News & Commentary

February 13, 2019

The Merit Systems Protection Board, a quasi-judicial agency that hears grievance appeals for federal workers, is about to lose its last member. The Board has three seats, two of which have been vacant throughout the Trump administration because of a deadlocked Senate committee, reports the Washington Post. The last remaining Board member, Mark Robbins, will be forced out at the end of the month after his term expires — leaving the Board empty and, according to Justice Department attorneys, possibly operating illegally. Meanwhile, with two of the seats vacant, the board “has been unable to render decisions,” creating a massive backlog of federal employees who are waiting for the Board to hear their appeals about firings and discipline. Even as the House and Senate schedule hearings to fill the empty slots, it may take two years to hear all the ongoing cases.

Buzzfeed News’ US workers just announced that they are organizing to form a union with the NewsGuild of New York. The announcement comes on the heels of Buzzfeed’s shocking layoff of 15 percent of its award-winning newsroom last month. Staff have been organizing for months because, according to a statement the union’s organizing committee released yesterday, it’s “not all fun and memes” — workers have “legitimate grievances about unfair pay disparities, mismanaged pivots and layoffs, weak benefits, skyrocketing health insurance costs, diversity, and more.” The campaign continues a wave of high-profile unionization campaigns at digital media outlets, including HuffPost, Vox Media, the LA Times, and the New Republic.

Crispin Hernandez, a farm worker at one of upstate New York’s largest dairies, worked twelve hour shifts in grueling and dangerous conditions. When a farm manager discovered that Hernandez had called some of his co-workers to an after-hours meeting after to discuss protesting their job conditions, the farm fired Hernandez and another co-worker who wanted to organize. If they had worked in nearly any other industry, firing Hernandez for exercising his right to organize would be illegal — but both the federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and its state equivalent, the New York State Employment Relations Act (SERA) explicitly exclude farm workers. In the New York Daily News, law professor William Herbert calls on the new Democratic majority in the New York State Senate to amend SERA to extend collective bargaining rights to farmworkers, domestic workers, and independent contractors. Herbert also outlines some other changes to make New York a leader on labor rights, including strengthening whistleblower protection laws and allowing all employees who are terminated to arbitrate whether employers had just cause.

By a remarkable 30 percent margin, millennials support a Green New Deal. Rockstar Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey introduced a Green New Deal resolution last week outlining key features of the plan to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero and establish a national jobs guarantee with a “family-sustaining wage,” paid leave, and “retirement security”. New polling finds that over seventy-five percent of millennials support a green-jobs guarantee — and that age is the strongest predictor of support.

Unemployment may be low, but workers are still suffering. The Federal Reserve reported yesterday that a record 7 million Americans are three months or more behind on their auto loan payments, showing once again that millions of working-class Americans are drowning in debt. Late car loan payments are particularly disturbing because, as the Washington Post reports, workers who typically need a car to get to work generally make car loan payments first.

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