Today’s News & Commentary—September 2, 2021

Yesterday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy announced that rideshare companies could move forward with their proposed state ballot measure to exempt their drivers from employment law protections.  The proposal, modeled closely on California’s Proposition 22, was one of 17 out of 30 proposed ballot initiatives certified by the Attorney General as having met baseline state constitutional requirements.  Last month, the Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights—a collection of worker advocacy groups headed by friend of the blog Mike Firestone—urged Healy to block the measure, arguing that it violated the “relatedness” prong of the Bay State constitution and would unduly confuse voters. Like Proposition 22, rideshare companies’ new proposal would expressly guarantee a series of perks for drivers, such as an enhanced minimum wage, while indirectly reducing overall benefits by excluding them from Massachusetts’s otherwise broad definition of employee status. The Attorney General’s decision will allow rideshare giants to begin collecting signatures in order to qualify the measure for the ballot. 

Two major pieces of workers’ rights legislation stand on the cusp of passage in California in the coming days.  On Tuesday, State Senator Connie Leyva’s S.B. 331, which would ban the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to prohibit ex-employees’ discussion of discrimination and harassment in the workplace, cleared the upper chamber for the second time after accepting amendments from the Assembly.  Dubbed the “Silence No More Act”, the bill broadens existing NDA restrictions under a prior law by Senator Leyva, the Stand Together Against Non-Disclosures (STAND) Act, which only limited NDAs from banning discussion of sexual harassment and discrimination.  The new proposal, which expands the NDA-ban to all forms of workplace discrimination, now heads to Governor Gavin’s Newsom’s desk.

At the same time, legislation designed to crack down on unsafe working conditions at Amazon warehouses is expected to come before the State Senate within the next week.  The bill, A.B. 701, would ban so-called “time-off-task” penalties that may affect the health and safety of warehouse employees, such as those that penalize bathroom breaks.  The legislation also prohibits retaliation and requires warehouse companies to disclose any work-speed quotas or metrics to both employees and government agencies. Studies have shown that Amazon’s algorithmically driven warehouses experience over twice the rate of workplace injuries as other warehousing companies, with around 6.5 mishaps for every 100 workers.  Senate voting on the bill, which has already passed the State Assembly, is expected to be close, with a number of business groups lobbying hard against the proposal.  The legislation has the strong backing of organized labor, particularly from the Teamsters, who have begun using local legislative advocacy as a point of leverage in their campaign to unionize the nation’s several thousand Amazon warehouses.

Finally on Monday, Starbucks employees at three locations in Buffalo, New York filed petitions for union elections with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) within the next two weeks. As Jon reported last week, workers had announced the formation of an organizing committee last week and had written to Starbucks requesting that the company agree to a series of “fair election principles,” including offering the union the right to discuss the campaign with workers on company time in response to any company-held captive audience meetings. The organizing committee, known as Starbucks Workers United, claims to have collected signed union cards from “strong majorities” at each of the three locations. Nonetheless, workers are requesting the NLRB to hold separate elections at each rather than consolidating them into a single unit, as Starbucks may seek to do. If successful, the effort would mark the first instance of unionization at any of the company’s more than 8,000 stores nationwide.

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