Today’s News & Commentary — February 18, 2019
Since late January, tens of thousands of unionized and non-unionized workers in Matamoros, Mexico — a city which borders Brownsville, Texas — have gone out on strike. Workers at maquiladoras (tax-advantaged factories), delivery drivers and others are calling for a 20% wage hike and a one-off 32,000-peso ($1662.96) bonus. Drivers are also calling for “paid overtime when trucks break down, life insurance,” and extra pay for dangerous routes. Many striking workers are also complaining about certain unions that are too cozy with management and do not properly represent workers. Labor lawyer Susana Prieto Terrazas, who is advising the striking workers, said that right now “workers can’t make ends meet and they don’t even make enough to buy a basic basket of goods.” The Matamoros Industrial Workers and Labourers’ Union reached a settlement with 48 maquiladoras, but workers at many other companies remain on strike. Juan Luis Gaytán, a striking mechanic at a Coca-Cola contractor said, “We’re not fighting for ourselves, but for a better quality of life for our kids and their children.” While Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has not commented on the Matamoros strikes, he has promised to double the minimum wage in the northern border region.
Oakland teachers, represented by the Oakland Education Association (OEA), will go on strike this Thursday for higher wages and more investment in the city’s public schools. Keith Brown, president of the OEA, noted that Oakland teachers can’t afford to live in the city. According to a fact-finding report produced jointly by the union and the school district, “high housing costs have led to more than 18 percent of teachers leaving each year.” In recent months and years, the school board has responded to budget deficits by enacting cuts; last month it voted to close one school, and it planned to eliminate half of the city’s high school sports programs. (The spots programs were saved by private donations.) As previously reported by OnLabor, 95% of Oakland teachers voted in favor of the strike. California governor Gavin Newsom has proposed a significant increase in state education funding, but it is unclear how much Oakland would receive in additional funds under the governor’s plan.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has appealed a 2018 NLRB decision (Preferred Building Services and Ortiz Janitorial Services, Joint Employers and SEIU Local 87) holding that subcontracted janitors in San Francisco violated the Taft-Hartley Act when they picketed in front of the company that hired the subcontracted firm. SEIU explained that it is challenging the NLRB’s decision — at least in part — on free speech grounds. In a statement, the union said that “by construing the NLRA to prohibit non-coercive picketing, leafleting, and speech simply because the workers asked the managers and tenants of the building where they worked to help them improve the unjust working conditions in that building, the Board engaged in content-based discrimination . . . that cannot survive modern First Amendment scrutiny.” SEIU appealed the Board’s decision to the 9th Circuit; it is now known as SEIU v. NLRB, 9th Cir., No. 19-70334.
Thousands of New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) members participated in informational pickets outside three hospital systems in New York City (Montefiore, Mount Sinai, and New York Presbyterian) this past Wednesday. The nurses are protesting understaffing and unsafe conditions for patients in these hospitals. NYSNA president Judy Sheridan Gonzalez explained that under current nurse-patient staffing ratios, “We don’t have the time, not only to take care of [patients] properly, but to do things like comfort a patient who is dying, or deal with the family with a family member with a terrible illness.” If the nurses don’t achieve safe staffing ratios in their contract negotiations, they are preparing to potentially go on strike in March.