Today's News & Commentary — September 3, 2015

Published September 3rd, 2015 -  - 09.03.151


In a move that surprised some commentators, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Berman (S.D.N.Y.) overturned New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for being “generally aware” of alleged efforts by Patriots equipment staff to deflate footballs to impermissible levels. Although instances of judges overturning arbitrators’ decisions tend to be rare, Judge Berman determined that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had violated “the ‘law of the shop’ to provide professional football players with advance notice of prohibited conduct and potential discipline.” Judge Berman also found two other “legal deficiencies” with Brady’s suspension: Brady had been denied (1) “the opportunity . . . to examine one of two lead investigators” in the matter, and (2) “equal access to investigative files, including interview notes.” DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, issued a statement in which he contended that “[t]his decision should prove, once and for all, that our collective bargaining agreement does not grant this commissioner the authority to be unfair, arbitrary and misleading. . . . This court’s decision to overturn the NFL commissioner again should signal to every NFL owner that collective bargaining is better than legal losses.” The full order is available here. The NFL has already stated that it plans to appeal the ruling to the Second Circuit.

The California Legislature has passed a bill to require the state’s public pension funds — the California Public Employees’ Retirement System ($301 billion) and California State Teachers’ Retirement System ($191 billion) — to divest from coal within eighteen months of the law going into effect. The Sacramento Bee notes that CalPERS currently invests “between $100 million and $200 million” in “thermal coal mining companies,” while CalSTRS invests “approximately $40 million in thermal coal.” Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León said in a statement that “[c]oal is losing value quickly and investing in coal is a losing proposition for our retirees; it’s a nuisance to public health; and it’s inconsistent with our values as a state on the forefront of efforts to address global climate change.”

Meanwhile, the last union mine in Kentucky has closed its doors. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that with the closing of Patriot Coal’s Highland Mine, “[f]or the first time in about a century, . . . not a single working miner belongs to a union.” This after decades of fierce and occasionally violent battles over union coal mines in Kentucky, a history that was captured on the silver screen by the Academy Award-winning documentary Harlan County U.S.A. Phil Smith, spokesperson for the United Mine Workers, had this to say: “When the coal industry rebounds to the extent that it does, and non-union operators take a look around and see that there’s no union competition, and they’ll see that they can begin to cut wages, they can begin to cut benefits, they can begin to cut corners on safety, they’ll do that.”

The Illinois House of Representatives failed to muster enough votes to override Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of controversial Senate Bill 1229 — which would have required, among other things, that labor disputes concerning the state’s workers be sent to binding arbitration. As reported in the State Journal-Register, Governor Rauner “said he vetoed Senate Bill 1229 because it would leave the outcome of labor negotiations in the hands of an arbitrator who does not have to answer to voters.” Meanwhile, Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan stated that “[t]he governor’s assault on this bill may have won the day but poisoned the well for legislators of both parties who want to work together responsibly to solve problems and serve the people of Illinois.” The Journal-Register notes that “[i]n addition to setting up a process for binding arbitration, the bill would have prevented workers from striking or the administration from locking them out.”

Finally, Troy Patterson of the New York Times Magazine discusses the transformation of “blue-collar identity” into “more of a matter of cultural style than of occupational history.” Patterson observes that “[t]he phrase ‘blue collar’ has flourished precisely because it is concrete in its imagery and vague in its connotations, vividly conjuring a labor-­class scene while sidestepping such a nasty word as ‘class.’” Accordingly, Wisconsin Governor and GOP presidential hopeful Scott Walker’s “blue-collar appeal” and “anti-union agenda” are no longer “fundamentally incompatible.” Patterson concludes by asking: “How long will it be before the chambray shirt loses all power to gesture at its blue-­collar roots?”

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