News & Commentary

June 2, 2024

Gilbert Placeres

Gilbert Placeres is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s News & Commentary, three more University of California campuses join the strike against the suppression of pro-Palestine protests, the stagnant federal minimum wage erodes the Department of Labor’s ability to combat wage theft, and House Democrats urge the National Labor Relations Board General Counsel to investigate anti-union retaliation at Google.

On Friday, Holt wrote about UCLA and UC Davis workers walking off the job to join the rolling strike started by UC Santa Cruz workers in response to the University of California’s handling of pro-Palestine protests, which John originally reported on. Now, UAW Local 4811, representing over 48,000 graduate teaching assistants, researchers, and other academic workers, has called for workers at UC Irvine, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara to join the ongoing strike this week. The strikes are taking place during finals, during which many of these workers administer exams and grade papers. The call came hours after police in riot gear entered the UC Santa Cruz campus, arresting pro-Palestinian protesters who had set up an encampment and blocked the main entrance to campus. The strikers are calling for protection of freedom of speech, amnesty for those who are facing disciplinary action in relation to protests, and divestment from weapons manufacturers, military contractors, and companies profiting off of the Israeli offensive in Gaza. The University of California system claims the strike is unlawful because it violates the no-strike clause in the union’s contract. The two parties are currently in mediation before California’s Public Employees Relations Board, which denied the UC’s request to enjoin the strike. 

In In These Times, Hannah Bowlus writes that the strike is a “historic show of labor solidarity with Palestine,” modeled after the UAW’s Stand-Up Strike last year, and a response to a longer trend of suppression of labor action at the university. In a statement, UCLA history professor Robin D.G. Kelley said “No one should be attacked, arrested, threatened for demanding an end to the genocidal war in Gaza. We all deserve a safe work place and administration that protects academic freedom and refuses complicity in genocide.”

A federal minimum wage that has not been updated in 15 years is eroding the Department of Labor’s ability to combat wage theft, argue Rebecca Rainey and Diego Area Munhoz in Bloomberg Law. The DOL can only pursue action against an employer in cases where the failure to pay wages for hours worked brings the wage rate the worker did receive under the minimum wage. So, workers who earn above the minimum wage are often unable to turn to DOL for recourse and the department tends to bring more overtime cases than minimum wage cases. Some Democrats have sought to fix the issue and raise the minimum wage since the last update in the mid-aughts, but have been unsuccessful. 

Lastly, 46 House Democrats, led by Representative Greg Casar, have written a letter to National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo urging her to investigate Google for retaliating against workers seeking to unionize YouTube Music. The workers claim they were laid off for going on strike while the Google subsidiary Cognizant claims their contracts expired. The letter places these events in a broader troubling trend at Google, which also fired 80 of 119 members of the Google Content Creation Operations team after they took steps to unionize.

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