News & Commentary

September 22, 2014

Yesterday afternoon, New York City hosted the largest climate march in history, with over 400,000 people in attendance. Union membership made up a significant portion of the participants in the People’s Climate March. Time and In These Times, write that nearly every labor union in the city, including the Services Employees International Union 32BJ and 1199, Teamsters Joint Council 16, the New York State Nurses Association, and Transport Workers Union Local 100 were in attendance.

According to the Nation, labor unions hosted a separate, earlier rally at 58th St. and Broadway. There, Mike Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, recalled the labor movements’ history of activism across issue areas: bailing Martin Luther King Jr. out of a Birmingham jail during the civil rights movement, founding the first Earth Day, and funding the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s. He closed, stating that, “We know that the same companies that are poisoning our air and water are also poisoning our democracy. So we at the Sierra Club stand with you for a clean energy economy that puts millions of people to work.” For further discussion of long-term historical tensions between labor and environmental groups, see this weekend’s Belabored Podcast from Dissent Magazine discussing the People’s Climate March as well as Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.

According to Diverse, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has partnered with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to provide financial support and scholarships to students of color. This partnership was announced two months after AFSCME severed its ties with the United Negro College Fund, which had recently accepted $25 million from David and Charles Koch, conservative opponents of organized labor.

The Boston Globe profiles a Massachusetts ballot initiative to be voted on in November that would allow employees to bank one hour of paid sick time for every thirty hours they work. Small business owners worry of the repercussions of having to pay the salaries of both the person who is out sick and whoever replaces them. Worker advocates point out that pay structures that deny sick leave incentivize restaurant and other employees to work while ill, negatively impacting the health of fellow employees and customers alike.

In sports news, the Baltimore Sun reports that the NFL Players Association is slated to argue an appeal of former Ravens running back Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension. Rice was suspended after TMZ leaked video of him punching his then fiancé, now wife, in the face. The Players Association is expected to argue that he has been punished twice, facing “double jeopardy” in violation of their collective bargaining agreement. They are likely to ask for his reinstatement as well as recovery of his $3.529 million salary for 2014. Rice was initially punished last spring after video surfaced of him dragging his then fiancé out of the elevator.

In international news, workers at five of’s German distribution centers have begun a two-day strike for higher pay according to the Associated Press. According to the Wall Street Journal, Verdi, the employee union, wants Amazon to sign a collective bargaining agreement that would compensate its members in line with pay elsewhere in Germany’s retail industry. Amazon has countered with offers of pay increases between 2.1 and 3 percent.

European Union member nations have responded unevenly to the growth of tech startups like Uber and Airbnb. According to the New York Times, as in the US, some European politicians fear that uneven application of regulations to these companies will damage local businesses. Other critics have pointed out that weak oversight can hurt customers and employees alike. Mei Li-Vos, a Dutch politician pushing for greater regulation stated, “All the risks are currently delegated to people who are the most at risk in the labor market.”

The Associated Press reports that Air France is delaying the expansion of Transavia, a low-cost carrier, after last week’s seven-day pilot union strike. Air France reports that it lost $25 million a day during the strike while pilots’ unions accuse them of attempting to outsource jobs to lower-cost markets.

The New York Times features an obituary for Robert E. Poli, who led the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in its famous 1981 strike, prompting President Ronald Reagan to fire 11,500 air traffic controllers. Some have called Reagan’s high profile firing of the controllers the beginning of the decline of the labor movement.

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