News & Commentary

October 11, 2022

Travis Lavenski

Travis Lavenski is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s News & Commentary, the third largest railroad union votes to reject labor deal; workers at the University of Minnesota have authorized a strike; and a new volume from the Economic Policy Institute explores how the assumption of balanced power between employers and employees hurts workers.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED), the third largest rail union in the United States, voted to reject a 5-year deal with management on Monday. Approximately 12,000 of the union’s 23,000 members participated in the vote, with 57% voting against the contract. The proposed deal, which was arrived at this summer with help from arbitrators appointed by President Biden, would have granted workers a pay raise and minor improvements on healthcare coverage and time-off policies. A statement released by the union stated that members “hold their employer in low regard” and that workers “resent the fact that management holds no regard for their quality of life, illustrated by their stubborn reluctance to provide a higher quantity of paid time off, especially for sickness.” While several of the smaller rail unions have voted to approve deals with their employers, the two largest unions have yet to decide whether to approve of the proposals. Todd Vanchon, professor of labor studies at Rutgers University, believes that the BMWED vote could shed light on the results two largest rail union votes, calling this result a “canary in the coal mine” for those union’s upcoming votes. While this vote opens the door for a future strike, the union has stated that operations will continue along the status quo until at least mid-November.

Workers represented by the Teamsters Local 320 at the University of Minnesota voted by 93% to authorize a strike this week, which could begin as soon as October 22. The union represents approximately 1,500 service workers across UMN’s five campuses. Workers have complained of poverty wages and discriminatory practices and are demanding that the University resolve those issues. The strike vote comes just days after the Teamsters released a statement claiming the University refused to offer a pay rise that would meet the rate of inflation and charging the University with attempting to bust the union.  

A new volume from the Journal of Law and Political Economy explores how the assumption of equal power between employers and employees has been detrimental to workers. The volume, edited by Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute, provides that the assumption of parity between workers and employers ignores fundamental realities on the ground, such as key barriers which make it difficult for workers to quit. Furthermore, the volume contests claims that infringements upon the freedom to contract, including collective bargaining, minimum wage rates, and labor standards, harm the economy overall. An introduction to the volume can be accessed here, while the full volume is available here.

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