News & Commentary

December 14, 2018

A restaurant workers’ organization is appealing a D.C. Superior Court’s order that blocked a referendum to raise D.C.’s sub-minimum base wage for tipped workers. In many states, including D.C., tipped workers like waiters, bartender, and manicurists can be paid a sub-minimum base wage — which, in D.C., is just $3.33 an hour — that is (in theory) supplemented by tips. The #OneFairWage ballot initiative would raise the tipped minimum wage to match the District’s standard minimum wage of $12.50 (rising to $15 by 2020). This June, D.C. voters approved a ballot initiative to equalize the tipped and non-tipped wage by a 12 percent margin, only for the D.C. City Council to overturn the ballot initiative, foiling the will of the city’s voters. Activists, led by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, gathered tens of thousands of signatures to put the #OneFairWage initiative back on the ballot and re-instate the wage increase — making the campaign the first referendum to reverse a council vote since 1991. But just as activists were turning boxes of signatures into the D.C. Board of Elections, Judge Neal E. Kravitz blocked the referendum, ruling that the Board had not given the public enough notice about a meeting held to discuss the language of the referendum. Referendum supporters filed a notice to appeal yesterday.

The New Jersey Supreme Court became the fourth to shut down litigation to invalidate tenure protection for the public school teachers in the state. The Court yesterday declined to review a lower court decision to dismiss H.G. v. Harrington, a lawsuit challenging a state tenure statute. The lawsuit was backed by anti-teachers’ union activist and TV anchor Campbell Brown, who backed similar lawsuits in Minnesota and New York, according to the Education Law Center. A trial court dismissed the case after the plaintiffs failed to present any evidence that seniority and tenure protection have a negatively impact.

Writers and Editors at Slate voted (by an astounding 98 percent yes) to authorize a strike on Tuesday, as Rachel pointed out in yesterday’s News and Commentary. Yesterday, new details emerged on why: the media company’s executives, along with the powerful law firm Jones Day, which is currently demanding that Slat’s union accept a “right-to-work” clause in their contract that would make paying union dues optional. Yesterday, the Columbia Journalism Review published a deep dive into Jones Day role as the go-to firm to oppose media unions — including unions at Slate, Foreign Policy, the Washington Post, and NPR affiliates like Chicago Public Media, where workers believe Jones Day pushed management to offer a contract that eliminated overtime, cut benefits, and required employees to use vacation time to conduct union business. Robert Struckman, the president of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, told CJR that negotiations involving Jones Day are “uglier than anything else we see,” in part, Struckman believes, because the firm is “ideologically anti-union” and portrays every concession from one union in “subsequent negotiations… as the new industry standard.” Slate writers have raised similar alarm bells, arguing that Jones Day is using the Slate union to set a precedent for right-to-work clauses in media contracts. Open shop policies like the one demanded by Jones Day and Slate’s management are rare in new media (according to the Writers Guild of America, East, peer outlets like Gizmodo Media Group, HuffPost, and Vice Media have closed shops). Slate union members refused to back down after weeks of bargaining, setting the stage for a strike.

Workers at Tesla Inc.’s Buffalo solar panel factory just announced a union drive with the United Steelworkers and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, according to Bloomberg. Tesla successfully fought off a campaign by workers in its California plant to unionize last year — leading to an NLRB trial over allegations that the company retaliated against pro-union workers and illegally restricted union organizing. The Buffalo unionization effort comes right after a new complaint filed earlier this month alleges that Tesla again engaged in unfair labor practices in the last six months.


Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.