Today's News and Commentary — January 12
Al Jazeera America describes the push by Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country to pass right-to-work legislation. These laws, which would forbid unions from automatically charging representation fees workers in unionized shops, are under consideration in Kentucky, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Missouri. Twenty-four other states already have them on the books. The article outlines additional state-level anti-union legislation, including a Pennsylvania bill that would ban unions from using representation fees on political advocacy and “right-to-work zones” in Illinois that would establish geographic regions in the state governed by fewer government regulations.
According to USA Today, a majority of Sillicon Valley shuttle bus drivers have signed authorization cards with Teamsters Local 853. These drivers are employed by South San Francisco-based Compass Transportation, which is owned by Transdev and has contracts with Amtrak, Apple, Ebay, Genentech, Yahoo, and Zynga. Local 853 unionized Facebook shuttle bus drivers last November.
The CT Monitor reports that Rep. Rosa DeLauro, with the backing of organized labor, is fighting the Obama Administration on its plans for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Obama Administration has asked Congress to “fast track” the agreement, which DeLauro argues would destroy American jobs and threaten food safety and environmental regulations. Of the agreement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka is quoted as saying, “The AFL-CIO doesn’t just oppose fast track, we’re going to fight actively to kill it.”
In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter announced a five-year labor contract with the city firefighter union. According to the Philadelphia Tribune, the contract includes annual wage increase of 3 percent for the first two years. The firefighter union’s health care fund will also be responsible for the first $15 million in plan costs, a decision Mayor Nutter stated was based on high healthcare costs.
In Maine, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has brought an antitrust suit against Verso Paper Corporation, which shut down production at a local paper mill this month. The Associated Press reports that the IAMEW stated in its complaint that Verso engaged in an illegal conspiracy to monopolize the market for coated printing paper.
In minimum wage related news, the Des Moines Register examines the prospects of passage of a bill raising Iowa’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over three years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2013, about 50,000 of the 921,000 Iowans working hourly made the state minimum of $7.25 or less. With Republicans controlling the House and in the governor’s office, the article suggest it is unlikely that the bill will pass.
In Kansas, state representative Jim Ward has proposed the Kansas Working Families Pay Raise Act, which would increase the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour on July 1 and increase $1 a year until 2017. According to the Garden City Telegram, small businesses owners in the area have expressed concern that such an increase would negatively impact them.
In international news, Irvin Jim, the president of the National Union of Metalworkers in South Africa (NUMSA) has announced that he will form a new, explicitly anti-capitalist political party as an alternative to the African National Congress (ANC). According to Al Jazeera America, NUMSA was expelled from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) after it violated the trade federation’s constitution by not supporting South African President and ANC-member Jacob Zuma’s reelection campaign. Jim has been on a speaking tour of the United States, including speaking at SEIU 1199 headquarters in New York City last Friday, to explain the development of the new United Front party and to seek the support of U.S. labor.
In commentary, Tim Worstall at Forbes argues that organized labor supports a raise in the minimum wage because union contracts link wage increases to federal increases in the minimum wage. He argues that unions’ new-found emphasis on the fast food industry and other low-income workers through Fight for $15 is self-serving, as large labor unions have few fast-food worker members, and that such an increase would not benefit low income workers.
In the Press Herald, former-Congressman Barney Frank writes that for capitalism to thrive, society cannot have too much economic inequality. Frank focuses on the role of organized labor in minimizing economic inequality in the U.S., tracing the history of unionization and specifically honing in on Republican’s successful campaign to stop unionization of a Tennessee Volkswagen plant. He argues that what he calls the “conservative assault” on unions has exacerbated income inequality in the U.S.