Today’s News & Commentary — April 24, 2018
“Public Servants Are Losing Their Foothold in the Middle Class” was the front page headline of the New York Times yesterday. The Times reported that the “steady erosion of the public sector” has contributed to the decline of the middle class in recent decades. Severe budget cuts have reduced government jobs such that state and local employees now represent the smallest share of the American civilian workforce since 1967. Public sector employees who are still at work endure low wages and limited resources, which are among the reasons why public school teachers in Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia have said they are striking in recent weeks.
On Friday, Senator Cory Booker announced his support for the Federal Jobs Guarantee Development Act. As reported by Vox, the act would establish a three-year pilot program for 15 local areas chosen by the Department of Labor that would guarantee a job paying at least $15 an hour with paid leave and health benefits for every adult living in those areas. In 2016, Slate’s Jamelle Bouie called a federal jobs guarantee “a road map for success in Trump’s America” for Democrats looking for electoral victory. It remains to be seen if other Democrats will support such a strategy.
With increased calls for promoting diversity in hiring on the Hill, advocates are asking U.S. Senators to commit to paying their interns a living wage. According to data from Pay Our Interns, 26 Republican and 21 Democratic senators pay their interns in some form, including Senators Doug Jones and Bernie Sanders, who pay their interns a living wage of $15 an hour. Last month’s $1.3 trillion omnibus package increased senators’ personnel and office expense budgets by 9%, which some argue they should use to pay their interns.
April continues to be an eventful month for graduate student workers at Ivy League universities. After Harvard graduate students voted to form a union with the United Auto Workers last week, Harvard University spokesperson Anna G. Cowenhoven twice declined to say if the university will bargain with the union, reported the Harvard Crimson. Since graduate student workers at Columbia University voted to unionize in December 2016, the university has refused to bargain, and student workers voted earlier this month to authorize a strike, with 93% voting yes. Unless the university comes to the bargaining table, Columbia graduate student workers plan to go on strike today until April 30, the last day of classes for the semester.