Today’s News & Commentary — July 1, 2019
The New York Times spotlighted a conflict within the labor movement over how unions should secure greater rights for Uber and Lyft drivers. S.E.I.U. has been meeting with Uber and Lyft to discuss the companies’ proposal to maintain the drivers’ status as independent contractors but allow the union to represent the drivers’ interests on certain issues. Other union leaders are speaking out against these negotiations on the basis that they undermine California’s legislative efforts to recognize Uber and Lyft drivers as employees. “We won a court case that gave workers rights. To cut some kind of deal that takes away rights, that is not what labor unions are about,” said Cesar Diaz, legislative director of the State Building and Construction Trades Council.
At 3.6%, unemployment across America is at a 50-year low. In Indiana, claims for unemployment benefits dropped 20% between April and May of this year. In Chester County, Pennsylvania, the unemployment rate is so low that companies are complaining of a labor shortage. Despite the low unemployment rate, wages continue to stagnate at levels that are insufficient for workers to raise themselves out of poverty. Timothy Smeeding, the UW Madison professor who co-wrote Wisconsin’s poverty report said, “People are working more, parents in particular are working more, and their market income poverty has started to improve, but work alone is never going to be enough for a single parent with a couple of kids.” In fact, income inequality has led to a significant decline in health outcomes for the working class over the past 25 years. To combat these inequalities, Smeeding recommended raising the minimum wage. Labor activists have had some recent successes in raising minimum wages throughout the country. Houston’s Independent School District raised its minimum wage to $14 an hour Thursday night in response to the efforts of teachers, staff, and community members. Today, Oregon’s minimum wage rises to $12.50 in the Portland metro area, $11 in rural counties, and $11.25 everywhere else. This new minimum wage, among the highest in the nation, is expected to benefit about a quarter million workers.
In the year since the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, public-sector unions are performing better than expected. In Illinois, the loss of agency fees has only caused a small drop in public union total revenues. “We’ve weathered it very well actually, and much better than anybody – and probably including me – actually anticipated that we would,” said Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Council 31. On Thursday, the one-year anniversary of the Janus decision, the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill, 38-1, to expand the rights of public-sector unions. The bill allows unions to charge nonmembers for representation in grievances, guarantees access to employees’ contact information, and protects the right of unions to meet with employees at their workplace. Senator Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville, said, “Today we protect the right of unions to be able to make the case for membership to new hires, and to be compensated for the representation they offer.”
Martha’s Vineyard bus drivers went on strike on Friday morning. The strike is aimed at securing higher wages and family health insurance from the drivers’ employer Transit Connection, Inc. Bus driver Jason Chalifoux said, “It’s going to last as long as it takes. It’s up to them. We will be out here until we have our contract.” Bus transport is crucial on the island. Buses transport visitors around the Vineyard to the ferry and the beach, as well as shops and restaurants in all of the island’s towns. The strike will likely continue through the July 4th weekend.
Flight attendants at Taiwan’s Eva Airways Corp. are also on strike. Negotiations between the airline and the employees fell apart on Saturday night and will resume on Tuesday. Eva Air cancelled 16 flights on Thursday and 79 flights on Friday. The airline claims that the strike is costing it a million dollars every day that it continues.