Weekend News & Commentary — April 29, 2018
On Friday, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced that the state legislature had reached a deal to raise teachers’ pay 20 percent by 2020 and to restore public education funding that has been cut since the last recession. Arizona teachers, who have been on strike since Thursday, reacted with skepticism and expressed frustration at Ducey’s refusal to meet with organizers and listen to their demands. The education groups are also seeking better pay for support staff and guaranteed annual raises, and have recently announced that they will push a ballot initiative to raise income taxes on the state’s highest earners to fund public education.
As Columbia University’s graduate students move to prolong their strike indefinitely, adjunct faculty at Loyola University Chicago ratified their first contract with the university on Friday following two years of negotiations. Under the agreement, which covers 360 non-tenure-track faculty, part-time instructors will receive a pay increase of up to 51 percent for each course taught, while full-time lecturers will receive an average pay increase of 5.2 percent. The contract will also give adjuncts some job security, with part-time instructors receiving renewable one and two-year appointments and full-time lecturers eventually receiving five-year appointments. The adjuncts have been represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 since 2016.
Meanwhile, teachers in Zimbabwe announced on Friday that they would go on strike beginning May 8. The Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (ZIMTA), which has 44,000 unionized members, stated that teachers were seeking higher salaries and allowances before the new term. Zimbabwe’s teachers are the latest public sector employees to stage a strike. In the past month, doctors and nurses have also gone on strike, demanding better pay and working conditions ahead of the country’s elections in July. The government responded by calling the strikers “politically motivated” and ordering the dismissal of over 16,000 nurses.
The New York Times reports on the difficulty of enforcing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new sexual harassment policies. The new laws effectively ban nondisclosure agreements and mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment complaints, and hold government employees personally financially liable for any payouts if they are found responsible for committing harassment. They also require both public and private sector employers to develop anti-harassment policies and training. Many have criticized the policies for failing to actually define sexual harassment and for neither creating nor appointing a single investigative body to enforce the new laws. According to the Times, in practice harassment complaints are referred to multiple government agencies that occasionally reach conflicting outcomes. Experts warn that the lack of procedural clarity may undermine public trust and institutional accountability.
According to the Department of Labor, private-sector employees in the United States received their biggest pay raise since 2007 in the first quarter of 2018. Wages for private sector workers have risen 2.9 percent in the past year, the largest such increase since the third quarter of 2008. Analysts speculate that the country’s unemployment rate, which is currently at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent, is putting upward pressure on businesses’ labor costs as they offer higher wages to attract scarce workers.