Conference: Workers’ Rights in the 21st Century: New Developments / New Challenges

  Welcome and Framing Remarks – Francis Auditorium
  • Hannah Alexander – Texas Law, ’16, Editor in Chief, Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights
  • Bill Beardall – Equal Justice Center
  Mandatory Arbitration of Employment Disputes versus the Enforcement Role of Courts
This panel will examine the use of arbitration clauses in employment agreements to eliminate or limit employees’ access to courts to enforce their employment rights. Courts’ broad interpretations of the statutory authorization for unilateral mandatory arbitration agreements threatens to tilt the playing field in favor of employers and pull employment rights and enforcement back toward the 19th century notion of “freedom of contract,” where public institutions have little or no role in defining or enforcing employment rights. A recent three-part feature series in the New York Times (November 2015) details how this development dangerously undermines basic employment rights, especially when conjoined with employee waivers of class action rights and other forms of “voluntary” contractual waivers.
  • Jennifer Bennett – Budd-Kazan Attorney, Public Justice
  • Hon. David Ezra – U.S. District Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii, Sitting by Designation on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio, TX
  • Rex Burch – Bruckner Burch PLLC
  • Moderator: Julius Getman – Professor, Texas Law
  Defining “Employment” Relationships in the 21st Century
For the last eight decades nearly all our society’s regulation of workplace fairness and much of its social safety net have been structured around economic and social protections for “employees” administered by and through their “employers.” Everything from minimum wage and overtime protections; to collective bargaining rights; to unemployment insurance, health insurance; and workers’ compensation; to social security and income tax collection have been managed largely through the “employment” relationship. In recent decades, however, new technologies and changes in business structures have disrupted traditional concepts of “employee,” “employer,” and “employment,” and have created new opportunities for businesses to evade the basic social and economic obligations traditionally effectuated through employers. This has given rise both to new business models like Uber, using “on-demand” workers, as well as to widespread redefinition of employees as independent contractors. In addition, commerce has increasingly come to be organized around business models like sub-contracting, franchising, staffing agencies, and employee leasing that separate employees from the larger enterprise for which they labor and that tend to fragment legal accountability.

This panel examines the struggle to apply traditional precedents and concepts to these new circumstances. How can employee lawyers marshal traditional concepts of employment law to ensure needed employment protections for workers? How should traditional concepts be modified, reinterpreted or adapted to apply to contemporary business models?

  • Bill Beardall – Equal Justice Center
  • Rex Burch – Bruckner Burch PLLC
  • Hon. Xavier Rodriguez – U.S. District Judge, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas
  • Moderator: Phil Durst – Deats Durst & Owen PLLC
  Lunch and Panel on the Next Generation of Employment Law Issues
This panel will discuss three emerging sets of issues that are likely to grow in prominence as vital employment law questions for the coming decades. All three subjects – immigrant worker rights, LGBT employment rights, and the class action treatment of employment disputes – are potentially momentous because they all raise fundamental questions about how we define ourselves as a society and how we structure our responsibility toward one another in a changing social and economic culture.
  • Naomi Tsu – Southern Poverty Law Center Immigrant Rights Project
  • Eduardo Juarez – U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • Derek Braziel – Lee & Braziel, LLP
  • Moderator: Cary Franklin – Professor, Texas Law
Closing – Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights

Co-sponsored with the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights, Transnational Worker Rights Clinic, William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law.

Event series: Conference