On Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, Daunte Wright was shot to death by police. Daunte Wright was a 20-year-old Black man who was killed during a traffic stop. Daunte Wright was described by his brother as someone who would “give you the shirt off his back.” The police officer who killed Daunte Wright, Kim Potter, has been placed on administrative leave. Protests in response to Daunte Wright’s killing continued Monday and Tuesday evenings in Minnesota, just a few miles from where George Floyd was murdered.
The labor movement is necessarily entwined with struggles for racial justice. After the police killing of George Floyd last summer, unions came out in support of protestors, came out against the racist police killings, but became splintered over how to deal with police unions. Some wanted to expel police unions from the labor movement, some argued that police aren’t workers at all, and others argued that police unions should be reformed but that they have a place in organized labor. Police and prison abolition has gained momentum as a solution and I have argued that the labor movement should embrace it. These tensions within organized labor were not resolved and continue today, just as the pattern of police officers killing Black people continues.
A new bill in California would, if passed, allow people who experience racialized workplace discrimination (among other types) to speak publicly about their experience, regardless of whether they had signed an NDA. The Silenced No More Act, drafted by State Senator Connie Leyva, the California Employment Law Association, the Equal Rights Advocates, and others, would apply to people in covered categories such as race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc., who experienced sexual harassment, wage discrimination, or any other type of workplace discrimination. Ifeoma Ozoma, a co-drafter and supporter of the bill, wrote for the New York Times that she was fired from her high-profile position at Pinterest for speaking up about wage discrimination and retaliation. Having signed an NDA, Ozoma was worried she could not explain to her family—or future employees—the nature of her termination for fear of getting sued. She found out she was protected in part by a 2019 California law that protected those who broke their NDAs in order to speak out against sexual harassment and gender discrimination, but that bill did not offer protection to the racialized workplace discrimination that Ozoma faced as a Black woman. The new bill would cover all types of workplace discrimination.
Whitney Kimball reported for Gizmodo about virtual picket lines—an idea that was pitched in the Clean Slate for Worker Power Agenda. Picket lines have traditionally been a way for workers to publicize labor disputes and union drives to potential consumers who may be interested in supporting the workers by joining a consumer boycott. Kimball notes a recent poll that found that 65% of participants supported unions. But what happens when employers don’t have an actual “storefront,” or not one where consumers frequent, like Amazon? That’s where Clean Slate’s idea for a virtual picket line would come in: legislation could force companies to post a notice on its website that informs consumers of a labor dispute and asks consumers to decide whether they want to cross the virtual line. In an interview, Professor Ben Sachs gave ideas about how to implement the details.
Yesterday tech workers at The New York Times announced their intention to unionize. If successful, the Times tech workers would be the largest of any tech organizing effort recognized by the NLRB. Currently about half of the NYT staff is already unionized, mostly journalists and printers. But over the past ten years an increasing number of the NYT’s employees are “tech” workers—software engineers, data scientists, graphic designers, video editors, app developers, etc. In a statement, the NYT tech workers emphasized the challenges they face at work including sudden firings, lack of transparency in promotions, unpaid overtime, and “underinvestment in diverse representation.” Katie Robertson, covering the story for the NYT, reported that NYT management responded to the tech workers request for voluntary recognition by taking “time to review this request.”
Finally, Dave Jamieson reports that OSHA has recently issued the largest fine related to COVID-19 to date. The $136k fine was issued against a Massachusetts tax preparer for prohibiting employees from wearing masks at work. OSHA undertook a four-week investigation before finding that the employer committed a willful violation under its general duty clause. The size of the penalty and the speed at which the investigation was conducted is precisely the type of enforcement that Trump’s OSHA refused to do, even as the pandemic raged unrestrained against our most vulnerable workers. Ariana Murrell-Rosario, the owner of the tax preparer service, said she will continue to prohibit mask use despite the OSHA fine, calling masks “deadly.”