Today’s News & Commentary — February 8, 2016

Yesterday, Republican lawmakers “proposed sweeping changes to Iowa’s collective bargaining laws” in the form of House Study Bill 84 and Senate File 213.  As the Des Moines Register explains, the new bills would limit mandatory negotiations for most public-sector union workers (public safety workers such as firefighters and police officers are exempted) to base wages only; negotiations over issues like health insurance and overtime would be prohibited.  The bills would also require unions to go through a certification process before each new contract negotiation.  Additional coverage is available at the New Republic, which also provides a brief historical overview of collective bargaining law in Iowa.

The New York Times reports that New York is attempting to revive the once-thriving, now-troubled garment industry.  City officials have increased efforts to create a new garment industry in Sunset Park, including a $115-million renovation of the city-owned Brooklyn Army Terminal, which will expand manufacturing space by 500,000 feet.  They have also partnered with the Council of Fashion Designers of America in order to assist companies with modernizing their manufacturing processes and workplaces.

Can Andy Puzder survive?  That’s the question Politico asks, noting that Puzder has faced allegations of beating his wife, began his career working for “one of the most notorious mob lawyers in the country,” and just admitted that he employed an undocumented immigrant as his house cleaner and didn’t pay taxes on her employment.  Despite these scandals, however, Puzder is “somehow . . . still standing.”

In other news, the New York Times observes that the appeals panel that heard oral argument yesterday in State of Washington v. Donald Trump “appear[ed] skeptical of Trump’s travel ban.”  The Times also notes that nearly 130 companies, most of them from the tech industry, filed an amicus brief in support of Washington State.


Weekend News & Commentary — March 12–13, 2016

While the NLRB gears up to reconsider its previous position that graduate students are not entitled to organize under the National Labor Relations Act, unionization efforts are already underway at an increasing number of universities. Lydia DePillis of the Washington Post reports on one example of this trend at Yale University, where graduate students and allies recently celebrated the formation of a new local chapter of UNITE-HERE. However, although some institutions have opted to negotiate voluntarily with graduate student unions, Yale has offered no indication that it will do so: Yale is a signatory to an amicus brief submitted to the NLRB by Ivy League schools (along with MIT and Stanford), urging the Board not to reverse its 2004 finding that graduate students are not employees within the meaning of the NLRA. DePillis further reports that the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences even “put up posters displaying how much PhD candidates cost the university: They receive a full-tuition fellowship worth $38,700, plus a minimum stipend of $29,000.” For their part, union leaders at Yale say that “they’re not just fighting over pay and benefits, but also the rights of historically marginalized communities in academia. In that context, being heard is one thing, and having real power is another.” As one organizer put it: “We just want the chance to vote, to democratically decide on the future of our time here and our work and our conditions.”

This past week, as women around the world celebrated International Women’s Day, female garment workers in Cambodia found little reason to rejoice. Writing in Aljazeera, Nathan A. Thompson observes that the workers still “face[] almost the same problems that the founders of International Women’s Day confronted more than 100 years ago: scant wages, long hours and repression of unions.” Thompson reports that the holiday appears to have roots in the New York shirtwaist strike of 1909, when 20,000 workers — comprised mostly of immigrant women — walked off of their jobs. “I feel happy for them, but it’s not easy for us to do the same,” said one Cambodian garment worker when told the story. In Cambodia, “[g]arment workers still work 70-hour weeks during peak season, and discrimination against union members is rampant.” Sexual harassment and age discrimination also continue to plague the Cambodian garment industry. “They will fire older women and recruit young girls because they want pretty girls to work in their factory,” stated another worker. Nevertheless, despite all of these challenges, some workers still manage to organize: the Cambodian government recently raised the monthly minimum wage from $128 to $140 in the wake of union calls for a living wage of $160 a month.

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Today’s News and Commentary — October 13

The New York Times features a story about the Bay Parkway Community Job Center, founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to support day laborers. It describes the plight of individual day laborers, like Manuel Castro, who went to Far Rockaway to find work in the wake of the storm. He worked for $120 a day amidst polluted, flooded streets with only a plastic garbage with holes cut in it for protective gear. Since Hurricane Sandy, the center has endeavored to sets wage standards for contractors seeking hired help and to train workers on workplace safety.

The Associated Press reports that new, ultra low rate airlines like Spirit Air are putting pressure on Southwest Airlines while its employees seek better wages. Southwest is engaged in a drawn out contract dispute with pilots, mechanics, and flight attendants, who seek to translate the airline’s expected 65 percent increase in profits into increased benefits and pay.

According to the Youngstown Vindicator, the Ohio city now ranks as having the sixth highest poverty rate in the United States of any city with a population over 65,000. The steel town shares its spot on the list with post-industrial Midwest cities, Flint, MI, Detroit, MI, Bloomington, ID, and Gary, ID.

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