Under the Radar: Workers Win in Executive, Agency Rulings, but Business Battles at Least One in Courts

While the nation’s attention is riveted on politics, and particularly the presidential campaign, workers and their allies have been winning key executive branch and agency rulings. But corporate czars and their right wing backers are battling workers’ advocates and the Obama Administration in the courts in at least one case.

Their object, as usual: To roll back workers’ wages and overtime pay.

The workers’ wins have come mostly at the federal level, but also particularly in the pro-worker Democratic-run California legislature. There, solons speaking for the population of the nation’s largest state have enacted a raft of employee protection measures, though not all that workers wanted (see separate story).

• The Democratic Obama administration issued a major rule covering workers employed by federal contractors, on top of a prior rule expanding eligibility for overtime pay. The corporate class is challenging the overtime pay rule in court and in Congress.

Led by Nevada and Texas, 21 Republican-run states are suing in federal court in a rural area of Texas to halt the overtime pay expansion. The states argue DOL’s new rule illegally covers professional, administrative and executive workers, up to the new pay level of $47,476 yearly, besides regular workers. Using code words, the Republicans say DOL’s rule infringes on states’ rights. They want a federal judge to halt the rule by Oct. 25.

And business groups back GOP legislation to delay DOL’s overtime rule, but Obama promised last month that if Congress tries to revoke it, he’ll veto their bill.

“These federal contractors are only interested in being allowed to exploit workers to increase their profits,” said Teamsters President Jim Hoffa. Obama’s executive order, and the rules it produced, “will go a long way towards stopping companies that violate labor law from being rewarded with federal contracts.”

“This lawsuit is a slap in the face to working people in Michigan,” replied state AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber, after his state’s attorney general, a Republican, joined the Texas suit.

“By suing to stop the Obama administration’s new overtime rule, Bill Schuette is putting himself squarely on the side of corporate CEOs who want to continue denying overtime pay to Michigan’s working men and women. That’s just wrong,” Bieber said.

• The Obama administration’s paid sick leave rule that covers workers for federal contractors has already been finalized and will take effect next year. The radical right National Federation of Independent Business opposes it verbally, but hasn’t sued to overturn it.

Workers, unions, women’s groups and their allies pushed hard for the paid sick days rule for the federal contractors’ employees, while acknowledging the only way to get paid sick leave nationwide is for Congress to pass it. The ruling Republicans there have pigeon-holed paid sick leave legislation for a decade, leading five states and more than 30 cities to pass their own sick leave laws.

Some 1.15 million workers “will no longer have to choose between their jobs and taking time to recover from common illnesses, seeking preventive care, or caring for sick children or relatives” as a result of DOL’s new rule and Obama’s prior executive order, said Debra Ness, executive director of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

“This is terrific news for these workers, their families and our country.  This measure is truly a testament to the Obama administration’s deep commitment to increasing access to paid sick days and other family friendly workplace supports.

“These actions are historic steps forward in the fight for paid sick days and fair pay,” she added. “Each advance adds to the strong and growing body of evidence that shows these policies are good for workers, families, businesses and our economy.”  But 87 percent of private workers still don’t have paid sick days, Ness noted.

• In another indication the National Labor Relations Board is going after exploitative “gig economy” firms, its Chicago regional office filed charges in early October against Postmates, a big national “on-demand” food delivery service. Legal replies to its complaint were due Oct. 19.

“Postmates violated the National Labor Relations Act by requiring employee drivers to enter into arbitration agreements as a term of employment,” the Chicago announcement said. The full board has been tossing out such mandatory arbitration agreements for more than a year, saying they interfere with employees’ labor law rights to join to protect themselves.

Postmates also violated workers’ rights by barring workers “from discussing terms and conditions of employment, including safety, with other drivers,” the NLRB Chicago office added. The board’s charge demands Postmates dump the overbroad arbitration clauses, notify the workers that it has done so and stop its other labor law-breaking.

• The massive NLRB joint employer case involving restaurant workers, their union backers and McDonald’s has been consolidated and speeded up. The agency’s administrative law judge, Lauren Esposito in New York, hearing the first of the three huge cases on the issue, convinced both sides to set aside the two other huge cases – for now — and present all the evidence and arguments to her.

The joint-employer case is important to millions of workers who toil in fast food restaurants, hotel chains and other franchise operations. The Service Employees and the Fast Food Workers Committee, who brought the original complaint, argue that both local franchises and corporate headquarters of the franchise-granting firms should be held responsible for obeying labor law – and for labor law-breaking, as well.

Source: PAI