Today’s News & Commentary — September 19, 2019
California governor Gavin Newsom has signed AB 5 into law. The statute, which we have covered extensively, will require companies to classify workers as employees, rather than contractors, if those workers perform duties that fall within the company’s usual course of business. The law will go into effect on January 1, 2020. Tech companies Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have committed to challenging the law via statewide referendum, which will likely appear on the ballot in November of 2020.
On Tuesday, the US Department of Agriculture issued a final rule on pork processing that advocacy groups say will pose new dangers to both workers and consumers. The rule eliminates restrictions on how quickly industrial meat processors can slaughter pigs, and shifts some of the responsibility of conducting safety inspections from government regulators to plant operators. Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, described the USDA’s rule as a “reckless corporate giveaway,” and worker advocates say that the new rule will increase the risk of serious injury in slaughterhouses— which are already among the most dangerous workplaces in the United States. According to a USDA spokesperson, agency data show that increased speed and output do not undermine worker safety.
The United Auto Workers’ strike against General Motors has entered its fourth day. For the New York Times, David Leonhardt writes that he’s “rooting for” the GM strikers. Labor victories, Leonhardt writes, beget more labor victories—and failures beget more failures. According to Leonhardt, organized labor is enjoying a “modest winning streak,” and a show of strength by the GM workers could serve as tinder for outbreaks of collective action in other industries. A victory in the current strike could also signal a turning point for the sometimes–embattled UAW, whose president has been implicated in an ongoing federal corruption probe. For The Baffler, Kim Kelly writes that the GM strike as best understood, not as an outgrowth of the recent wave of collective action, but rather as an inevitable consequence of painful concessions made by the UAW following the union’s 2007 GM strike. To Kelly, the strike also represents a rebuke to President Trump, whose campaign promises of bounty to autoworkers have failed to materialize, even as GM has profited from Republican tax reforms.
Presidential candidate Cory Booker—whose grandfather was a UAW rep—has unveiled a new labor policy platform. The wide-ranging plan proposes introducing sectoral bargaining in non-unionized industries, reclassifying many independent contractors as employees, strengthening joint-employer standards, and banning workplace arbitration clauses. The plan, which has not yet been formally released to the public, would also eliminate lower minimum wages for tipped and disabled workers and extend labor protections to domestic and agricultural workers.
Last month, Politico reported on the Democratic Socialists of America’s plan to pressure New York City labor unions into adopting more “militant” tactics. Today’s New York Times picks up the story, highlighting escalating tensions between progressive activists and established leaders in organized labor. According to the Times, while all parties share a goal of driving New York politics leftward, DSA activists see labor unions as risk-averse and out of step with the progressive zeitgeist, while union leaders worry that the grassroots activists are naïve johnnies-come-lately to a fight that has historically been driven by organized labor.