Today’s News & Commentary — August 28, 2018
President Trump said yesterday that the United States and Mexico have reached a deal on a renegotiated NAFTA, though Canada has apparently been left out of the deal for the time being. Lawmakers and industry expressed concern that the trilateral NAFTA could become a simple bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, disrupting the integration of the three countries’ economies. Among other things, the new agreement seeks to encourage the return of auto production to the U.S. and Mexico from outside North America. At least some migrant workers’ rights organizations are applauding the deal for including strong labor protections for migrant workers.
Prisoners across the nation continued their strike, demanding better wages and conditions as well as broader reform of the criminal legal system. The text of the 13th Amendment prohibits slavery “except as a punishment for crime,” which allows states to pay prison laborers sub-minimum wages – and in the case of South Carolina and Texas, prisoners can be paid nothing at all. Yet prisoners are subjected to exploitative pricing within prisons and jails, from the cost of a phone call to exorbitant rates for money transfers, emailing, and pre-paid debit cards as reimbursement for money seized upon incarceration that come with expensive fees. Prisoners liken this treatment to “slave labor” and demand changes in their strike, which is scheduled to last until September 9. The nationwide strike is notable given the organizing challenges inherent to prisons, where strikers may not be able to easily communicate and meet.
Disney announced that it would begin paying a $15 per hour wage to 38,000 workers at its Florida theme parks. The wage hike was negotiated by the Service Trades Council Union, which had engaged Disney in tense contract negotiations over the past year. If union members vote to accept the contract, the wage hike will take effect in September. This move comes as Disney faces demands for better wages at Disneyland, where unions negotiated a higher way for some employees and have successfully gotten a $15 minimum wage initiative on the ballot in the city of Anaheim.
Uber signaled a shift in its strategy for the self-driving car market by accepting a $500 million investment from Toyota that values Uber at $72 billion. Up to now, Uber was seen as developing self-driving car technology with the purpose of operating a fleet of autonomous vehicles in-house, but the deal with Toyota will bring the traditional automaker into the fold to provide a fleet of minivans, which is expected to begin transporting passengers by 2021. The move comes as Uber faces the prospect of having to classify its drivers as employees rather than independent contractors in California, its largest market, which could disrupt its business model.