Today’s News and Commentary — August 20

Published August 20th, 2013 -  - 08.20.132


The New York Times reports on a labor angle to United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s commemoration yesterday of the 10th anniversary of the single deadliest assault in the UN’s history, the bombing of its Baghdad offices that killed 22 people.  The Times notes that the ceremony was overshadowed by aggrieved staff members, whose union representative presented Ban’s office with a letter asserting that his internal labor policies had compromised their safety and security – particularly what they called Ban’s refusal to bargain with their union over issues related to staff assignments in hardship posts and conflict zones.

In news about challenges for today’s under- or unemployed, the New York Times also reports on the approximately 60 million people in the United States who are shut off from jobs, government services, health care, and education because of their inability to afford Internet service, lack of interest, or lack of computer literacy — despite the fact that the Obama administration has poured billions of dollars into expanding the reach of the Internet and nearly 98 percent of American homes now have access to some form of high-speed broadband.

Continuing our analysis of worker centers and other alternatives for organizing workers from last weekThe Nation reports that the AFL-CIO is exploring new investments in alternative labor organizing, according to the union federation’s general counsel, Craig Becker, who  served as a member of the National Labor Relations Board during President Obama’s first term. In the piece, Becker underscores the successes of of the union-backed non-union group OUR Walmart, the Communications Workers of America’s use of alternative organizational structures against T-Mobile, the American Federation of Teachers’ organizing in states that deny public employees collective bargaining, and the work of the AFL-CIO’s non-union affiliate Working America.

In related news, the Washington Post reports that low-wage fast-food and retail workers from eight cities who have staged walkouts this year are calling for a national day of strikes on August 29. The workers are calling for a wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union. The walkouts have received support from community groups and national unions.

In the Los Angeles Times, William B. Gould IV, chairman of the National Labor Relations Board in the Clinton administration and professor emeritus at Stanford Law School, writes that the California legislature should enact final and binding arbitration along with a strike prohibition to resolve the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) dispute. In making his case, Gould emphasizes the first use of “final offer” arbitration, in which the arbitrator is obliged to select one or the other side’s final position, by Major League Baseball in its 1973 salary disputes.

In international news, the Wall Street Journal reports on the biggest labor protests in Colombia in years involving between 50,000 and 100,000 people, mostly mining and agriculture workers. The strike, the latest in a series of labor protests in a country struggling with an economic slowdown after three years of robust growth, is a challenge to President Juan Manuel Santos, who called the striking workers “useful idiots” who were being manipulated by powerful political interests against him.

In a confluence of national and local politics, the Washington Post‘s Lydia DePillis reports that Walmart is citing the work of President Obama’s newly appointed head of the Council of Economic Advisors, Jason Furman, in its efforts to oppose a recently passed D.C. City Council bill mandating that big-box retailers not covered by a collective bargaining agreement pay a $12.50 minimum wage (the bill awaits the signature or veto of Mayor Vince Gray). Furman authored  a 2005 study lauding Wal-Mart as a “progressive success story” with an overall positive economic impact, arguing that whatever public good lost by Wal-Mart’s low wages should be made up through tax credits or universal health care.

Exploring issues surrounding minimum wages further, the Washington Post‘s Dylan Matthews compares the minimum wage and median wage in several other developed countries to the United States, noting that the U.S. and Japan have the lowest minimum wage as a percentage of the median worker’s wage. Matthews notes, however, that a number of developed countries, including Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, and Switzerland, do not have minimum wages at all but likely make up for it through widespread collective bargaining.

Finally, Timm Herdt writes in the Memphis Commercial Appeal about the prominent role of Walter Reuther, the head of the United Auto Workers, in organizing the March On Washington, including the fact that the UAW paid for about two-thirds of the costs. Reuther was one of the ten speakers on the program for the historic event, joining six black civil rights leaders and three white religious leaders. Herdt reflects, “While it was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who had a dream, it was Walter Reuther who helped to provide a grand stage from which he could proclaim it.”

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