Today’s News & Commentary — February 15, 2019
In response to pressure from unions, community groups, and progressive lawmakers, Amazon backed out of a deal under which it would have received $3 billion in public subsidies to open a corporate campus in Queens. In a New York City Council meeting in late January, Amazon executives refused to agree to neutrality if workers at the company wanted to unionize. Even so, as recently as Wednesday, the company was in talks with unions and public officials about a union neutrality agreement. However, rather than agree to not interfere with its employees’ right to unionize, Amazon cut off talks and announced that it would not come to New York. New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the Long Island City neighborhood where Amazon planned to build its campus, said that Amazon “buckled because . . . we told them that you cannot come to New York City and declare that you will crush the rights of workers to organize.” New York has the highest union density— 23.8%–of any state in the US. As previously reported by OnLabor, workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island went public with a campaign to unionize with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) this past December. Following Amazon’s announcement, RWDSU spokeswoman Chelsea Connor said, “Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns [regarding labor rights, housing affordability, the company’s work with ICE, etc.] that have been raised by many New Yorkers, Amazon says you do it our way or not at all . . . that’s not what a responsible business would do.” Many New York community groups celebrated Amazon’s announcement; for instance, Make the Road NY tweeted, “Huge victory for our community. People power wins, even against the world’s richest man!”
The Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) reached a tentative agreement with Denver Public Schools (DPS), ending their three-day strike. As a result of their strike, Denver teachers, nurses, and counselors secured an 11.7 percent average pay raise and annual cost of living increases. Colorado currently ranks 46th in average teacher pay, and as previously reported by OnLabor, many teachers have taken on second or third jobs to make ends meet. Colorado teachers also secured reforms to the school district’s merit pay system that will make teacher pay more regular and predictable. The Denver teachers’ strike was the first in 25 years. It follows an unsuccessful attempt by Republican state legislators to outlaw teachers strikes and impose strict penalties (including potential jail time) on striking teachers. Colorado is currently one of 12 states in which teacher strikes are legal. Teacher strikes are also legal in California, where Los Angeles teachers went on strike last month.
Steven Greenhouse writes in The American Prospect that in the wake of Janus, “the nation’s public-sector unions have increased in size and grown more militant.” At a panel at Georgetown, the leaders of the four largest American public-sector unions — SEIU, AFSCME, AFT, and NEA — discussed their focus on organizing and how they have grown their membership. Pointing to a range of successful worker organizing efforts over the past year, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry said, “I am more hopeful in 2019 than I have been [at any time] in my 35 years in the labor movement.”
University of Maryland college senior Olivia Delaplaine writes in The Diamondback that “learning about labor rights should be part of a college education.” Delaplaine argues that as part of the general education curriculum, college students should learn about the history of unions and about current labor law. She also suggests that students should learn practical skills in “workplace organizing [and] collective bargaining” so that they will be prepared to advocate for their rights when they enter the workforce.