Sep 5, 2017

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The Fight for Labor’s Collective Legal Power Continues

by | Sep 5, 2017

On March 15th, 1887, Colorado’s Sixth General Assembly recognized Labor Day as a public holiday, making Colorado the second state in the nation to do so. Labor Day is our nation’s tribute to “the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” Although much has been gained over the history of the labor movement , workers  continue to fight for fair wages, updated labor standards and bargaining power. An especially critical issue is coming to a head this October as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on NLRB v. Murphy Oil.

At issue is the role of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to continue to provide workers a collective legal voice. Congress passed the NLRA in 1935 and formally recognized the right of workers to organize and “engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” Since 1935, collective bargaining has achieved many victories for U.S. workers, both union and non-union members. So much so that in many cases labor union standards are considered industry standards, as employers look to unionized workplaces to set their workers’ compensation and benefits. From increased wages to more vacation time, organized labor has led the way in winning better working conditions and benefits across multiple industries.

Many of the wins for labor were made possible because of the strength that comes with numbers, particularly in the form of class-action lawsuits over workplace conditions and worker rights. In times when pursuing justice for unfair labor practices or compensation was not monetarily feasible on an individual scale, workers have banded together in class-action lawsuits to pursue a collective remedy. Victories in these lawsuits set precedent that has laid the foundation for worker protections and encouraged employers to be more vigilant of their compliance with labor laws.

Collective legal action could quickly become a distant memory for workers, however, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Murphy Oil in the upcoming NLRB v. Murphy Oil. The Court is being asked to settle a labor battle that has been brewing since the 1980s: that is, the interaction between the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and NLRA.

Specifically, the Court will address the question of whether employers can require employees to sign arbitration agreements and thereby waive their right to collective legal action. Corporate interests argue that courts must enforce arbitration agreements under the Federal Arbitration Act, preempting the National Labor Relations Act. Since 1985, the FAA has been limiting the ways in which workers who have been wronged in the workplace can seek justice.

Collective-action litigation is most recently visible among Silicon Valley tech companies, the most recent defendants in high-profile gender discrimination cases. Plaintiffs in those cases are not only seeking justice for the wrong that has been done to them, but for the right for others to collectively have their day in court.

Susan Fowler, an Uber engineer whose blog post about the workplace culture of her former employer led to the ouster of CEO Travis Kalanick, is speaking up for this right and so are her lawyers. In their brief, they claim that companies are resorting to arbitration not to efficiently and cheaply resolve workplace disputes, but rather to skirt accountability for addressing concerns on a wider scale. Michael Rubin, a partner at the law firm Altshuler Berzon and primary author of an amicus brief in support of the NLRB’s claim that class action waivers over employment disputes is an unfair labor practice in violation of the NLRA had this to say on the employers using arbitration as their preferred method of dispute resolution: “No well-counseled employer will forgo the opportunity to both privatize and individualize potential lawsuits.” The results of arbitrations are not made public, so other concerned groups never see how an individual issue was resolved.

The rise of class-action waivers is a major concern for workers seeking to remedy race and gender discrimination or any number of workers’ rights issues.This October, organized  labor will fight  for the right of workers to band together when  labor disputes arise to ensure that workers (current and future)  have a powerful voice in creating more equitable workplaces.

                                                                                                                                                                                – By Jesus Loayza

Recent articles

HEALTH:
HEALTH FIRST COLORADO (MEDICAID)

To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.

FOOD SECURITY:
SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP)

Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.

FOOD SECURITY:
SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS AND CHILDREN (WIC)

Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.

EARLY LEARNING:
COLORADO CHILD CARE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (CCCAP)

Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.