News & Commentary

April 29, 2019

Rachel Sandalow-Ash

Rachel Sandalow-Ash is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

Unionized attorneys and other staff at CAMBA Legal Services — a Brooklyn-based legal aid organization — are entering the third week of their strike for a fair contract.  The workers are calling for paid leave for all parents as well as fair pay for all staff.  CAMBA currently provides birth mothers with 13 weeks of paid leave at 70% of their salary but provides no paid leave for fathers, non-birth mothers, adoptive parents, or stepparents.  In 2017, the average annual salary at CAMBA Legal Services was just $26,000; meanwhile, the organization’s CEO took home over $600,000 in total compensation.  CAMBA employees explained poor pay and benefits have led to high staff turnover at the organization  Paola Rodriguez, a CAMBA staffer, said, “Dozens have left during my time here . . . They all had to leave for the same reasons: lack of competitive pay, lack of benefits, lack of care for their work-life balance, and poor training.”  The striking workers belong to the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys – United Auto Workers 2325, which represents 1,200 criminal, juvenile rights, and civil practice staff attorneys in the New York City Metro Area.


Over 80% of teachers and school staff at the Mundo Verde Bilingual Charter school in Washington, D.C. have signed union authorization cards with the American Federation of Teachers.  The teachers & school staff are seeking voluntary recognition of their union; if the school leadership does not recognize their union, they will petition the NLRB for a Board election.  (As OnLabor Senior Contributor Sharon Block explained in February, the Board first asserted jurisdiction over charter schools in 2016; but the Board is currently reviewing whether it should continue to assert jurisdiction over charters.)  If the Mundo Verde staff succeed in winning their union, they will be the second DC charter school staff to do so. In 2017, the teachers and school staff at César Chávez PCS for Public Policy (Prep) Middle School unionized; the charter network that runs the school announced that it will close the school in June 2019.  


The New York State Senate is holding hearings on the Farmworker Fair Labor Practice Act (FFLPA); this bill would extend unionization and collective bargaining rights, as well as disability and workers’ compensation benefits, to farmworkers.  Lawmakers first introduced the FFLPA in 2010, and the bill passed through the State Assembly several times.  However, the legislation has consistently failed in the Republican-controlled Senate.  After Democrats secured control of the State Senate in 2018 elections, farmworkers and their supporters saw an opening to finally pass the bill through both chambers.  Farmworker activist Victor Hernandez said, “We want all New Yorkers to know that the people who put the food on the table, our rights are not being respected . . . We need all of the people who drink milk, eat fruits, eat vegetables to really support us to know how the workers are living.”  State Senator Jessica Ramos, who introduced the bill in the State Senate, emphasized that this bill aims to correct an unjust situation in which farmworkers are excluded from basic labor protections. “This bill is really about codifying rights that exist for every other worker in New York,” she said.


Workers at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel — the largest hotel in the Hawaii and the largest Hilton in the country — have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike.  The workers, who belong to UNITE HERE Local 5, point to excessive workloads, increased automation, and poverty wages at the hotel as key reasons for striking.  Jonathan Rezada, a Bellman at the hotel, expressed hope that through fighting together, workers in a traditionally low-wage industry could secure fair pay and schedules.  He explained, “I go back to my childhood—my father worked 30 years for Hilton. He worked two jobs, from 5 am to 11 at night. I want to fight for him because he always fought for me and my family.  This is why I’m voting yes to strike.” If the hotel does not soon reach an agreement with the union, 1700 workers could walk off the job.

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