U.S. Supreme Court Damages Labor Rights by Ruling that Employers Can Legally Prevent Employees from Joining Together in Class Actions

Employers vs. employees — one of the core societal conflicts plays out again, benefiting management over labor as usual. Perhaps the solution is to make the employees the collective employer, so that the workers themselves can democratically decide who is hired and fired and what workplace provisions are applied. In any case though, it’s a serious affront to labor rights, with the law of contracts — a conservative pillar of democracy before modern “conservatism” turned into an ideology trying to justify giving as much money to rich people as possible — being further worsened.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dealt a blow to worker rights, saying that employers can bar their employees from banding together to challenge workplace abuses including wage theft and sexual harassment.

MSNBC host and legal analyst Ari Melber summed up the 5-4 decision (pdf) by tweeting: “Supreme Court rules that you have the right to your day in court, unless a corporation effectively makes you give up that right.”

Political activist Zephyr Teachout, meanwhile, said the decision “is terrible news for workers in America,” as it makes “it harder for employees to get a fair hearing when they are screwed.”

When employers mandate arbitration clauses, employees must act as individuals to challenge alleged workplace abuses, and are thus barred from gaining strength in numbers through class action suits to challenge corporate power. In the cases before the high court, employers had argued they had the right to impose such contracts under the Federal Arbitration Act, while employees argued they had the right to take collective action under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the dissenting opinion, and read a summary of her dissent aloud—”something justices do only rarely to signify their objections,” USA Today reported.

Ginsburg called the decision “egregiously wrong,” and asserted: “Recognizing employees’ right to engage in collective employment litigation and shielding that right from employer blockage are firmly rooted in the NLRA’s design.”

She further noted that made “to face their employers without company, employees ordinarily are no match for the enterprise that hires them. Employees gain strength, however, if they can deal with their employers in numbers. That is the very reason why the NLRA secures against employer interference employees’ right to act in concert for their ‘mutual aid or protection.'”

“The inevitable result of today’s decision ,” she added, “will be the under-enforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well-being of vulnerable workers.”

EPI’s McNicholas urged Congress to take action to prevent that from happening.

“It is essential to both our democracy and a fair economy that workers have the right to engage in collective action,” she stated. “Congress must act to restore this fundamental right and ban mandatory arbitration agreements and class and collective action waivers.”

Amazon Patents Wristband that Tracks Movements of Warehouse Workers

These wristbands would increase worker repression levels that are already far too high. Amazon’s CEO is the richest person in the world by net worth, but he still insists on mistreating his workers in their quasi-totalitarian workplaces.

Amazon’s CEO could simply sell $1 billion of stock and give a $2,000 bonus to Amazon’s 500,000 employees, and that’s only one example of what could be done to remedy the mistreatment of its workers. It doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon though, unfortunately.

Amazon has patented designs for a wristband that can precisely track where warehouse employees are placing their hands and use vibrations to nudge them in a different direction.

The concept, which aims to streamline the fulfilment of orders, adds another layer of surveillance to an already challenging working environment.

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Amazon already has a reputation for turning low-paid staff into “human robots” – working alongside thousands of proper robots – carrying out repetitive packaging tasks as fast as possible in an attempt to hit goals set by handheld computers.

This month, the 24-year-old warehouse worker Aaron Callaway described having just 15 seconds to scan items and place them into the right cart during his night shifts at an Amazon warehouse in the UK. “My main interaction is with the robots,” he said.

Another Instance Lacking Economic Democracy, Israeli Corporation Teva Edition

Israel, which (as with other governments) is supposed to derive the legitimacy of its power by operating in the public interest, granted Teva about $6 billion in tax breaks and subsidies over the last decade. Now Teva’s board of directors — undemocratically elected by its major shareholders — has fired 14,000 workers because the corporation is having difficulty sustaining the costs of its poor managerial decisions. A small number of rich people on a board of directors, making key decisions that affects many thousands of people, is thus the antithesis of economic democracy.

The first homegrown, global success story and one of Israel’s largest employers, Teva is both a source of pride and a symbol of the country’s financial ambitions. Its place in the Israeli public’s imagination is similar to the one General Motors, in its heyday, occupied in America — but in a nation with a population about the size of New York City’s. The company’s shares are owned by so many pension funds that it is known informally as the people’s stock.

Today, many of those people are furious. Management missteps and tectonic shifts in the pharmaceutical business have battered Teva, which faces declining prices for generic drugs and the loss of a patent on a major branded drug. More than $20 billion has been shorn from the company’s market capitalization since 2017 began, cutting Teva’s value roughly in half.

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About the only positive reaction to this news came from investors, who sent Teva shares up about 14 percent. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that he would urge the company to “retain its Israeli identity,” words that seemed to mollify no one.

Three days after Teva’s announcement, some workers burned tires outside a Teva plant while others tied up rush-hour traffic with street protests. It went beyond workers, with people across the country taking part in a half-day strike that closed banks, government institutions, the stock exchange and Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.

Teva employees continued to protest for days. “There is uncertainty, fear,” said Lital Nahum, a 25-year-old lab worker who was sitting on a wall outside a Teva plant in Jerusalem last week, as two dozen other striking workers milled around. “Nobody thought it would come to this.”

With domestic plants targeted for closing, many people argued that Teva factories in India and Ireland should be closed before any in Israel. Mr. Netanyahu agreed and said that the government would use “various means at our disposal” to urge the company to keep its plants in Jerusalem open.

Mr. Netanyahu did not specify what those means might be, but a guilt trip appeared to be his only weapon. Teva has enjoyed tax breaks and subsidies worth nearly $6 billion over the last decade.

Minimum Wage Increases to Benefit 4.5 Million U.S. Workers

The minimum wage would be about $20 in the United States today if it had kept pace with productivity growth since the 1970s. Marginally higher minimum wages than the $7.25 federal level are therefore inadequate, but they do represent some gains.

At the beginning of 2018, 18 states will increase their minimum wage, providing over $5 billion in additional wages to 4.5 million workers across the country. In a majority of these states, minimum wage increases (ranging from $0.35 in Michigan to $1.00 in Maine) are the result of legislation or ballot measures approved by voters in recent years. Eight of these states (Alaska, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, and South Dakota) will have smaller automatic increases that adjust the minimum wage to keep pace with price growth. This automatic inflation adjustment preserves the buying power of the minimum wage, which has steadily eroded over time.

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Increasing the minimum wage is a crucial tool to help stop growing wage inequality, particularly for women and people of color who disproportionately hold minimum wage jobs. As low-wage workers face a growing number of attacks on their ability get a fair return on their work, Congress should act to set a higher wage floor for working people.

Horrible Labor Conditions at Amazon Warehouses

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos would sell at least a few hundred million dollars of his Amazon stock and grant it to Amazon workers if he actually cared much about them. He could also do a lot to improve working conditions at Amazon, but he is a prominent example of corporate greed in today’s world for a reason. The world’s richest person treating his exploited workers like garbage is truly an ongoing moral outrage.

Alan Selby went undercover at the firm’s Tilbury warehouse in Essex where ambulances are regularly called and where workers face the sack if they fail to pack at least two items per minute

Alone in a locked metal cage, 10 feet from my nearest colleague, a robot approaches from the shadows and thrusts a tower of shelves towards me.

I have nine seconds to grab and process an item to be sent for packing – a target of 300 items an hour, for hour after relentless hour.

As I bend to the floor then reach high above my head to fulfil a never-ending stream of orders, my body screams at me.

Welcome to Amazon’s picking floor. Here, while cameras watch my every move, a screen in front of me offers constant reminders of my “units per hour” and exactly how long each has taken.

This is the online giant’s biggest European packing plant, set to be shipping 1.2 million items a year.

As the UK’s top retailer, it made £7.3billion last year alone. But a Sunday Mirror investigation today reveals that success comes at a price – the daily ordeal of its workers.

I spent five weeks at the firm’s newest warehouse in Tilbury, Essex, armed with a secret camera bought from Amazon’s own website.

I found staff asleep on their feet, exhausted from toiling for up to 55 hours a week.

Those who could not keep up with the punishing targets faced the sack – and some who buckled under the strain had to be attended to by ambulance crews.

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Across Italy and Germany staff have gone on strike, complaining of low pay and poor conditions.

And employees at UK warehouses have told of sleeping in tents and under bridges just to get to work on time.

Timed toilet breaks, impossible targets and exhausting, “intolerable” working conditions are frequent complaints. Staff have been paid less than the living wage, and it even emerged drivers had faced fines for “early” deliveries.

As experts warn of workers facing an increased risk of mental and physical illness, Amazon repeatedly promised to clean up its act. But a whiteboard in the plant for staff comments suggests it has far to go.

There were complaints of filthy toilets and breaks still too short.

One asked: “Why are we not allowed to sit when it is quiet and not busy? We are human beings, not slaves and animals.”