Good things are happening! Workers and regulators are holding some of the country’s biggest corporations accountable for workers’ rights violations. Plus, an Arkansas judge makes a landmark gender-affirming ruling, NYC tenants get a climate break, and more.
Amazon Takes Some Hits
Amazon is in the hot seat. On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) launched an investigation into Amazon’s working conditions.
In a ten page letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, Sanders details the company’s “uniquely dangerous” working conditions and “abysmal” on-site medical care. The letter asks Amazon to explain Amazon’s consistently disproportionate injury rates, high labor turnover, and lack of safety precautions, and requests the company turn over records of employee productivity and adverse employment actions at select facilities. Sanders is also seeking first-person testimonials from Amazon workers who want to share stories of employer treatment and working conditions.
“The time has come for Amazon to stop willfully violating workplace safety laws with impunity and commit to changing its operations to protect the health and safety of its workers,” Sanders wrote.
We’ve written about Amazon’s indifference to labor laws, safety regulations, and continued citations from the Department of Labor. This investigation seeks to finally move the needle and force the corporation –– which has an annual revenue of over $500 billion and more than 1 million employees –– to adhere to basic standards of decency.
Amazon is also under fire for how it treats consumers. On Wednesday, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued Amazon for enrolling customers in Amazon Prime, a paid membership program, without their consent. According to the FTC, Amazon has used “manipulative, coercive, or deceptive user-interface designs known as ‘dark patterns’ to trick consumers into enrolling in automatically renewing Prime subscriptions.” The lawsuit is the latest in a series of Biden Administration actions to rein in Amazon’s corporate power.
Meanwhile, in the UK, hundreds of Amazon workers have been staging strikes for fair pay since January –– despite Amazon not recognizing their union –– and just voted to extend the strike action for six more months.
One Bad Apple…
Tough week for tech giants. On Tuesday, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) judge ruled that Apple’s union-busting at a store in New York City violated employee rights and national labor protections and ordered the company to cease and desist. It’s the first time the NLRB has ever ruled against Apple for union busting.
Judge Lauren Esposito found that supervisors at the World Trade Center Apple Store had broken labor laws by disposing of union literature and questioning an employee about unionization efforts and discussions with other employees. Though the company can appeal the decision, the ruling sends a clear message that the Apple, which became the first company to hit a $3 trillion market value in 2022, worth more than Walmart, Disney, Netflix, Nike, Exxon Mobil, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Morgan Stanley, McDonald’s, AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Boeing, IBM and Ford combined — needs to adhere to labor protections.
Arkansas Blocks A Bad Ban
On Tuesday, a federal judge in Arkansas permanently struck down a first-in-the-nation ban on gender-affirming care for minors, saying the ban was unconstitutional and would undermine patient health. We’ve written recently about other legal wins for trans rights, but this one is a big deal: As threats to gender-affirming care grow, this decision could be instrumental in protecting transgender youths’ right to healthcare nationally.
The state ban, passed in 2021, made Arkansas the first state to ban gender-affirming care for minors. The ban targeted puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and gender-affirming surgery — and put doctors at risk of civil litigation or loss of license for providing care. The law also restricted doctors from transferring patients out of state for care and gave private insurers free rein to deny gender-affirming care. Since 2021, 19 other states have also enacted restrictions to gender-affirming care for minors.
The judge ruled that the ban violated the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The lawsuit against the ban was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union,which has challenged seven similar new laws in 2023 alone.
“My mom and I wanted to fight this law not just to protect my health care, but also to ensure that transgender people like me can safely and fully live our truths,” said 17-year-old Dylan Brandt, one of the young people fighting the case. “Transgender kids across the country are having their own futures threatened by laws like this one, and it’s up to all of us to speak out, fight back, and give them hope.”
New York Says No Secret Floods
A New York State law signed last year took effect on Wednesday, requiring landlords to disclose past floods and existing flood risks in leases, as climate change-fueled natural disasters become increasingly common.
Previously, New York’s flood disclosure requirements only applied to residential sales, leaving out renters entirely and receiving a failing grade from the Natural Resources Defense Council. In New York City, where rentals make up two-thirds of housing and developers continue to build on high-risk floodplains despite flooding getting utterly insane (like, jet skis on the street insane), this law could help renters prepare for the worst.
Since tenants’ personal belongings aren’t protected by buildings’ flood insurance or by renters’ insurance, the law also requires landlords to provide information about Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood insurance, which can cost as little as $100 a year and save thousands.
California, Oklahoma, Georgia, New Jersey, Indiana, Oregon, and Texas already have flood disclosure requirements, and as climate change brings more frequent, severe, and costly flooding, some advocates are pushing for national requirements through FEMA. For now it’s up to states to protect their residents.
“We must make sure New Yorkers have the information they need so that they can protect their property and their families,” said Assembly member Robert Carroll when the law was signed. “New York State has lagged behind other states when it comes to flood risk foreclosure for tenants and this legislation is an important step forward.
More Good News:
• “On Chicago’s South Side, Naomi Davis Planted The Seeds of Green Solutions To Help Black Communities,” Inside Climate News, June 16.
• “Senate Confirms ACLU Lawyer To NY Federal Court After GOP Backlash,” Reuters, June 14.
• “A Planned ‘Charging Depot’ Reveals What Powering Electric Big Rigs Could Look Like,” Grist, June 13.
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This Week’s Boat-rocker:
Julia Ho is the founder of Solidarity Economy STL, a St, Louis, Mo., based nonprofit that works with local residents and organizations to develop and implement community projects in mutual aid, food justice, cooperative farming, and more.
Julia became interested in the concept of cooperative economy during her first year of college at Washington University, when she helped set up a free store on campus for books, clothes, and school supplies. When she graduated in 2014, she started working for a local direct action organization and then, after Michael Brown’s murder by police in Ferguson, Missouri, she got involved in the wider Black Lives Matter movement.
Julia found that within movement spaces, there wasn’t much room for people with specialized skill sets, such as in farming or art, so in 2017 she started Solidarity Economy STL as a way to bring new voices into organizing. The organization connects people with different backgrounds to facilitate community projects and build a new economy based in cooperation and community care. For example, through one of its partner organizations, Solidarity Economy STL helped a family trying to promote racial equity and food justice to grow into an organization with a staff of 20 that is developing a community-owned grocery store and a daycare.
“Being able to see good ideas and good solutions in the community actually evolve and grow and be supported, that feels like probably our biggest accomplishment,” Julia said.