Today’s News & Commentary—August 17, 2021

Home Depot violated the NLRA when it threatened and punished workers who engaged in activism against racial discrimination, a complaint filed by the NLRB Region 18 Regional Director, Jennifer Hadsall, alleges. As Bloomberg’s report on the complaint noted, Home Depot was one of many companies to put out a general statement about racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Yet according to the complaint, at the company’s facility outside the Twin Cities, management threatened employees “who engaged in concerted activities for the purposes of mutual aid and protection related to racial policies and practices at the New Brighton facility.” Included in those protected Section 7 activities were: “displaying the lettering ‘BLM’ on [an employee’s] apron, writing emails [and] engaging in various conversations with coworkers, supervisors, and managers about subjects such as ongoing discrimination and harassment.” The complaint also alleges discriminatory enforcement of the dress code prohibition on “[d]isplaying causes or political messages unrelated to workplace matters.” While the complaint does not provide many details, it will be interesting to see how close of a nexus is required between the activity and conditions at the facility itself in order for the activity to receive Section 7 protection, a crucial topic previously addressed in the NLRB Advice Response Memo in EZ Industrial Solutions. As Tascha noted in Friday’s News & Commentary, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo’s recent memo encouraged reexamination of precedents “narrowly construing what rises to the level of concerted activity and what constitutes mutual aid or protection within the meaning of Section 8(a)(1).”

Forty window cleaners in Minneapolis are striking for higher pay, better health care, and a state-certified apprentice program to improve safety, Labor Notes reports. They are members of SEIU Local 26. After the workers’ contract with three companies expired last year, the companies “decided they didn’t want to give us anything,” pushed back negotiations for a year, and are now refusing to set a date for bargaining, according to bargaining team member Eric Crone. Prior to the postponement, management had “verbally agreed to create a fully funded apprenticeship program, reduce family health care premiums from $400 monthly to $200, and raise pay $2 an hour in the first year and 50 cents to $1 each year for the remainder of a three-year contract.” In the lead-up to the strike, which members unanimously authorized, one company agreed to the union’s proposals but the two others offered a contract that didn’t touch the apprenticeship or health care demands and offered wage increases well below what the union proposed. This comes after a year of particularly dangerous work in an already dangerous industry: four members of the local died from COVID-19 and over 1,000 were exposed to the virus at work and were forced to take unpaid time off. “For them to look us in the face and tell us that we didn’t deserve a little extra after working in these hazardous conditions while they got to work from home was completely infuriating,” said Crone, the bargaining team member.

Lack of paid sick leave is preventing low-wage workers from getting vaccinated against COVID-19, according to surveys and experts, the Washington Post reports. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that two out of ten unvaccinated workers said that they would be more likely to get vaccinated if their employer gave them paid time off to do so. Failure to provide paid leave disproportionately impacts low-wage workers, who are already at greater risk of contracting the virus. As Daisy Berrospe, who manages La Clínica de La Raza’s vaccine clinic in Oakland, explained, “it’s a big deal — it’s either miss work and get the vaccine, or continue to go to work to keep up with your paycheck.” That reasoning rang true for Zachary Livingston, who manages a Subway for $35,000 a year and is uninsured. He said that he would have gotten vaccinated months ago with paid sick leave.

Finally, the Biden administration announced changes to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. The New York Times reported that, under the changed rules, average benefits would increase by more than 25% from pre-pandemic levels and that all 42 million people in the program—approximately 1 in 8 Americans—would see benefits increase. Many have argued for years that benefit levels were too low, “estimating the cost of an adequate diet with data from people who cannot afford one,” as economist James Ziliak explained it. Among other flaws, the old model for calculating benefits didn’t account for geographic price differences and ignored preparation time constraints that influence purchases. Betsy Cruz, a single mother who cares full-time for her son with disabilities, has felt the impact of these flaws firsthand: “[t]here are days when I just don’t know how I’m going to feed my son,” she said.

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