News & Commentary

August 6, 2014

Bloomberg Business Week reports that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell may be facing a subpoena in the Buffalo Bill’s cheerleaders’ suit against the football team for unpaid wages. Caitlin Ferrari, one of the Buffalo Jills, argues that she and other cheerleaders have been misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees. Last week, Judge Timothy Drury denied the Buffalo Bill’s Motion to Dismiss the case, writing, “The minute control that Citadel and [fellow defendant] Stejon exercised over the work of the cheerleaders supports the conclusion that they were not independent contractors but employees.”

In the Nation, Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Captur has published an account of her recent visit to North Carolina’s tobacco fields to support Baldemar Velásquez and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). She describes conditions in the fields owned by R.J. Reynolds and British American Tobacco as reminiscent of Edward R. Murrow’s piece, Harvest of Shame. Farmworkers work over 11 hours a day for $7.25 an hour in grueling conditions. They live in ramshackle huts without access to clean water or safe electricity. Female farmworkers described the sexual abuse they face in the course of seeking employment. In light of her findings, Congresswoman Captur advocates for expanding the guestworker program, improving conditions, and providing mechanisms for farmworkers to reports conditions without fear of retaliation.

According to the Huffington Post, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) has filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB against Guitar Center. In the last year, RWDSU won elections at three separate Guitar Centers, but has yet to secure a contract at any of them. They accuse Guitar Center, along with Bain Capital and Ares Management, of offering new benefits to non-unionized shops while stalling at the negotiation table with the RWDSU. Richard Trumpka, the head of the AFL-CIO, spoke recently at the RWDSU’s convention, stating, “ I want every Guitar Center worker to know the entire AFL-CIO and every one of our affiliates stands behind them in their efforts to win a fair contract.”

Raymond Burse, Kentucky State University’s newest president, has announced that he will take a $90,000 pay cut in order to increase employees’ wages from $7.25 an hour to $10.25. According to the Washington Post, the employees benefiting from the increase are mostly custodians, grounds workers, and clerical staff.

Newsday reports that members of the various unions representing Long Island Rail Road employees are likely to ratify their July 17, 2014 pact with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The tentative deal assures workers a 17 percent increase in wages over six and a half years, mandates that they contribute 2 percent of weekly earnings towards health care, and that new employees would pay into pensions for 15 years. Members of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen Local 56 ratified the agreement at a rate of over 98 percent. The seven other unions that helped negotiate the deal are expected to ratify it as well in the coming weeks.

As municipalities across the country debate increasing the minimum wage, the Washington Post uses Santa Fe, NM as an example of how determining the benefits of an increase can be incredibly difficult. Despite having raised the minimum wage, now hovering at $10.66 an hour, over ten years ago, economists, chambers of commerce, and labor unions still offer competing commentary on whether the increase has been a benefit or not.

In international news, Bloomberg describes the experience of immigrant workers in Chile. In the last year, 158,128 immigrants from surrounding South American countries as well as Haiti and the Dominican Republic were granted legal status, accounting for three quarters of the increase in Chile’s workforce. Immigrant workers point out that Chile’s work-based immigration process is ripe for abuse, as recent immigrants are required to demonstrate that they have worked uninterrupted for two years before they can apply for permanent residency. Some say they receive half the pay of Chilean workers for performing the same tasks.

In immigration-related news, the New York Times announces that the Department of Homeland Security has opened a new family detention center in Karnes City, TX. This is in addition to two detention centers in Artesia, NM and Berks, PA, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement is detaining women and children. Homeland Security officials say the plan is for the families to be held for no more than 10 days before being removed, raising serious due process concerns. All such facilities are far removed from legal services. Homeland Security’s attempts to speedily remove the migrants are complicated by the Central American’s expressed fear of return, which should qualify them to pursue the asylum process.

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