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    The National Labor Relations Board grants a reprieve to inflatable rats.

    It turns out that inflatable rodents may be as unstoppable as their living, breathing cousins.On Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that unions can position large synthetic props like rats, often used to communicate displeasure over employment practices, near a work site even when the targeted company is not directly involved in a labor dispute.While picketing companies that deal with employers involved in labor disputes — known as a secondary boycott — is illegal under labor law, the board ruled that the use of oversized rats, which are typically portrayed as ominous creatures with red eyes and fangs, is not a picket but a permissible effort to persuade bystanders.Union officials had stationed the rat in question, a 12-foot-tall specimen, close to the entrance of a trade show in Elkhart, Ind., in 2018, along with two banners. One banner accused a company showcasing products there, Lippert Components, of “harboring rat contractors” — that is, doing business with contractors that do not use union labor.Lippert argued that the rat’s use was illegal coercion because the creature was menacing and was intended to discourage people from entering the trade show. But the board found that the rat was a protected form of expression. “Courts have consistently deemed banners and inflatable rats to fall within the realm of protected speech, rather than that of intimidation and the like,” the ruling said.The rise of the rodents, often known as “Scabby the Rat,” dates to the early 1990s, when an Illinois-based company began manufacturing them for local unions intent on drawing attention to what they considered suspect practices, such as using nonunion labor. The company later began making other inflatable totems, like fat cats and greedy pigs, for the same purpose.The labor relations board had previously blessed rats in a 2011 ruling. But seven years later, its general counsel, Peter B. Robb, sought to reopen the debate.Mr. Robb, a Trump appointee, issued an internal memo in 2018 arguing that erecting a rat near an employer that was not directly involved in a labor dispute amounted to “unlawful coercion” — an attempt to disrupt the business of a neutral party. His office subsequently intervened on behalf of the companies in a handful of cases in which firms sought to block unions from deploying large inflatable paraphernalia close to their facilities.One of those cases was dismissed, while a successor to Mr. Robb sought to dismiss another. (A judge has yet to rule on the motion to dismiss that case.)In the case brought by Lippert, an administrative law judge ruled against the company in 2019, arguing that the rat did not amount to a picket or illegal coercion.The judge noted that the rat and banners, which were erected by members of a local branch of the International Union of Operating Engineers, were stationary and did not create confrontation with passers-by. There was no evidence that the two union representatives present marched in front of the trade show or blocked people from entering, the judge wrote. They appeared to merely sit beside the rat.The company appealed to the labor board in Washington, which solicited public comment last fall on whether it should modify or overturn the precedent.But the board’s chairman, Lauren McFerran, a Democratic appointee, concluded that precedent required dismissing the complaint. Two Republican appointees indicated that they considered the precedent flawed but that banning inflatable rats would violate the First Amendment.A lone Republican appointee, William J. Emanuel, argued that the precedent should be overturned. More

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    Building Solar Farms May Not Build the Middle Class

    To hear Democrats tell it, a green job is supposed to be a good job — and not just good for the planet.The Green New Deal, first introduced in 2019, sought to “create millions of good, high-wage jobs.” And in March, when President Biden unveiled his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, he emphasized the “good-paying” union jobs it would produce while reining in climate change.“My American Jobs Plan will put hundreds of thousands of people to work,” Mr. Biden said, “paying the same exact rate that a union man or woman would get.”But on its current trajectory, the green economy is shaping up to look less like the industrial workplace that lifted workers into the middle class in the 20th century than something more akin to an Amazon warehouse or a fleet of Uber drivers: grueling work schedules, few unions, middling wages and limited benefits.Kellogg Dipzinski has seen this up close, at Assembly Solar, a nearly 2,000-acre solar farm under construction near Flint, Mich.“Hey I see your ads for help,” Mr. Dipzinski, an organizer with the local electrical workers union, texted the site’s project manager in May. “We have manpower. I’ll be out that way Friday.”“Hahahahaha …. yes — help needed on unskilled low wage workers,” was the response. “Competing with our federal government for unemployment is tough.”For workers used to the pay standards of traditional energy industries, such declarations may be jarring. Building an electricity plant powered by fossil fuels usually requires hundreds of electricians, pipe fitters, millwrights and boilermakers who typically earn more than $100,000 a year in wages and benefits when they are unionized.But on solar farms, workers are often nonunion construction laborers who earn an hourly wage in the upper teens with modest benefits — even as the projects are backed by some of the largest investment firms in the world. In the case of Assembly Solar, the backer is D.E. Shaw, with more than $50 billion in assets under management, whose renewable energy arm owns and will operate the plant.While Mr. Biden has proposed higher wage floors for such work, the Senate prospects for this approach are murky. And absent such protections — or even with them — there’s a nagging concern among worker advocates that the shift to green jobs may reinforce inequality rather than alleviate it.“The clean tech industry is incredibly anti-union,” said Jim Harrison, the director of renewable energy for the Utility Workers Union of America. “It’s a lot of transient work, work that is marginal, precarious and very difficult to be able to organize.”The Lessons of 2009Since 2000, the United States has lost about two million private-sector union jobs, which pay above-average wages. To help revive such “high-quality middle-class” employment, as Mr. Biden refers to it, he has proposed federal subsidies to plug abandoned oil and gas wells, build electric vehicles and charging stations and speed the transition to renewable energy.Industry studies, including one cited by the White House, suggest that vastly increasing the number of wind and solar farms could produce over half a million jobs a year over the next decade — primarily in construction and manufacturing.David Popp, an economist at Syracuse University, said those job estimates were roughly in line with his study of the green jobs created by the Recovery Act of 2009, but with two caveats: First, the green jobs created then coincided with a loss of jobs elsewhere, including high-paying, unionized industrial jobs. And the green jobs did not appear to raise the wages of workers who filled them.The effect of Mr. Biden’s plan, which would go further in displacing well-paid workers in fossil-fuel-related industries, could be similarly disappointing.In the energy industry, it takes far more people to operate a coal-powered electricity plant than it takes to operate a wind farm. Many solar farms often make do without a single worker on site.In 2023, a coal- and gas-powered plant called D.E. Karn, about an hour away from the Assembly Solar site in Michigan, is scheduled to shut down. The plant’s 130 maintenance and operations workers, who are represented by the Utility Workers Union of America and whose wages begin around $40 an hour plus benefits, are guaranteed jobs at the same wage within 60 miles. But the union, which has lost nearly 15 percent of the 50,000 members nationally that it had five years ago, says many will have to take less appealing jobs. The utility, Consumers Energy, concedes that it doesn’t have nearly enough renewable energy jobs to absorb all the workers.Joe Duvall, the local union president at the D.E. Karn generating complex in Essexville, Mich. The plant, about an hour away from the Assembly Solar site, is scheduled to go offline in 2023.Erin Schaff/The New York Times“A handful will retire,” said Joe Duvall, the local union president. “The younger ones I think have been searching for what they’d like to do outside of Karn.”While some of the new green construction jobs, such as building new power lines, may pay well, many will pay less than traditional energy industry construction jobs. The construction of a new fossil fuel plant in Michigan employs hundreds of skilled tradespeople who typically make at least $60 an hour in wages and benefits, said Mike Barnwell, the head of the carpenters union in the state.By contrast, about two-thirds of the roughly 250 workers employed on a typical utility-scale solar project are lower-skilled, according to Anthony Prisco, the head of the renewable energy practice for the staffing firm Aerotek. Mr. Prisco said his company pays “around $20” per hour for these positions, depending on the market, and that they are generally nonunion.Mr. Biden has proposed that clean energy projects, which are subsidized by federal tax credits, pay construction workers so-called prevailing wages — a level set by the government in each locality. A few states, most prominently New York, have enacted similar mandates.But it’s not clear that the Senate Democrats will be able to enact a prevailing wage mandate over Republican opposition. And the experience of the Recovery Act, which also required prevailing wages, suggests that such requirements are less effective at raising wages than union representation. Union officials also say that much of the difference in compensation arises from benefits rather than pay.A Different Kind of OwnerUnion officials concede that some tasks, like lifting solar panels onto racks, don’t necessarily require a skilled trades worker. But they say that even these tasks should be directly supervised by tradespeople, and that many others must be performed by tradespeople to ensure safety and quality. “If you hire people off the street at $15 per hour, they’re not skilled and they get injuries,” Mr. Barnwell said. “We would never let a bunch of assemblers work together alone.”One potentially dangerous job is wiring the hundreds or thousands of connections on a typical project — from solar panels to boxes that combine their energy to the inverters and transformers that make the electricity compatible with the rest of the grid.Mr. Barnwell’s union has developed a contract that would employ far more skilled workers than the industry norm so that two-thirds of the workers on a project are tradespeople or apprentices. To be more competitive with nonunion employers, the contract offers tradespeople only $18 an hour in benefits, roughly half the usual amount, and a wage of slightly under $30 an hour. Apprentices earn 60 to 95 percent of that wage plus benefits, depending on experience.So far, there have been relatively few takers. A key reason is that while utilities have traditionally built their own coal- and gas-powered plants, they tend to obtain wind and solar energy from other companies through so-called power purchase agreements. That electricity is then sent to customers through the grid just like electricity from any other source.Once construction is completed, many solar farms often operate without a single worker on-site.Erin Schaff/The New York TimesWhen utilities build their own plants, they have little incentive to drive down labor costs because their rate of return is set by regulators — around 10 percent of their initial investment a year, according to securities filings.But when a solar farm is built and owned by another company — typically a green energy upstart, a traditional energy giant or an investment firm like D.E. Shaw, the owner of Assembly Solar in Michigan — that company has every incentive to hold down costs.A lower price helps secure the purchase agreement in the first place. And because the revenue is largely determined by the purchase agreement, a company like D.E. Shaw must keep costs low to have a chance of earning the kind of double-digit returns that a regulated utility earns. Every dollar D.E. Shaw saves on labor is a dollar more for its investors.“For third parties selling power to utilities, they are competing to get the contract,” said Leah Stokes, a political science professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who studies utilities. “And the difference between what they’re paid and what their costs are is profit.”Union Labor, ‘Where Possible’In mid-2019, the electrical workers union in Flint elected a trim and tightly coiled man named Greg Remington as its business manager and de facto leader. Around the same time, Mr. Remington ran into an official with Ranger Power, the company developing the project for D.E. Shaw, at a local planning commission meeting.“He was all smiles — ‘Oh, yeah, we look forward to meeting,’” Mr. Remington said of the official. “But he never returned another phone call. I sent emails and he never got back to me.”Development is the stage of a solar project in which a company buys or leases land, secures permits and negotiates a power purchase agreement with a utility. After that, the developer may cede control of the project to a company that will build, own and operate it.But the two companies often work in tandem, as in the case of D.E. Shaw and Ranger Power, which are joint-venture partners “on certain Midwest projects and assets,” according to a Ranger spokeswoman. D.E. Shaw helps fund Ranger Power’s projects, and its involvement provides the resources and credibility to get projects off the ground.Greg Remington, the business manager at the electrical workers local in Flint, Mich. “A lot of this stuff, you’ve got to strike while the iron is hot,” he said of getting a union foothold in green energy construction projects.Erin Schaff/The New York TimesWhen a lawyer for Ranger Power appeared at a Board of Zoning Appeals hearing in Indiana to help advance a Ranger project there in 2019, he emphasized that “the development backing is from D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments,” adding that “they own and operate 31 wind and solar projects across the nation, and they have over $50 billion in investments.” (The firm’s project portfolio is now much larger.)Still, given the sometimes messy maneuvering that goes into obtaining land and permits, it can be helpful for a prominent firm like D.E. Shaw to stand at arm’s length from the development process.In a 2018 letter to a local building trades council in Southern Illinois, known as the Egyptian Building Trades, a Ranger Power official wrote that a solar project the company was developing in the area was “committed to using the appropriate affiliates of the Egyptian Building Trades, where possible, to provide skilled craftsmen and women to perform the construction of the project.” The letter said any entity that acquired the project would be required to honor the commitment.But the project mostly hired nonunion workers to install solar panels. According to a complaint filed by a local union last fall with the Illinois Commerce Commission, the construction contractor has used workers who are not qualified and not supervised by a qualified person “to perform electrical wiring and connections” and paid them less than the union rate.Prairie State Solar, an entity owned by D.E. Shaw that was created to oversee the project, has denied the claims. Prairie State has hired union tradespeople for a portion of the work. Ranger officials likewise played up the construction jobs that the Assembly Solar project would bring to Michigan. But by the time Mr. Remington got involved, the county had approved the project and he had little leverage to ensure that they were union jobs. “A lot of this stuff, you’ve got to strike while the iron is hot,” he said.County officials say that the project is bringing large benefits — including payments to landowners and tax revenue — and that they have no say over organized labor’s involvement. “I don’t think it’s our responsibility in any way to intervene on behalf of or against a union,” said Greg Brodeur, a county commissioner.‘Like a Moving Assembly Line’On an afternoon in mid-May, several laborers coming off their shift at Assembly Solar said they were grateful for the work, which they said paid $16 an hour and provided health insurance and 401(k) contributions. Two said they had moved to the area from Memphis and two from Mississippi, where they had made $9 to $15 an hour — one as a cook, two in construction and one as a mechanic.Jeff Ordower, an organizer with the Green Workers Alliance, a group that pushes for better conditions on such projects, said that out-of-state workers often found jobs through recruiters, some of whom make promises about pay that don’t materialize, and that many workers ended up in the red before starting. “You don’t get money till you get there,” Mr. Ordower said. “You’re borrowing money from friends and family just to get to the gig.”The Assembly Solar workers described their jobs installing panels: Two workers “throw glass,” meaning they lift a panel onto the rack, while a third “catches it,” meaning he or she guides the panel into place. Another group of workers passes by afterward and secures the panels to the rack.One of the men, who identified himself as Travis Shaw, said he typically worked from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. six days a week, including overtime. Another worker, Quendarious Foster, who had been on the job for two weeks, said the workers motivated themselves by trying to beat their daily record, which stood at 30 “trackers,” each holding several dozen panels.“Solar is like a moving assembly line,” said Mr. Prisco, the staffing agency leader. “Instead of the product moving down the line, the people move. It replicates itself over and over again across 1,000, 2,000 acres.”The solar industry is shaping up to look less like a workers’ paradise than something more akin to an Amazon warehouse: grueling work schedules, middling wages and steady profits for wealthy investors.Erin Schaff/The New York TimesMr. Prisco and other experts said meeting a tight deadline was often critical. In some cases, project owners must pay a penalty to the electricity buyer if there are delays.Elsewhere on the site, Mr. Remington pointed out a worker whom he had seen splicing together cables, but she declined to comment when approached by a reporter. Mr. Remington, who visits frequently and has the moxie of a man who, by his own accounting, has been chased around “by some of the finest sheriffs” in Michigan during hunting season, said he had asked the worker the day before if she was a licensed journeyman or if a journeyman was directly supervising her work, as state regulations require. The worker indicated that neither was the case.A spokeswoman for McCarthy Building Companies, the construction contractor for D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments, said that all electrical apprentices were supervised by licensed journeymen at the state-mandated ratio of three-to-one or better and that all splices involved a licensed electrician.During a brief encounter on site with a reporter, Brian Timmer, the project manager who had exchanged a text with a union organizer, said, “That’s the reason I can’t talk to you” when he was asked about union labor. “It gets a lot of people upset.” (Mr. Remington said he was later told by McCarthy that it might use union electricians for a limited assignment — repairing some defective components.)The county electrical inspector, Dane Deisler, said that McCarthy had produced licenses when he had asked to see them, but that he hadn’t “physically gone through and counted” the licenses and didn’t know how many licensed electricians were on site.Mr. Remington is convinced there are far fewer than a project of this scale requires. “That’s a high-voltage splice box right there,” he said while driving around the perimeter, alluding to potential dangers. He pointed to another box and said, “Tell me if you don’t think that’s electrical work.”Later, explaining why he invested so much effort in a job site where few of his members are likely to be employed, Mr. Remington reflected on the future. “Well, this is going to be the only show in town,” he said. “I want us to have a piece of it.” More

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    Canada Goose’s Image Is Challenged by Union Effort

    Production of the company’s parkas was once fully unionized, but labor organizers say the owners have taken a harder line in recent years.Canada Goose, the luxury jacket maker, has cultivated an image that is not only chic but also socially conscious. It has forged alliances with environmental advocates and talked of its commitment to high labor standards.These efforts have paid off as the company outgrew its roots as a family enterprise and built a worldwide following for its parkas, which can cost over $1,000 and have been worn by celebrities like Daniel Craig and Kate Upton. “We believe that the brand image we have developed has significantly contributed to the success of our business,” the company wrote in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing in March.But production employees of Canada Goose, who were all unionized as of 2010, have complained that the company has taken an increasingly hard line toward labor that is at odds with its stated values.Shoppers at a Canada Goose store in New York in 2019. Employees have accused the luxury jacket maker of being anti-union.Jeenah Moon for The New York TimesIn 2019, a company official was cited by a provincial labor board for unfair labor practices during a union election at a newer facility, and some employees complain that the company has retaliated against them in recent months for supporting a union.“People have fear,” said Alelie Sanvictores, a worker who has been active in union organizing. “Some people are scared to talk to me.”Canada Goose denies that it is anti-union and that it has retaliated against union supporters. “It is the employees who will decide their path forward, and Canada Goose will support their decision,” the company said in a statement. The company dismissed the official cited for unfair labor practices.On Wednesday, a few dozen labor activists picketed the Boston headquarters of Bain Capital, the private equity firm that owns and controls Canada Goose, hoping to pressure the jacket maker to endorse a union at three plants in Winnipeg.Pro-union demonstrators gathered Wednesday outside the Boston headquarters of Bain Capital, the private equity firm that controls Canada Goose.Philip Keith for The New York TimesThe tensions at Canada Goose appear to illustrate the challenges of seeking rapid growth while maintaining a high-minded reputation that helps sustain a luxury business.An immigrant named Sam Tick founded Canada Goose, then known as Metro Sportswear Ltd., in 1957. Its lone factory, in Toronto, unionized in the mid-1980s.After Mr. Tick’s grandson Dani Reiss took over as chief executive in 2001, he sought to increase worldwide sales of what had largely been a North American operation. Still, he committed to making its parkas in Canada even as much of the country’s apparel industry was moving offshore.“By keeping the majority of our production domestic, we contribute to local job growth and can more easily maintain our high manufacturing and labour standards,” the company wrote in its 2020 sustainability report.But Mr. Reiss has seemed more skeptical of unions than his predecessors at Canada Goose. After the company bought a production facility in Winnipeg in 2011, the union sought a voluntary recognition or a neutrality agreement that would allow workers there to unionize easily.“Dani Reiss said he wasn’t interested in doing that,” said Barry Fowlie, who for roughly a decade has directed the Canada Council of Workers United, the union that represents workers at the company.A company spokeswoman said the union had never asked for voluntary recognition “in any official context.”Bain Capital purchased a majority stake in Canada Goose in 2013 and listed it on the New York and Toronto stock exchanges in 2017.Under Bain’s ownership, the number of unionized workers increased to over 1,000 just before the pandemic, thanks to growth at the original Toronto plant and the addition of two more facilities there. A collective bargaining agreement that predated the new sites makes all Toronto-based production workers part of the union.But facilities in Winnipeg, where the company’s three factories had over 1,000 production workers before the pandemic, are not covered. The growth of the work force there has helped lower the company’s union membership among production workers to about one-third today, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.Workers at the Winnipeg plants say many of them make the province’s minimum wage, which is about 12 Canadian dollars per hour (around $9.65), though workers can earn more if they exceed certain production targets. The company said nearly 70 percent of workers were making more than the minimum wage.Canada Goose committed to making its parkas in Canada, even as much of the country’s apparel industry was moving offshore. Mark Blinch/ReutersIn interviews, five workers complained that managers were often abusive toward the largely immigrant work force.One worker, Immanuelle Concepcion, said her supervisor flew into a rage over mistakes in some jackets she appeared to have worked on. “She told me, ‘How dare you allow this to happen? How dare you?’” Ms. Concepcion recalled. “I was shaking. I haven’t experienced humiliation that way.”The Canada Goose spokeswoman said that the company had gotten no reports of “frequent abuse” and that all reports of harassment were investigated.In June, the company disciplined two workers at one of its Winnipeg plants shortly after they had identified themselves as union supporters. One said he had routinely been wearing headphones while working, but was warned and then written up for it — on two consecutive days — only after he went to work wearing a union T-shirt.Until then, said the worker, Trevor Sinclair, “my supervisor never said anything about it.”Canada Goose said that “no employees face disciplinary action due to union organization” and that disciplinary action had been taken against Mr. Sinclair once management became aware of his violation.Nearly 30 percent of Canadian workers are union members, compared with about 11 percent of American workers. Mr. Sinclair said he felt that Canada Goose was essentially importing an American model of fighting unions.“The way they treat us is not how Canadians treat each other,” he said. “Management doesn’t really understand what Canada is about.”Philip Keith contributed reporting. More

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    The Teamsters consider a new emphasis on organizing Amazon workers.

    The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents over one million workers in North America in industries including parcel delivery and freight, will vote on whether to make it a priority to organize Amazon workers and help them win a union contract.“Amazon is changing the nature of work in our country and touches many core Teamster industries and employers,” states the resolution, which will be voted on at the Teamsters convention on Thursday. The company “presents an existential threat to the standards we have set in these industries,” it says.The resolution states that the union will “supply all resources necessary” and will eventually create an Amazon division to help organize workers at the company.It does not elaborate on the timing for such a division or how much money or manpower the union will devote to the effort, and a union spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on those particulars. Last year the union had revenue of more than $200 million, according to Labor Department filings.Amazon did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Tuesday.In an opinion column this month for Salon, Randy Korgan, a Teamsters official from Southern California who has been the national director for Amazon since the position was created last year, wrote that the union would bypass traditional workplace elections conducted by the National Labor Relations Board.Instead, Mr. Korgan wrote, the union will focus on building support from both Amazon workers and from other warehouse and delivery workers and community members, and it aims to bring the company to the bargaining table by orchestrating strikes, boycotts, protests and other actions.Amazon defeated a conventional campaign organized by a retail workers union at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., this year, after which a number of union leaders suggested that a shift to the strategies highlighted by Mr. Korgan might be more fruitful. Those union leaders pointed out that federal labor law gives employers large advantages during election campaigns — allowing companies to hold mandatory anti-union meetings, for example — and that the government cannot fine employers who violate the law. (The retail workers union is challenging the results of the election at the Bessemer warehouse, accusing Amazon of intimidating workers.)Support for the approach is far from unanimous within the labor movement, however.In an interview after the election in Alabama, Stuart Appelbaum, the head of the retail workers union that oversaw the campaign, said seeking to win union elections at Amazon warehouses should remain a focus. “If you want to build real power, you have to do it with a majority of workers,” Mr. Appelbaum said at the time.The Teamsters union holds its convention every five years and uses it to set the priorities that the union will pursue until the next convention. The resolution states that momentum for the Amazon campaign has been building since the union’s last convention in 2016.During that time, it says, various Teamster departments “have been tracking Amazon’s growth, presence and impact on Teamster industries and speaking with thousands of workers to develop different operating theories on the best way to engage and support Amazon workers.” More

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    U.S. asks Mexico to review a second complaint about labor violations in its auto industry.

    The Biden administration is invoking provisions in a new trade agreement to ask Mexico to look into accusations of labor violations at an auto-parts plant near the U.S. border.The action, announced Wednesday by the Labor Department and the Office of the United States Trade Representative, follows a complaint by groups including the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s largest federation of unions, that workers were being denied the rights of free association and collective bargaining.The A.F.L.-C.I.O. said workers at the Tridonex plant in Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, had been harassed and fired over their efforts to organize with an independent union in place of one controlled by the company. Tridonex is owned by Cardone Industries, an aftermarket auto-parts manufacturer based in Philadelphia.It is the second time that the United States has sought Mexican review of a labor rights matter under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which took effect last summer. The accord has a “rapid response” mechanism that provides for complaints to be brought against and for penalties to be applied to an individual factory.“This announcement demonstrates our commitment to using the tools in the agreement to stand up for workers at home and abroad,” Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative, said in a statement, noting that Mexico has 10 days to agree to conduct a review and, if it agrees, 45 days to remedy the situation.Last month the United States asked Mexico to review whether labor violations had occurred at a General Motors plant in the central state of Guanajuato in connection with a recent vote on a collective bargaining agreement. Mexico agreed to the request the same day. More

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    Uber and Lyft Ramp Up Efforts to Shield Business Model

    Gig economy companies are backing state laws in New York and elsewhere that would cement drivers’ status as contractors in exchange for a union.After California passed a law in 2019 that effectively gave gig workers the legal standing of employees, companies like Uber and Lyft spent some $200 million on a ballot initiative exempting their drivers. More

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    For Many Workers, Change in Mask Policy Is a Nightmare

    After a shift by the C.D.C., employers withdrew mask policies that workers felt were protecting them from unvaccinated customers.The Kroger supermarket in Yorktown, Va., is in a county where mask wearing can be casual at best. Yet for months, the store urged patrons to cover their noses and mouths, and almost everyone complied. More

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    U.S. Asks Mexico to Investigate Labor Issues at G.M. Facility

    The administration learned of what appeared to be “serious violations” of labor rights, it said, and is using a new tool in the North American trade deal to seek a review.WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it was asking Mexico to review whether labor violations had occurred at a General Motors facility in the country, a significant step using a new labor enforcement tool in the revised North American trade deal.The administration is seeking the review under the novel “rapid response” mechanism in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement and took effect last summer. Under the mechanism, penalties can be brought against a specific factory for violating workers’ rights of free association and collective bargaining.The administration “received information appearing to indicate serious violations” of workers’ rights at the G.M. facility, in Silao in the central state of Guanajuato, in connection with a recent vote on their collective-bargaining agreement, the Office of the United States Trade Representative said.The vote was stopped last month amid accusations that the union at the facility had tampered with it, according to news reports. Mexico’s Labor Ministry said on Tuesday that it had found “serious irregularities” in the vote and ordered that it be held again within 30 days.The updated North American trade agreement required Mexico to revamp its labor system, and the country overhauled its labor laws in 2019. Sham collective-bargaining agreements known as protection contracts, which are reached with employer-dominated unions, are widespread in the country. Now unions are holding votes to affirm the existing agreements.G.M. said it would cooperate with Mexico’s Labor Ministry and the U.S. government.Henry Romero/ReutersIn a statement, Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative, said the announcement on Wednesday “shows the Biden-Harris administration’s serious commitment to workers and a worker-centered trade policy.”“Using U.S.M.C.A. to help protect freedom of association and collective-bargaining rights in Mexico helps workers both at home and in Mexico, by stopping a race to the bottom,” she said, using the initials for the trade deal. “It also supports Mexico’s efforts to implement its recent labor law reforms.”In a statement, General Motors said that it believed it had no role in the alleged labor violations and that it had asked a third-party firm to review the matter. The company, which makes Chevrolet Silverado, Chevrolet Cheyenne and GMC Sierra pickup trucks at the Silao facility, said it would cooperate with Mexico’s Labor Ministry and the U.S. government.“General Motors respects and supports the rights of our employees to make a personal choice about union representation and any collective bargaining on their behalf,” the statement said. “G.M. condemns violations of labor rights and actions to restrict collective bargaining.”In announcing its request for a review by Mexico, the Biden administration avoided striking an adversarial tone with the Mexican government.Ms. Tai praised the government “for stepping in to suspend the vote when it became aware of voting irregularities,” adding, “Today’s action will complement Mexico’s efforts to ensure that these workers can fully exercise their collective-bargaining rights.”On Monday, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and other groups filed a complaint under the rapid response mechanism in which they alleged labor violations at the Tridonex auto parts plants in the Mexican city of Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas.The Biden administration will review that complaint, an official in the trade representative’s office said. It could then ask Mexico to conduct a review of that matter akin to the one it is seeking of the G.M. facility.Oscar Lopez More