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.

The former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd last summer was convicted of murder. He now faces up to 75 years in prison. Several unions have released statements embracing the verdict and vowing to continue struggling for racial and economic justice. CWA, for example, called the outcome “a step toward justice” yet “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,” declaring 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.” Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, expressed 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 several states. Such enforcement actions, while of limited practical impact, are encouraging insofar as they appear to signal that under freshly-confirmed Secretary Marty Walsh, the DOL might more energetically safeguard workers’ rights against corporate exploitation. This development is particularly welcome in view of the anti-worker posture the Department adopted last year, under the leadership of unionbusting corporate lawyer Eugene Scalia, as it sought to force employees to return to dangerous conditions and restrict unemployment assistance.

In other pandemic-related news, the latest Gallup survey, examining the ways in which COVID-19 affected the quality of work in the United States, sheds additional light not only on the misery and dislocation the pandemic inflicted, but on the inequitable fashion in which it did so. The report reveals a series of unsettling, though unsurprising, findings. Among the most notable, furloughs and income losses have disproportionately affected Blacks, Hispanics, and the poor, and fewer than half of those working in “low-quality” jobs believe their employer has adopted the necessary workplace precautions to keep them safe. Perhaps most disturbingly, the survey finds that nearly half of all furloughed workers have struggled to afford food or shelter.

In the Midwest, more than 80 healthcare workers at Tyler Memorial Hospital, a small Pennsylvania clinic owned by the massively profitable Community Health Systems, have announced that they will engage in a three day ULP strike commencing on Wednesday morning. The employees, represented by SEIU, have objected to poor working conditions, an ongoing dearth of personal protective equipment, and 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 become a cosponsor of the PRO Act. According to the Intercept, the Senator decided to support the bill after being “inundated” with calls from workers around the state, which reflects a broader, systematic campaign orchestrated by a coalition of unions to pressure lawmakers into endorsing the Act. The news delivers an additional boost to the desperately needed reform legislation, coming on the heels of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)’s announcement that he supports the bill. The PRO Act has already been passed by the House, and King and Manchin’s backing brings the total number of cosponsors in the upper chamber to 47—an impressive figure, yet still far below the threshold necessary to survive a filibuster.

           

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