Labor and Employment Law

Luke P. Norris

A series of changes within civil procedure over the past few decades—including the rise of private arbitration, the accompanying decline of public adjudication, and the erection of barriers to class actions—have diminished the economic power of workers, consumers, and diffuse economic actors. This Article demonstrates that avoiding these economic consequences was a central goal of those who crafted American federal civil procedure in the first place. Driven to action by the procedural issues involved in labor injunction cases, leading procedural reformers behind the modern regime strove to make American federal civil procedure sensitive to questions of political economy and designed it to mitigate rather than reflect economic power imbalances. This Article connects their procedural reform efforts in the enactment of the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932 to the rise of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure of 1938, and, in so doing, reveals the unexplored progressive economic foundations of federal civil procedure.

This history provides a platform for a more conceptual analysis about civil procedure and economic power. The Article embeds the Norris-LaGuardia Act’s procedural provisions in the rise of the federal government’s facilitation of the “countervailing power” of workers, and begins to articulate the procedural dimensions of economic empowerment. While countervailing power is typically thought of as being facilitated by substantive law, the Norris-LaGuardia Act demonstrates how civil procedure can facilitate the exercise of countervailing power by providing economically less-resourced parties with open hearings and structuring procedure to protect their ability to amass power through association. More broadly, and returning to present issues, this Article argues that the recent transformations in civil procedure both undermine the economic purposes that were central to the regime’s rise and diminish the ability of diffuse economic actors to exercise counter- vailing power—threatening once-enduring procedural commitments.

 

Alok K. Nadig

Being queer—like deviating from the norm in any way—can be socially disabling. So why not turn to disability law for redress? After a nationwide same-sex marriage ruling from the Supreme Court, many are devoting more attention to the current absence of uniform, federal employment discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. As Title VII has grown friendlier to claims made by LGBT individuals, people are debating the merits of cognizing anti-LGBT bias as sex discrimination in the law. Meanwhile, the Equality Act, introduced in Congress in 2015, would ban discrimination on the basis of LGBT status throughout the country. But while vital, Title VII and the Equality Act could leave a gap through which queer people whose identities are not legible within the gender binary and are not politically stable as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are left out. This Note argues that LGBT people should challenge their current exclusion from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) through constitutional litigation to fill this gap. Through its disavowal of traditional identity politics, the ADA offers an additional comparative advantage that has transformative potential for queer plaintiffs: Its foundation on the social model of disability topples the LGBT rights movement’s historic emphasis on respectability to enable unrestrained self-determination.

Pooja Shethji

Nearly half of all employers consider applicants’ credit histories when making some hiring or promotion decisions—and they risk violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) when they do so. Employer credit checks have a potentially disparate impact on minorities and an attenuated relationship to asserted concerns about job performance and employee theft. The case law analyzing disparate impact challenges to credit check policies, meanwhile, is sparse, leaving employers with little direction as they shape their practices. This Note suggests that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issue detailed guidance on employers’ use of credit checks and proposes a novel framework drawn from agency guidance on the use of criminal records, which adopts the Eighth Circuit’s Green factors. Specifically, the EEOC ought to recommend that employers take into account the source or type of debt, the time between the “negative behavior” and the employment decision, and the nature of the job; the guidelines should also advocate for individualized assessments. Guidance along these lines would clarify what constitutes lawful credit check usage and benefit the job-seekers that Congress intended to protect with Title VII’s enactment.

Aaron Tang

Labor laws in twenty-two states permit government employers to compel all employees to pay “fair share fees” to support a union’s collective bargaining activities, even if the union advocates policies to which some workers are ideologically opposed. Thousands of collective bargaining agreements include provisions to this effect, and hundreds of thousands of objecting workers are forced to pay such fees each year.

At its core, this practice implicates a significant tension between two important principles: the First Amendment’s objective of protecting individuals from compelled support of unwanted messages, and labor law’s concern with fostering the collective benefits of worker representation. When confronted with a challenge to fair share fees nearly forty years ago in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court held that labor law takes precedence, such that the First Amendment intrusions produced by fair share fees are constitutionally justified. Twice in the past four years, however, the Supreme Court has indicated that it is poised to reverse course and strike down fair share fee clauses under the First Amendment, overruling Abood in the process. And on the last day of the 2014 Term, the Court granted certiorari in a case presenting just that opportunity.

In this Article, I challenge the conventional wisdom that public sector union financing implicates an inevitable trade-off between First Amendment principles and labor law’s core objectives. There is a simple alternative to the fair share fee union financing model that would permit public employers to pursue their broad interests in effective workplace representation without sacrificing the individual expressive interests of objecting employees: In lieu of fair share fee clauses, government employers can negotiate provisions under which they reimburse a union for its collective bargaining costs directly. Such an approach would free objecting workers of the compulsion to support an objectionable message and ensure that unions have the financial security they need to zealously represent worker interests. Moreover, the government can implement this alternative in a cost-neutral fashion, reducing future wage raises or gratuitous benefits to offset the added costs of union reimbursement.

But this government-payer alternative is not just a theoretical solution to what has been widely understood as an intractable debate—it has doctrinal significance, too. For once identified, the government-payer workaround becomes part of the constitutional analysis itself. That is to say, under First Amendment doctrine, the government’s ability to reimburse a union for its bargaining costs directly is a less restrictive alternative that renders fair share fees unconstitutional by comparison.

This Article explores the theoretical and doctrinal consequences of the government-payer alternative to fair share fees. In doing so, it proposes an answer to a longstanding puzzle in the Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence regarding the proper standard of scrutiny for compelled fees—a puzzle that the Supreme Court has explicitly recognized yet left unresolved. The Article concludes by offering a few observations concerning the impact of the government-payer alternative for the future of public sector labor unions and the First Amendment more broadly.

Charlotte S. Alexander, Zev J. Eigen & Camille Gear Rich

In recent years, antidiscrimination scholars have focused on the productive possibilities of the “universal turn,” a strategy that calls on attorneys to convert particularist claims, like race discrimination claims, into broader universalist claims that secure basic dignity, liberty, and fairness rights for all. Scholars have urged litigators to employ universalist strategies in constitutional and voting rights cases, as well as in employment litigation. Thus far, however, arguments made in favor of universalism have largely been abstract and theoretical and therefore have failed to fully consider the second-order effects of universalist strategies on the ground. In this Article, we challenge the prevailing arguments in favor of universalism by exploring the market consequences as lawyers shift from particularist Title VII race discrimination claims to universalist Fair Labor Standards Act claims. Drawing on a review of case filing statistics and an inductive, purposeful sample of attorney interviews, we describe a phenomenon we call “post-racial hydraulics,” which are a set of non-ideological, economic, and pragmatism-based drivers produced by the trend toward universalism. Post-racial hydraulics must be understood as key but previously unexplored factors in racial formation. Left unchecked, these non-ideological drivers will have substantive ideological effects, as they threaten to fundamentally reshape the employment litigation market and alter our understanding of race discrimination.

Thomas I.M. Gottheil

The American labor movement is in trouble. As union density declines and worker organizing becomes more difficult, a relatively new model, the worker center, has emerged to organize low-wage immigrant workers. Worker centers devise a broad range of strategies and internal structures to meet the challenges of the contemporary organizing landscape, and these strategies would not be possible were worker centers considered labor organizations under labor law. Recently, anti-union groups and members of Congress have shifted focus to worker centers, urging that they be regulated under the National Labor Relations Act. By examining the history of labor law and the structure of worker centers, this Note argues that regulation of worker centers under the NLRA would be inappropriate, ahistorical, and an unreasonable restriction on the associational rights of workers.

David H. Webber

The recent financial crisis has jeopardized the retirement savings of twenty-seven million Americans who depend on public pension funds, leading to cuts in benefits, increased employee contributions, job losses, and the rollback of legal rights like collective bargaining. This Article examines ways in which public pension funds invest against the economic interests of their own participants and beneficiaries, and the legal implications of these investments. In particular, the Article focuses on the use of public pensions to fund privatization of public employee jobs. Under the ascendant—and flawed—interpretation of the fiduciary duty of loyalty, public pension trustees owe their allegiance to the fund itself, rather than to the fund’s participants and beneficiaries, notwithstanding the fact that the duty of loyalty commands trustees to invest “solely in the interest of the participants and beneficiaries” according to ERISA and similar state pension codes. I argue that this “fund-first” view distorts the duty of loyalty and turns the role of trustee on its head, leading to investments that undermine, rather than enhance, the economic interests of public employees. I turn to ERISA, trust law, agency law, and corporate law to argue that public pension trustees should consider the impact of the funds’ investments on the jobs and job security of the funds’ participants and beneficiaries, where relevant. I also adduce evidence that these controversial investments are widespread. I propose that public pension funds be governed by a “member-first” view of fiduciary duty focused on the economic interests of public employees in their retirement funds, which go beyond maximizing return to the funds. I argue that this view is more faithful to the original purpose of the duty of loyalty than is the fund-first view. I suggest ways to implement the member-first view, discuss potential extensions beyond the jobs impact of investments, and assess the proposed reform’s practical effects.

Peter Kauffman

To have a strong public education system, it is imperative to recruit and maintain high-caliber public school teachers and ensure that school administrators can terminate underperformers. Teachers unions have contributed to this effort by increasing professionalism in teaching and giving teachers a role in school management, but they have also detracted from it by making it too difficult to terminate incompetent teachers. Nonunionized charter schools that employ teachers at will, on the other hand, may leave teachers vulnerable to arbitrary or malicious terminations. Unionized charter schools, a relatively recent phenomenon, produce teacher contracts that, as the result of labor negotiations between two prominent players in education, could provide valuable lessons for reform to the American public education system. This Note’s analysis of contracts from the unionized charter schools in New York City reveals that they provide teachers with more job protection than employment at will but far less than provided in the public school union contract. Traditional public schools and unions should reform their collective bargaining agreements to provide a level of job security similar to that in the unionized charter school contracts. This may create the right balance between allowing principals to terminate incompetent teachers and protecting teachers from arbitrary or malicious terminations.

Lori Brooke Day

This Note uses the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark as a case study to examine the legal and nonlegal systems in place to deter unsafe working conditions in the theatre industry. In little over a year of rehearsals and performances, seven members of the Spider Man cast were injured, one very seriously. (An eighth cast member was then seriously injured as this Note was being prepared for print, approximately two years later.) This Note argues that Spider-Man illustrates how the current regime does not deter unsafe conditions. It argues that the workers’ compensation exclusivity bar to a civil suit—which provides employers a complete defense with respect to covered injuries, unless an injury is the result of an intentional tort—should be lowered to create better incentives for producers to ensure the safety of their actors.

John J. Infranca

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides financial assistance to low-income workers through a refundable tax credit. The EITC, which has received strong bipartisan support since its introduction in 1975, now represents the nation’s largest anti-poverty program for non-elderly individuals. In this Note, I contend that the EITC’s historical development failed to account for (and prior scholarly analysis of its impact on labor supply decisions have ignored) the important role of informal employment in the lives of the working poor. This Note presents the first analysis of the financial impact of government transfer and tax programs on the decision to report informal income—income that, were it reported, would be otherwise legal. As the Note’s analysis reveals, while drastic changes in both tax and transfer programs may be necessary to provide financial incentives for many households with children to report informal income, more targeted changes to the EITC could pro- vide strong incentives for childless informal workers to report. The Note argues that the benefits to both individuals and society, financial and otherwise, of tax reporting by low-income individuals engaged in informal work merits reconsideration of the EITC’s overall structure and administration. Administrative and policy innovations described in the Note are also necessary to maximize reporting compliance.

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