News & Commentary

April 21, 2021

Jason Vazquez

Jason Vazquez is a staff attorney at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 2023. His writing on this blog reflects his personal views and should not be attributed to the IBT.

Yesterday, a jury convicted the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd in May 2020 of murder. He now faces up to 75 years in prison. In the wake of the verdict, several unions released statements embracing the conviction and pledging to continue the struggle for racial and economic justice. CWA, for example, characterized the ruling as a “a step toward justice,” and committed itself “to educating, organizing, and mobilizing for racial justice.” Similarly, UNITE HERE affirmed that it “stands strong in the fight against police brutality and anti-Black violence,” insisting that “by standing together, we can overcome the enormous obstacles and deepening inequalities that plague our society.” The Minnesota AFL-CIO asserted that it “will continue [its] work to bring racial and economic justice to all workers in our state,” and Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, expressed his “relief” that “the jury delivered justice.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a news release detailing the recovery of nearly half a million dollars in back wages for hundreds of workers across several states. The news appears to deliver an early signal that, under the direction freshly-confirmed Secretary Marty Walsh, the Department intends to more energetically effectuate its statutory mandate to safeguard workers’ rights against corporate abuse. If so, the news would represent an especially encouraging development in view of the antiworker posture the DOL had adopted under the previous administration, when under the leadership of unionbusting lawyer Eugene Scalia. At the height of the pandemic, for example, Scalia’s Department sought to compel employees to return to dangerous working conditions and curtail access to unemployment assistance.

In other pandemic-related news, the latest Gallup survey, assessing Covid’s impact on work in the United States, sheds light not only on the misery and dislocation the pandemic has inflicted, but on the inequitable fashion in which it has done so. Indeed, the report underscores that the pandemic has exacerbated many of the preexisting inequalities that characterize the U.S. political economy. For example, the report reveals that furloughs and income losses have disproportionately affected Blacks, Hispanics, and the poor. More generally, it discloses that most of those working in “low-quality” jobs believe their employer has failed to adopt the necessary workplace precautions to safeguard them from the virus, and nearly half of all furloughed workers have struggled to afford food, fuel, or shelter.

In the Midwest, a few dozen healthcare employees at Tyler Memorial Hospital, a small clinic in Pennsylvania owned by the massively profitable Community Health Systems, announced that they intend to engage in a three day unfair labor practice strike beginning Wednesday morning. The employees, represented by SEIU, have consistently objected to the poor working conditions they experience, which they attribute to a “management tier that puts profits over their safety.” Donations to the strike fund can be made here.

In political news, Senator Agnus King (I-MA) has signed on as the latest cosponsor of the PRO Act. According to the Intercept, the Senator decided to support the labor law reform measure after finding himself “inundated” with calls demanding that he do so from workers across his state. The calls were part of a systematic campaign, orchestrated by a coalition of unions, to pressure lawmakers into supporting the bill. The news delivers another short in the arm to the desperately needed reform legislation, arriving in the wake of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)’s recent announcement that he, too, has endorsed it. The PRO Act, which has already been passed by the House, now has 49 cosponsors in the Senate—an impressive figure, yet considerably below the threshold necessary to withstand a filibuster.

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