Labor News

July 1, 2020

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(This article first appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

Supreme Court Rules Workers Cannot Be Fired on Basis of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity

On June 15, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling, declaring that the language in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination. The 6-3 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, GA, the first from the Supreme Court involving transgender rights, effectively grants workplace protections to millions of workers across the country. Before the decision, it was legal in more than half the states in the country to fire an employee for being gay or transgender.

legal battle in the case centered on Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination “based on sex.” Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch declared that this protection extends to gay and transgender people.

“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” Gorsuch wrote. “It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”

“Today, the Court recognized that discrimination based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity is rooted in sex discrimination. The approximately 11.5 million LGB people and 1.5 million transgender people in the United States are now protected from discrimination in workplaces across the country,” said Jerame Davis, Executive Director of Pride at Work, after the decision.

“Not every working person has the benefit of an inclusive union contract to protect them from discrimination on the job. Until today, half of LGBTQ people lived in a state that had no law to protect them from discrimination,” Davis said. “Economic justice for marginalized communities is at the core of the labor movement’s work. Unions fight every day to ensure the dignity and respect of every working person and this decision helps advance that cause.”

However, the fight against discrimination is far from over. Next fall The Supreme Court will hear Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a case that will determine whether private organizations receiving public funds can discriminate on religious grounds.

Mississippi Cereal Workers Win Union Representation

Concerns around the COVID virus have resulted in many workers seeking a voice over policies at work that impact their health and safety. This was reflected in May, when workers at Hearthside Food Solutions in Byhalia, MS voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW).

The COVID-19 crisis intensified many of the pay and safety issues facing workers at the facility. Hearthside is the largest privately owned bakery in the United States and does regular business packaging Kellogg and General Mills’ Food. The majority of workers at the facility are classified as temporary workers and perform the same work as full-time employees.

According to union organizer Rose Turner, the company began distributing face masks to workers only after the workers filed for a union election. Hearthside hired union-busters in an attempt to derail the union organizing efforts and forced an in person, rather than a mail ballot election. Yet, the workers stuck together and prevailed and soon will be negotiating their first union contract.

French Amazon Workers Win Safety Measures Following Victory in Court

On May 15, French unions representing workers at Amazon’s six warehouses in the country reached an agreement with the company on strong safety measures for workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of the company’s warehouses in France had been closed for more than a month after unions successfully sued, claiming that Amazon had not put proper worker protections in place as the pandemic spread throughout the country. The courts ordered Amazon to cease delivery of any non-essential items, or be hit with millions of euros in fines. The company shut down the warehouses to avoid paying those fines, and placed all of its workers on paid furlough.

The new agreement allowed the company to re-open its facilities in France with extra protections in place for workers. The agreement included extra pay for workers at the warehouses (which phased out at the beginning of June) and the option for workers to remain home while still receiving their full pay.

The workers won a cap of 50 percent capacity at the warehouses and a decrease in shifts of 15 minutes to prevent overlap between daytime and night shifts, in exchange for the lifting of the restriction on nonessential shipments. The company also agreed to meet with a workers’ committee once per week to evaluate safety conditions.

Maine Shipyard Workers Overwhelmingly Vote to Strike

On June 21, shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works shipyard in Maine voted to reject a three-year contract proposal from General Dynamics, the proprietor of the shipyard. The contract, which the company pushed as its “last, best, and final offer,” was rejected by over 87 percent of the 4,300 workers, unionized with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) Local S6.

The overwhelming rejection of General Dynamics’ offer was due to unacceptable language on subcontracting and shift preferences, an attack on earned seniority benefits. General Dynamics is the fifth-largest defense contractor in the country, earning over $39 billion in revenue in 2019.

The Bath Iron Works shipyard is contracted to build destroyers for the U.S. Navy. In a letter to General Dynamics, IAM Business Representative Jay Wadleigh wrote that the workers “made it clear that attacks on seniority and expansion of subcontracting language are not acceptable or viable solutions to managerial shortcomings.”

“The Company’s attempt’s to mislead the members, and the press, will be exposed. The company should carefully consider the longterm damage this course of action is doing to Bath Iron Work’s reputation,” Wadleigh wrote. “Simply put, the Union remains committed to negotiating an entire contract.” The strike officially began at midnight on June 22 after Local S6’s vote. Updates on the strike will be posted on

Fruit Packing Workers in Washington Win Protections Following Strike

On May 28, Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) announced new protections for workers in the state’s fruit packing industry, following strikes and walkouts at six fruit packing facilities in Yakima County. Yakima County, in Central Washington, is one of the biggest producers of fruit in the United States. When the new regulations went into effect on June 3, the county had the highest COVID-19 case rate in the state, with Latinos comprising 60 percent of those cases.

In response to the rising case rates in the county, hundreds of workers walked out in May demanding increased safety protections and hazard pay. The new safety regulations are a mandate from the state to employers to put worker safety first as the county moves into the lucrative cherry season.

The regulations “require agricultural employers to provide all workers with personal protective equipment at no cost, ensure physical distancing or barriers between workers when distancing is not possible, place hand-washing stations at regular intervals among workers, and implement sanitation and distancing on employer-provided transportation,” according to The Fern.

“These regulations go a long way in addressing many of the issues that farmworkers have consistently raised with us,” United Farm Workers representative Erik Nicholson told the Seattle Times.

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