Today’s News & Commentary—August 28, 2019
On Tuesday, union workers at the Ford Motor Co. plant in Louisville, KY, voted 99% to 1% to authorize a strike if Ford fails to negotiate a new four-year labor contract with the UAW before the existing contract expires on September 14. As Rachel reported in July, the UAW and Ford have been negotiating over the contract since July 15. The strike authorization vote does not mean that the UAW will strike, but it allows the union to exert pressure during negotiations. Todd Dunn, president of the UAW Local 862, would not disclose how many members participated in the vote, but reported that it was “one of the strongest, if not the strongest, responses I’ve ever seen.”
Also on Tuesday, President Trump nominated Eugene Scalia to be the next Secretary of Labor. Scalia will appear before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee for a confirmation hearing when Congress returns from its summer recess.
On Monday, 45 Senators and 117 Representatives sent letters to acting Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella opposing the Department’s proposed rule to create an Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Program (IRAP), and requesting a 60-day extension of the public comment period. Monday was the last day on which the public could submit comments on the rule, unless the extension is granted. As Deanna reported earlier this month, the proposed IRAP program has drawn criticism from building trades unions, who fear that it will undercut existing, union-sponsored training programs, and, by allowing for more industry oversight in place of DOL oversight, undermine current workplace protections. The Senators and Representatives, all Democrats and Independents, echoed those concerns, warning that the proposal would undermine wage protections, safety requirements, and guarantees of equal opportunity employment, by transferring oversight from unions and the DOL to industry. “[T]he Department proposes to authorize new, nongovernmental Standards Recognition Entities (SREs) to establish, recognize, and monitor the quality of IRAPS—with minimal accountability to the federal government, states, or apprentices themselves,” wrote the Senators. A coalition of thirteen attorneys general sent a similar letter, emphasizing that the proposed apprenticeship programs would have no specific minimum requirements for instructor credentials, skills or on-the-job training hours or employment rates.
In Southern California, where 46,000 unionized employees of Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions grocery stores have been working since March 3 under an expired contract, United Food and Commercial Workers union locals have decided that workers will vote to ratify or reject the grocery chains’ latest contract offer on September 9. Union leaders announced the deadline after four days of talks concluded on Sunday with no agreement reached. A new round of negotiations will be held from September 4 through 8. Although the grocery workers authorized their union leadership to call a strike in late June, the grocery chains’ contract offer has changed significantly since then, and so union members will need to re-authorize a strike should they reject the contract offer in September. Southern California’s last grocery strike was in 2003, when nearly 60,000 workers walked off their jobs for four months in the largest and longest supermarket strike in U.S. history.