Today’s News & Commentary — January 23, 2019


Published January 23rd, 2019 - 01.23.1913


Bloomberg reports that NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb wants to ban workers from displaying Scabby the Rat at strikes and picket lines.  Scabby is an inflatable balloon created by labor organizers from the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers in 1990.  It has since been universally adopted by labor as a means of signaling the presence of an ongoing labor dispute to the public.  In 2011, the NLRB ruled that the deployment of Scabby (and friends) at the worksite of a secondary employer did not constitute unlawful picketing, was not coercive, and was in fact a form of symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment.  Later, both a Brooklyn district court and a dissenting Judge Posner for the Seventh Circuit agreed that Scabby was protected by the First Amendment.  But now, Robb is allegedly seeking to overturn Board precedent under the theory that displaying Scabby constitutes “coercive picketing” and is thus unlawful under Section 8(b)(4)(ii)(B) of the NLRA.  Alternatively, Robb may argue that Scabby is not entitled to protection under the First Amendment because it is a form of “labor and/or commercial speech.”  Still, it’s not all bad news for Scabby.  Despite all his rage, he is apparently benefitting from the attention.

After six days of striking, Los Angeles teachers overwhelmingly approved a new contract with the Los Angeles Unified School District.  Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the agreement yesterday after 21 hours of bargaining between the district and United Teachers Los Angeles.  Under the new contract, Los Angeles teachers will see an immediate 6 percent pay raise and commitments from the district to gradually reduce class sizes and hire hundreds of additional nurses, counselors, and librarians over the next several years.  The school board also agreed to consider a resolution capping the number of charter schools in the city.  Both Union President Alex Caputo and School District Superintendent Austin Beutner praised the “historic agreement,” though Beutner expressed concern over its funding.  The strike received considerable attention from Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker, even if some of them hold unclear positions on “school choice.”

Meanwhile, teachers in Denver voted to go on strike for the first time in 25 years.  Over 5,000 educators represented by the Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association will strike as early as next Monday.  The teachers are seeking an increase in their base pay in lieu of incentive bonuses for student performance on standardized test scores and retention bonuses for teachers in low income schools.  Union leaders and district officials will reportedly meet with Colorado Governor Jared Polis today in an effort to avert the strike.

Over at The Atlantic, Alia Wong writes that Los Angeles, Denver, and other strikes brewing in Chicago and Richmond, VA are part of an “unprecedented wave of teacher activism.”  Nearly 400,000 teachers engaged in at least eight strikes in 2018, including four state-wide walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona.  The strikes have been successful not only in winning better wages and working conditions for teachers, but also in improving school conditions for all students and restoring public education funding in red states that slashed their budgets during the 2008 recession.  For that reason, they may be “some of the most significant advocacy groups striving for socioeconomic equality in America today.”

The International Labor Organization’s “Global Commission on the Future of Work” released a report calling on governments to adopt a “human-centered agenda” to address the challenges of automation and robotization in the workplace.  After 18 months of deliberation, the Commission proposed ten policy recommendations, including guaranteed lifelong social protections, a universal entitlement to job skills training, and an international governance system for digital labor platforms.  It reportedly considered, but declined to endorse, a universal basic income system.  The Commission is co-chaired by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.

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