News & Commentary

July 14, 2021

Jason Vazquez

Jason Vazquez is a staff attorney at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 2023. His writing on this blog reflects his personal views and should not be attributed to the IBT.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 50-47 to approve Julie Su as Deputy Labor Secretary, second-in-command at the DOL. Union leaders embraced the development, characterizing it as “good news for workers” given Su’s “impressive record standing up and winning for working people.” Indeed, Su, who formerly served as Labor Secretary for the state of California, has spent her entire legal career, both in private practice and as a regulator, advocating for working people — particularly immigrants. Su, and her zeal for workers’ rights, could bolster the Biden administration’s efforts to implement the pro-worker agenda on which the President campaigned.

In other congressional news, top Senate Democrats unveiled a $3.5 trillion budget agreement late Tuesday night that would allocate billions of federal dollars to social programs long sought by progressives. Democratic lawmakers intend to pass a budget resolution reflecting the agreement in the coming weeks, which would enable passage of the budget package by simple majority in the fall (thereby circumventing a Republican filibuster). Successfully adopting both bills would require adherence from the entire Democratic caucus, and it remains to be seen whether a small handful of centrist Democrats support the plan. Indeed, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) recently signaled a measure of skepticism with respect to the sweeping agreement, insisting that “we need to pay for it … all of it.”

In union news, a wave of organizing has been sweeping the journalism industry in recent years, as “[u]nion leaders at newspapers, digital outlets, and broadcast stations are seeing record levels of organizing that show little sign of stopping.” In addition, SEIU Local 73, which represents thousands of public workers in Illinois and Indiana, announced on Tuesday that, following ten months of negotiations, it has secured a tentative agreement with the largest county in Illinois, thereby ending its 18-day strike (one of the longest in Chicago history). The agreement includes raises, bonuses, hazard pay, and enhanced healthcare, which, the local president insisted, represent “real wins for workers.” Similarly, USW members ratified a four-year CBA with Allegheny Technologies last week which provides raises and bonuses and safeguards healthcare benefits. The agreement ends a strike involving more than 1,300 workers that commenced nearly two months ago.

In international news, the United States and Mexico disclosed a plan last Thursday aimed at ensuring that employees at a GM plant in Mexico are enabled to vote on a collective bargaining agreement in “free and democratic conditions.” Mexico’s Labor Ministry had identified “serious irregularities” with respect to a ratification vote conducted at the facility earlier this year. The plan represents an implementation of the sweeping labor reforms which the Mexican Congress enacted in 2019. U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, recognizing that “protecting workers’ rights at home” compels ensuring that “those rights will not be undermined by exploitative labor practices … around the world,” says the agreement “promises to result in meaningful gains for workers on both sides of our border.”

Finally, a Reuters analysis of several decades of wage data reveals that, in the retail sector, the pay disparity existing between organized and unorganized employees continues to climb. The report, published on Monday, finds that the weekly pay differential between union and nonunion workers more than doubled in the last decade, rising from $20 in 2013 to over $50 in 2019. These figures, the report concludes, “confirm[ ] what many other studies have shown: Unionized workers get paid more and have better benefits, and the dearth of unionization in the country is linked to skyrocketing income inequality.”

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