Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd last summer, was convicted by a jury on all three of the charges against him — second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter. Chauvin’s sentencing is scheduled for June and he faces up to 75 years in prison. In the wake of the verdict, a handful of unions released statements heralding the news and pledging to continue the struggle for racial and economic justice. The Communications Workers of America called the verdict “a step toward justice” but “not enough” and committed the union “to educating, organizing, and mobilizing for racial justice.” UNITE HERE affirmed that it “stands strong in the fight against police brutality and anti-Black violence” and declared that “by standing together, we can overcome the enormous obstacles and deepening inequalities that plague our society.” The Minnesota AFL-CIO celebrated the news, declaring that they “will continue [their] work to bring racial and economic justice to all workers in our state.” Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, tweeted his “relief” that “the jury delivered justice.”
The U.S. Department of Labor published a pair of news releases on Tuesday detailing the combined recovery of nearly half a million dollars in back wages for more than 200 workers in Tennessee and various Midwestern states. According to the first release, a company called Servant’s Quest, a provider of at-home healthcare services in Tennessee, refused to pay overtime to dozens of workers misclassified as independent contractors, a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The department’s Wage and Hour Division recovered more than $350k for fifty caregivers, and Acting Wage and Hour Division District Director Kenneth Stripling lambasted the “illegal and unacceptable” behavior of the employer, which, he declared, “cheat[ed] workers out of wages…and subsequently hurt[ ] our economy.” The second release reveals that the Ziegler Tire and Supply Company, headquartered in Massillon, Ohio, had failed to report the extra hours that mechanics and technicians were called in after work to service vehicles, which resulted in overtime violations totaling more than $129k for 154 workers in Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. “Employers who fail to pay their workers all their hard-earned wages shortchange these people and their families and gain an unfair advantage over competitors,” admonished John DuMont, the Wage and Hour District Director in Pittsburgh. These actions, though limited, are encouraging and seem to signal that under the command of newly-confirmed Secretary Marty Walsh the Labor Department is much more legitimately interested in protecting workers against corporate abuse than it was last year, when it was led by anti-worker corporate lawyer Eugene Scalia and placed its authority behind an effort to force employees back into dangerous working conditions and to scale back unemployment assistance.
In other pandemic-related news, the latest Gallup survey, which investigated how COVID-19 affected the quality of work in the United States last year, has shed further light on the misery and upheaval wrought by the pandemic. The report included a series of disturbing, though unsurprising, findings. Among the most notable, the study revealed that layoffs and income losses have disproportionately affected Blacks and Hispanics, and those with low incomes and less education, that fewer than 20 percent of workers without a college degree had access to remote work, and that fewer than half of workers in “low-quality” jobs believe that their employer is taking the necessary precautions to keep them safe. Perhaps most disturbingly, the survey showed that nearly half of all laid-off workers struggled to afford food or shelter and that, ultimately, more than half of those working in low-quality jobs experienced worsening job quality. Though the daily rate of vaccinations in the United States has ticked up impressively in recent weeks, the unrelenting pandemic, and the poverty and desolation that it has inflicted, are far from over.
Returning for a moment to the Midwest, more than 80 healthcare workers at Tyler Memorial Hospital, a small clinic owned by the massively profitable Community Health Systems and located in a rural town in Pennsylvania, have announced that they will engage in a three-day Unfair Labor Practices strike, scheduled to kick off on Wednesday morning. The workers are represented by SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, which reported that attempts to negotiate with Community Health Systems had been rejected. The hospital staff have complained of poor working conditions, which threatens patient safety, a continuing dearth of personal protective gear, and a “management tier that puts profits over their safety.” Donations to the strike fund can be made here.
Taking a quick detour up to New England, Senator Agnus King (I-MA) has reportedly signed on as a cosponsor of the PRO Act. King agreed to support the bill after being, according to The Intercept, “inundated” by calls from workers around the state, as part of an campaign organized by a coalition of unions in a broader effort to pressure the four remaining holdouts into endorsing the Act. The news delivers a further boost to the ambitious, transformative, and desperately needed piece of legislation, coming only a day after Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) similarly announced his support for the bill. King and Manchin’s backing places the Act, which has already been passed by the House of Representatives, at 47 cosponsors in the Senate, an impressive number, though still far below the 60-vote threshold required to clear the filibuster as it currently exists.