Today's News & Commentary — February 17, 2015

Published February 17th, 2015 -  - 02.17.156


In continued coverage of the West Coast seaport labor dispute, Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is meeting with negotiators on both sides of the dispute today in San Francisco, The Washington Post reports. Negotiations between dockworkers and their employers have been in stalemate for weeks. This weekend, employers locked out workers that would typically load and unload ships on the docks, claiming that they “refuse to pay workers premium weekend pay when they believe the workers are intentionally slowing down their work productivity as a negotiation tactic.” This move was really an expansion of a partial lock out already put in place by employers effecting night crews. The effective shut down of west coast ports this weekend has already disrupted “billions of dollars of U.S. international trade.” The union denies any intentional slowdown, arguing problems elsewhere in the supply chain have led to the productivity disruption. The last contract expired in July, and while tentative agreements on many key issues have been staked out, the dispute arbitration process and wages remain contested issues.

Graduate Student Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to reopen its 2004 ruling in Brown University, The Columbia Daily Spectator reports. In Brown University, the then Republican-appointed NLRB majority ruled that graduate students in private universities are not to be considered employees within the scope of the NLRA. This ruling overturn the NLRB’s previous judgment in a NYU and UAW case, that ruled that graduate teaching assistants were employees eligible for collective bargaining protections. Since then NYU has come to an agreement with the union and student workers to voluntarily recognize the union if a majority of students voted for it, an election that resulted in a startling 620 to 10 vote for unionization. The Columbia group of graduate students that have been working to gain the right to unionize (and the protections and benefits that may follow unionization) for more than a year. In December, a card drive demonstrated that a majority of the relevant would-be bargaining group support union representation. In addition to the informal support cards, the group hopes to hold an NLRB certified election by 2016. While they wait for movement from the NLRB, student organizers say they are focuses on maintaining energy and momentum among supporters. “It’s kind of like a waiting game, it can be a lull. Keeping momentum going is the main thing,” said Alex Radtke, a second-year chemistry student at GSAS.

Increased wages and strengthened unions are the way to eradicate poverty in the UK, which is at a 30 year high, according to Joanna Mack in her piece for The Guardian. Mack argues that currently both of the country’s major parties plan for further cuts in welfare and spending, a strategy that Mack argues is responsible for the current poverty levels and certainly won’t correct current disparities. “No advanced economy achieves a low poverty rate with low levels of social spending. We need measures to boost the share of national income going to wages and to narrow the yawning pay gap between top and bottom.” Joanna Mack and Stewart Lansley, authors of Breadline Britain: The Return of Mass Poverty.

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