News & Commentary

August 18, 2014

The longstanding labor conflict between the New York City-based Metropolitan Opera and its labor unions was partially resolved on Monday morning, with the Met and the unions representing its orchestra and chorus after an all-night bargaining session.  The New York Times reports that the Met has called off its threat to lock out workers a little more than a month before the new season is set to open.  The agreements were announced shortly after 6:15 a.m. by Allison Beck, the deputy director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, who stated that “These were difficult and highly complex negotiations, and I wish to commend the parties for their resolve in addressing multiple and complex issues.  We are grateful for their commitment to the collective bargaining process and grateful most of all that the Metropolitan Opera, one of the world’s premier cultural institutions, will continue providing outstanding operas for all to enjoy.”

In international news, labor activists in Asia are banding together to press for a wage increase.  CNBC reports that in the past year, there have been “more strikes as unions use a shortage of skilled workers to press for better pay and improved safety – an issue highlighted by the April 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, which killed at least 1,130 people.”  Members of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia have reported an increase in the number of strikes to 147 in 2013, up from around 36 in 2011.  Meanwhile, cohesion across Asian unions has also increased – for instance, IndustriALL, which represents 50 million workers in 140 countries worldwide, said it “arranges meetings two to three times a month to bring together labor activists from across Asia, something that was rarely done before last year.”

The Workforce Investment Act, once touted as a cure-all for America’s unemployment woes, has left many people out of work and in debt, reports the New York Times.  “Millions of unemployed Americans . . . have trained for new careers as part of the Workforce Investment Act, a $3.1 billion federal program that, in an unusual act of bipartisanship, was reauthorized by Congress last month with little public discussion about its effectiveness, [but] many have not found the promised new career.  Instead, an extensive analysis of the program by The New York Times shows, many graduates wind up significantly worse off than when they started — mired in unemployment and debt from training for positions that do not exist, and they end up working elsewhere for minimum wage.”  About 21 million jobless people entered retraining in 2012.

The New York Times highlights the New York City Sanitation Department’s training program in an article and slideshow on new sanitation workers’ rigorous on-boarding process.  According to the article, New York City sanitation workers must be trained “to pick up trash, recyclables and, now, compost every day; to sweep the streets and clear them after a snowstorm, and remove fallen trees after a hurricane; and to operate the half-dozen types of trucks needed to keep the city’s streets and sidewalks tidy.”  The article also highlights injury prevention measures and on-the-job hazards such as rats and syringes.



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