News & Commentary

March 17, 2023

Greg Volynsky

Greg Volynsky is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s News & Commentary, a Texas committee considers sweeping legislation limiting municipal power, University of Chicago graduate students unionize, Tennessee Nissan technicians reject a unionizing effort, and protestors in France take to the streets after President Macron activates nuclear option to raise retirement age.

On Wednesday, a committee in the Texas House considered legislation that would severely limit the ability of municipalities to regulate, including in labor and employment. The law would add a “field preemption” provision to laws governing finance, insurance, natural resource, labor, and occupations. The bill was filed in both the Texas House and Senate in early February. Governor Greg Abbott has come out in support of the bill. The bill’s sponsors frame it as a means of ensuring regulatory consistency and a way to tell cities and towns to “stay in your lane.” For instance, the law would preempt an Austin ordinance requiring construction workers be provided a 10-minute break for every four hours of work.

Following a multi-year organizing effort, graduate students at the University of Chicago overwhelmingly voted to unionize. The University of Chicago joins a wave of new graduate student unions, as I reported in February.

On Thursday, a group of 71 Nissan technicians in Tennessee voted against unionizing. The union first submitted a petition in 2021, but the vote was delayed after the company requested that the union election include thousands more workers. An NLRB panel ordered last month that only the small group of technicians be part of the collective bargaining unit. Before the loss, a union representative said the delay “chilled” the unionizing campaign. Six years ago, Nissan workers in Mississippi also voted against unionizing

Across the Atlantic, protestors took to the streets after President Macron used the “nuclear option” to raise the retirement age. President Macron ordered his Prime Minister to invoke Article 49.3 of the constitution to increase the retirement age from 62 to 64 without a vote of the National Assembly. The Article—“Le 49.3,” as it is called in France—allows the Prime Minister to bypass the National Assembly (but not the Senate), and gives the Assembly 24 hours to file a no-confidence vote against the government. If a majority adopts the resolution of no-confidence, the bill is rejected and the prime minister steps down. As of December 2022, Article 49.3 has been invoked 99 times since the adoption of the 1958 French constitution—including 10 times by Élisabeth Borne, the Prime Minister since May 2022. 

The pension bill has been in the works for months, causing labor opposition expressed by uncollected trash and tens of thousands marching on Women’s Day. It has been predicted that Article 49.3 would “most probably” be invoked to increase the retirement age, but President Macron ordered the move only “minutes before” the scheduled vote, lacking a secure majority in support of the measure.

On Thursday, thousands gathered to protest the reform bill. A mostly peaceful afternoon was followed by a night with protestors lighting fires and throwing cobblestones at police, who responded with tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd.

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