in order.”

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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.

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Silicon Valley’s essential workers form new group to fight for work rights

From today’s San Jose Spotlight:

A group of six essential workers and labor leaders stood in front of McDonnell Hall in San Jose Wednesday—the same church labor activist Cesar Chavez started his now-iconic labor organizing more than 50 years prior.

The workers are looking to craft the future of the labor movement among essential workers for the next 50 years, starting with combating unfair treatment from employers, elected officials and corporations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They announced Wednesday the launch of a new initiative called the Essential Workers Council, a collective of 14 members from diverse professional fields in the South Bay, including medical workers, security, grocery workers, childcare, construction and education. The council has been established by Silicon Valley Rising, a collective of leaders who advocate for workers’ rights and affordable housing.

“As workers on the front lines of this crisis, we need to be the ones setting the agenda for recovery,” said Deo Agustin, a childcare worker and member of the new council. “We can’t let business leaders decide how things should be run.”

The group, with local labor leaders’ help, hopes to lobby elected leaders for more essential worker protections during and after the pandemic, such as higher wages, more widespread hazard payrent relief, stronger eviction protections and affordable childcare.

“Even as mostly Black and brown people put their lives at risk, dying at disproportionately higher rates, too many corporate executives and elected leaders have ignored their needs and their voices,” said Maria Noel Fernandez, director of Silicon Valley Rising, on Wednesday. “They call this work essential, but not the people, their families and our communities.”

The coronavirus has killed Black and Latino residents in the county at a far higher rate than other races. Latinos in particular make up 25% of the county’s population but account for 51% of cases and nearly 29% of deaths, according to county numbers. Those racial groups are overrepresented in essential work.

The council, frustrated by the lack of clear leadership from their employers to combat COVID-19, such as providing enough personal protective equipment and socially-distanced workspaces, spoke out about their experiences in working while living in fear that they would contract the coronavirus.

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Biden throws support behind Amazon workers holding milestone union vote

From today’s CNN Online:

President Joe Biden on Sunday night lent his support to Amazon workers who are pushing to unionize — and appeared to warn Amazon (AMZN) not to deter them.

In a video posted on Twitter, Biden didn’t mention the company by name, but he did reference workers in Alabama, where a milestone union election is underway at an Amazon facility in Bessemer. Eligible workers at the facility are currently voting by mail to decide whether to form Amazon’s first US-based union.”Today and over the next few days and weeks, workers in Alabama, and all across America, are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace,” Biden said in the video.

“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” Biden continued. “No supervisor should confront employees about their union preferences. You know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice.”

Biden’s remarks reflect the high profile of the Amazon vote, which has garnered national attention and support from prominent Democrats including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as well as Stacey Abrams. A group of 50 Congresspeople sent a letter last month urging Amazon’s outgoing CEO, Jeff Bezos, to “treat your employees as the critical asset they are, not as a threat to be neutralized or a cost to be minimized.”

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is conducting the union drive for Amazon workers at the Bessemer facility, thanked Biden “for sending a clear message of support” for the workers.

“As President Biden points out, the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is by organizing into unions. And that is why so many working women and men are fighting for a union at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama,” Appelbaum said in a statement.

Read the complete article here.

$15 Minimum Wage Would Reduce Poverty But Cost Jobs, CBO Says

From today’s NPR News Online:

Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would increase wages for at least 17 million people, but also put 1.4 million Americans out of work, according to a study by the Congressional Budget Office released on Monday.

A phase-in of a $15 minimum wage would also lift some 900,000 out of poverty, according to the nonpartisan CBO. This higher federal minimum could raise wages for an additional 10 million workers who would otherwise make sightly above that wage rate, the study found.

Potential job losses were estimated to affect 0.9 percent of workers, the CBO wrote, adding: “Young, less educated people would account for a disproportionate share of those reductions in employment.”

President Biden has advocated for a gradual increase of the federal minimum over several years. The threshold has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. Dozens of states and cities have surpassed that level; several are already on track to $15 an hour.

Democrats in Congress have vowed to push ahead on raising the federal minimum, although the efforts to include the $15 minimum plan in coronavirus relief legislation have stalled.

Read the complete news story here.

Google Illegally Fired And Spied On Workers Trying To Organize, NLRB finds

From today’s NPR News Online:

Google illegally fired two employees involved in labor organizing last year, the National Labor Relations Board alleged in a complaint on Wednesday.

The tech giant also violated federal labor law, the agency said, by surveilling employees who viewed a union organizing presentation, interrogating others, unfairly enforcing some rules and maintaining policies that “discourage” workers from protected organizing activities.

The complaint said Google’s actions amounted to “interfering with, restraining and coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed” by the National Labor Relations Act, the 1935 law that guarantees workers the right to unionize and to band together to improve their working conditions.

Google is “confident in our decision and legal position,” the company said in a statement. While the company supports workers’ protected labor rights, the employees in question had taken actions that were “a serious violation of our policies and an unacceptable breach of a trusted responsibility,” it said.

Google, which is owned by Alphabet Inc., has been rocked by employee activism in recent years over issues including sexual harassment, its work with the U.S. government and the company’s treatment of its large contract workforce.

The federal labor agency has been investigating Google for a year, after several employees fired in late 2019 filed charges of unfair labor practices. Wednesday’s complaint accused Google of violating the rights of two of those employees, Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers.

Berland was one of four employees fired days before Thanksgiving 2019 for what Google described at the time as data security violations, including accessing and sharing information from other employees’ work materials and calendars.

Spiers was fired soon after. After the company hired a consulting firm known for anti-union work, Spiers created a pop-up notification reminding Google employees of their right to organize. Google said Spiers was fired for abusing her access to internal tools.

“This complaint makes clear that workers have the right to speak to issues of ethical business and the composition of management,” Berland said in a statement on Wednesday.

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Will rideshare drivers get paid less than minimum wage under Proposition 22

From today’s Sacramento Bee:

Proposition 22 proposes that gig drivers for companies such as Uber, Lyft and Doordash will get paid 120% of the area’s minimum wage for the time they spend picking up and driving goods or passengers, plus 30 cents a mile.

Proponents of the proposition argue under its calculation, the drivers will get paid closer to $25 an hour after expenses, much more than the state’s minimum wage. But the initiative’s opponents cite a much-published study from the UC Berkeley Labor Center, whose researchers said Proposition 22 will guarantee only $5.64 an hour.

Amid an onslaught of advertisements, Proposition 22 still has a fundamental question to answer: How much will the gig drivers get under the initiative. A Sacramento Bee review found that the answer depends on how expenses and time at work are defined. But it is possible that workers would earn less than minimum wage under the measure.

In 2019, Ken Jacobs and Michael Reich at the UC Berkeley Labor Center published a report saying the gig drivers using Uber or Lyft will only be guaranteed a pay of $5.64 an hour under Proposition 22. They still stand by the number.

Under Proposition 22, drivers could get a pay cut from what they are paid now, Jacobs said. “The guarantee they claim to have,” he said of the gig companies. “is a false guarantee.”

Under Proposition 22, drivers will not be paid for the time they are waiting to give a ride, nor the time they spend preparing and cleaning their cars. That time accounts for some 33% of the drivers’ working time, Jacobs said, citing a 2019 study that looked at Lyft and Uber rides in six metropolitan areas across the country, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. “It’s impossible to do the work without having the time waiting for work,” Jacobs said.

Another report, “Rigging the Gig,” by the National Employment Law Project and the Partnership for Working Families found that drivers working 50 hours a week will be paid $175 to $210 less a week under Proposition 22 compared to the current minimum wage.

Read the complete article here.

Mark Zuckerberg Wants To Silence Facebook’s Employees

From today’s Vice News:

Mark Zuckerberg loves free speech, just not when it comes to his own employees.

The Facebook CEO has repeatedly cited free speech as the reason he continued to allow President Donald Trump to openly lie and incite violence on his platform. It is the reason he says he won’t delete coronavirus anti-vaxx content even if it threatens the health of users. It’s why right-wing disinformation continues to dominate the newsfeed. 

But when his own employees speak up about these issues and other social causes, like Black Lives Matter, Zuckerberg’s belief in free speech appears to have reached its limit. 

On Thursday, Zuckerberg told staff that from now on discussions about “divisive” topics would no longer be allowed to be posted just anywhere on the company’s own internal version of Facebook, known as Workplace.

From now on, discussions about political and social issues would only be allowed to take place in specific areas of Workplace, so that all employees don’t have to confront such issues at work if they don’t want to, according to numerous media reports. And, these discussions will be strictly monitored and moderated. 

The exact details of how the new rules will work are still being hammered out. But Zuckerberg was keen to downplay the censorious aspect of the new rules, telling staff that Facebook plans to “explore ways to preserve our culture of openness and debate around” its work, a company spokesman told the Wall Street Journal.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the rule changes and why they were being implemented now.

Read the complete article here.