News & Commentary

January 30, 2019

Democrats are pushing legislation to provide back pay to low-wage federal contractors who lost paychecks during the federal shutdown. Congress routinely approves funding to reimburse federal employees who go unpaid during the federal shutdown will be getting back pay. But the appropriations don’t include backpay for federal contractors, who include many of the most vulnerable, low-wage workers who keep the government running are left out. As many as 580,000 contractors may have been affected by shutdown, including federal contractors include low-wage food service workers and janitors in federal buildings, as well as higher-paid defense workers and computer software developers. Some contractors’ employers may have provided workers with pay uninterrupted during the shutdown, but others were left in the cold—like Kaneisha Onley, a security guard at the Smithsonian museum, whose car was repossessed just hours before President Trump announced an end to the shutdown. As of Tuesday, not a single Republican Senator had signed on to legislation to extend backpay to federal contractors.

Former Starbucks CEO and current billionaire Howard Schultz announced that he’s considering running for president as a third-party “centrist Independent” in 2020. In this announcement, Schultz said that he wants to run as a third-party because Democrats have shifted too far left and objected to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ (popular) plan to raise marginal tax rates to 70 percent on income earned over $10 million. At Slate, Terri Gerstein points to one major threat to Schutlz’ plans: his disturbing treatment of Starbucks workers. As Gerstein explains, while Schultz was CEO, Starbucks paid most workers poverty wages — baristsas average just $9.77 an hour. If Starbucks workers are underpaid, the company keeps their wage theft claims out of court using a forced arbitration agreement. When workers’ attempted to unionize to raise pay, Starbucks aggressively fought back, even firing some workers for union organizing. While the median Starbucks worker earned about $28,000, Schultz reportedly took in about $20 million.

Like the United States, Britain is experiencing record-low unemployment, with unemployment hovering around 4 percent. But the rosy unemployment figures may obscure a serious problem: from 2006 to 2018, Britain also saw a 42 percent increase in the number of people who are in “involuntary” part-time work, meaning that they are working part-time because they cannot get a full-time job. Underemployment is also higher than it should be in the United States, warns Rob Valetta, a researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, who estimates that about 1.4 million more Americans are stuck in part-time jobs they don’t want then the last time unemployment was this low.

Oakland teachers began voting on a strike authorization vote yesterday, following LA teachers’ strike win early this year and last year’s groundbreaking wave of teachers’ strikes from West Virginia to Oklahoma. According to Oakland teachers’ union, Oakland teachers are some of the lowest paid in the Bay Area, at a time when Oakland rents are rising rapidly. While the district offered five percent raises over three years, the union is seeking a 12 percent raise — and, like teachers who went on strike in LA this month, are also demanding more support for students, including smaller class sizes and more school counselors. Oakland teachers aren’t the only ones emboldened by the LA strike: teachers in Virginia and Colorado are also rallying for raises.

Public radio journalists at WBUR yesterday announced plans to unionize with SAG-AFTRA. More than 80 percent of the staff signed a union recognition petition, continuing the digital media unionization trend.

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