News & Commentary

December 11, 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the French people Monday as France headed into a fourth week of civil unrest, introducing a series of measures he hopes will quell violent protests across the country. In a 13-minute speech, Macron declared a state of emergency and offered a series of concessions to the gilets jaunes – yellow vests – calling for his resignation. Macron’s concessions to placate his critics included a 100 euro/month ($114) minimum wage hike to go into effect Jan. 1, 2019, as well as the rescission of a planned tax on pensions that are under €2000 per month and the elimination of the tax on overtime pay and end-of-year bonuses. Last week, the French government abandoned the fuel tax that sparked the protests. Meanwhile, Macron, a former investment banker who has been criticized for elitism, has refused to reinstate the solidarity tax on wealth (ISF), an annual direct wealth tax on assets above €1.3 million ($1.52 million). “This tax has been eliminated for those who invest in our economy and therefore help to create jobs,” he said Monday. In September 2017, Macron faced demonstrations in response to a set of executive orders which made it easier to fire private-sector workers and capped payouts for unfair dismissals.

In Germany, rail employees went on a nationwide strike Monday morning to protest for higher wage increases. Workers walked off the job for four hours during rush-hour traffic after pay talks between Deutsche Bahn (DB) and the EVG rail trade union broke down without agreement. The EVG rail trade union, which represents some 160,000 rail workers, blamed DB for breaking off the negotiations. DB criticized the strike as a “completely unnecessary escalation,” and denied in a tweet that it had broken off the talks. While DB says it had offered a pay increase of 5.1 percent and a one-time payment of €500 ($569), EVG said it wants a 7.5 percent pay increase and the right for workers to forgo the extra pay for more time off or shorter hours. A separate union, the Union of German Locomotive Drivers (GDL), warned that its 36,000 members could also strike if wage negotiations with DB fail. Both unions plan to return to negotiations today.

Thousands of California Kaiser Permanente therapists and other mental health workers began a planned five-day strike Monday as their union negotiates for a new contract. Employees on strike include psychologists, therapists, clinical social workers and psychiatric nurses who are members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers. The union is protesting long wait times for patients seeking appointments for mental health conditions, many of whom have to wait four to six weeks before they can see a therapist or psychologist for follow-ups after initial appointments. In 2014, Kaiser, the largest integrated health care system in the US, was fined $4 million by the California Department of Managed Health Care for inadequate patient access to mental health treatment. Some Kaiser nurses in the California Nurses Association have joined the strike in solidarity.

An opinion survey released by IDG Benefits Fund, a sister organization to the Independent Drivers Guild that manages benefits for New York City’s for-hire drivers, finds that the majority of app-based drivers in New York City struggle to pay their bills and support increasing surcharges to help pay for a benefits package for drivers. 85 percent of 697 drivers polled said that they struggle to make “monthly payments like rent, utilities, car payments and other bills,” while 70 percent said they would run out of money within a month if unable to drive due to illness or car trouble. Although 89 percent of the drivers polled worked full time, one third were not covered by health insurance. The survey revealed a strong interest in unionization; 95 percent said that they “want to belong to a worker or driver organization to demand better pay and improve working conditions.” Last week, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission voted to create a minimum pay standard for the New York city drivers working for companies like Uber, Lyft, and Juno.  The standard establishes a per-minute and per-mile formula that is expected to create a pay floor of $17.22 net per hour for drivers.

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