Today’s News & Commentary — April 18, 2018

Published April 18th, 2018 -  - 04.18.186


Arizona teachers began voting on whether to strike on Tuesday afternoon.  While Republican Governor Doug Ducey has agreed to a 20% pay raise for teachers by 2020, many teachers have criticized the plan for not including pay raises for support staff and for failing to address cuts to education funding over the past several years.  The vote will last for three days, with the majority of the voting expected to take place on Wednesday.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt resigned on Tuesday evening after a four-hour meeting with the state’s board of education.  Governor Matt Bevin appointed Wayne Lewis, chair of the Kentucky Charter Schools Advisory Council, as interim education commissioner.  Education leaders and Democratic party officials responded with disapproval.  Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler accused Bevin of continuing “his offensive against public education,” while House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins called the resignation “another attempt by Governor Bevin to weaken and dismantle Kentucky’s education system.”  As previously reported, teachers in Kentucky have responded to cuts in educational spending and proposals to convert their pension plans to 401(k)’s by staging walk-outs and protesting at the state Capitol.

Starbucks announced that it will close over 8,000 company-owned stores on the afternoon of May 29 to conduct anti-bias training for its employees.  The training program aims to address employees’ unconscious racial bias and ensure that a welcoming environment is provided for all customers.  Starbucks has recently faced intense media scrutiny and public backlash after a customer posted a video depicting police officers arresting two black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia.  An employee had called the police after allegedly refusing the two men access to the bathroom and asking them to leave.  Starbucks has since issued an apology.

Flight attendants for JetBlue Airways Corp. voted 2,661 to 1,387 in favor of unionizing, according to results released by the National Mediation Board on Tuesday.  The Transport Workers Union of America will now represent approximately 5,000 JetBlue flight attendants, who are reportedly seeking to improve wages and increase job protection.  JetBlue issued a press release in which it expressed disappointment in the outcome of the election, but stated that it would respect it.  JetBlue’s airline pilots voted to join the Air Line Pilots Association in April 2014, and have been in contract negotiations since March 2015.

In Chile, a union of flight of attendants for LATAM Airlines subsidiary LAN Express voted to reject a contract offer from LATAM.  The two parties had reached an initial agreement earlier in the day, but a majority of the union’s members rejected the deal.  The flight attendants’ union has been on strike for the past week, citing the duration of rotations and salaries of new employees as areas of disagreement in ongoing negotiations.  LATAM, Latin America’s largest carrier, has so far had to reschedule over 1,000 flights as a result of the strike.

While Air France employees prepared to continue striking for a second day, unionized workers at French national rail carrier SNCF embarked on the latest in a series of strikes after the National Assembly approved sweeping reforms to the rail sector.  If the bill passes the Senate, it will phase out the SNCF’s monopoly on passenger rail services and reduce employee job security by eliminating job-for-life contracts for new hires.  CGT, the rail workers’ main union, denounced the reforms and stated that the strike would continue through April 19.

German unions and employers agreed to a pay raise for public sector employees after more than 150,000 workers went on strike across the country.  Under the agreement, over 2 million public sector workers will receive a pay raise of 7.5% over two-and-a-half years.  According to Reuters, employers initially resisted unions’ demands for a wage hike, but eventually conceded that workers should benefit from the country’s strong economic growth.

The New York Times reports that companies operating in booming Eastern European economies are increasingly resorting to automation due to severe labor shortages.  In the Czech Republic, which has the lowest unemployment rate of any country in the European Union, new robot installations rose 40% between 2010 and 2015.  Companies praise robotization as a way to survive the current labor shortage and to quickly and flexibly respond to consumer demands.  Critics, including Czech unions, caution that workers will inevitably suffer from companies’ increasing reliance on robots when future recessions hit.

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