Weekend News & Commentary – July 18, 2021

New research suggests that extreme heat produces many more workplace injuries, concentrated among the poorest workers, than most official records suggest—a telling example of how, as the Times puts it, “climate change worsens inequality.” The UCLA study, led by public policy professor R. Jisung Park, compared records from over 11 million California workers’ compensation claims to high-frequency local weather data from 2001-2018 and found that hot weather significantly increases the risk of workplace injuries, regardless of whether the work occurs outdoors or in an indoor setting. Indeed, the study shows that on days with highs above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, workers have a 6-9% greater risk of injuries as compared to days with high temperatures in the 50s or 60s.

Additionally, the researchers estimate that high temperatures likely already cause 15,000 injuries per year in California, and that the state’s annual financial cost of heat-related injuries may be between $750 million to $1.25 billion when accounting for healthcare expenditures, lost wages and productivity, as well as disability claims. Yet, as the Times noted, the study does include one sliver of optimism: after 2005, when California became the first state to implement mandatory heat illness prevention measures for outdoor workplaces when temperatures exceed 95 degrees, the number of heat-related workplace injures actually declined. As a result, as the researchers note, in addition to pursuing aggressive efforts to reduce emissions to curb future temperature increases, governments should also consider climate adaptation to help protect vulnerable workers along the way.

Meanwhile, a federal district court judge in Texas issued a ruling on Friday finding the DACA program unlawful and permanently enjoining its continued application, but also shielded current recipients from the ruling’s immediate adverse effects. More specifically, Judge Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee, found the DACA memorandum, originally prompted by an executive order from President Obama and crafted by DHS as a guidance document, inconsistent with the Administrative Procedure Act in that the agency failed to utilize the requisite procedures to issue a rule setting binding rights and obligations.

Yet, according to law professor Benjamin Eidelson, Judge Hanen may have made the exact same errors that ultimately prompted the Supreme Court to invalidate the Trump administration’s DACA rescission in its Regents decision last year. In essence, the DACA memo did not confer any legal rights and obligations itself, but rather merely established criteria for granting “deferred action”—an exercise in prosecutorial discretion to retain from deportation. Moreover, the benefits that accompany such deferred action accrue not from the DACA memo itself, but from a range of policies and regulations that accompany deferred action more generally and largely predated the DACA memo. As a result, when the Trump administration attempted to rescind DACA, it improperly did so on the basis of objections to the downstream benefits of deferred action, not from the DACA memo’s assurance against deportation itself. So too here, Judge Hanen objected to the illegality of conferring work authorization and lawful presence to DACA recipients, but then vacated the DACA memo on that basis—a clear non-sequitur, to Eidelson.

Indeed, as Bloomberg reported, President Biden indicated that the DOJ intends to appeal Judge Hanen’s decision. He noted that the ruling was “deeply disappointing” and renewed his call for Congress to pass a law through reconciliation to provide all DACA recipients lawful permanent residency.

In other news, the AFL-CIO, CWA and two other workers’ groups accused Ray-Ban maker Luxottica, the Italian arm of the EssilorLuxottica, of unlawfully discouraging 2,000 workers from unionizing through an “aggressive and fear-inducing campaign” at its U.S. plant in Georgia, and have asked the Italian, French and U.S. governments to mediate. As Reuters reported, the unions filed a complaint under guidelines for multinational firms set by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in an example of workers and unions turning to international labor authorities in their attempt to vindicate their rights in lieu of pursuing claims domestically through the NLRB. According to Tim Dubnau, deputy director of organizing at CWA, going to the NLRB would be fruitless: “We know exactly what’s gonna happen. We go the NLRB, the company stalls and then spends 80 days intimidating people, acting like thugs at work, forcing people to listen to union-busting nonsense.” Indeed, CWA noted that Luxottica, like other European companies, maintains productive relationships with unions at home but operates differently in the United States to take advantage of the U.S.’s weaker labor laws. According to organizers, at its plant in McDonough, Georgia that produces lenses for its subsidiaries like Lenscrafters, Oakley, and Pearle Vision, Luxottica management has engaged in tactics such as warning employees of the alleged risks of unionizing through an app called LiveSafe, as well as employing an anti-union consulting firm and forcing workers into mandatory anti-union meetings.

Lastly, as Frito Lay workers in Topeka are set to continue their strike that began on July 5th against forced overtime among other indignities that have only worsened since the pandemic began, worker Cheri Renfro spoke to Maximillian Alvarez of the podcast “Working People” to discuss why they’re on strike and what’s at stake.  

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