Today’s News & Commentary — July 17, 2019
The UAW began negotiations for new collective bargaining agreements with Ford, Chrysler, and GM early this week. After granting significant concessions during the recession, workers now seek a higher share of the companies’ record profits. The UAW hopes to move workers currently classified as ‘temporary’ into regular positions with union wages and benefits; to guarantee comprehensive and affordable healthcare; to secure increased investment in US factories; to increase wages; and to protect jobs as the companies transition to building electric and autonomous vehicles. UAW president Gary Jones told the auto companies, “We invested in you, now it’s your turn to invest in us.” Observers expect the talks to be contentious, especially because GM plans to close five North American auto plants. Together, the UAW’s collective bargaining agreements with the three auto companies will cover around 158,000 workers.
Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA-40) and 24 original co-sponsors re-introduced the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety (CARE Act), which would improve labor standards for children who work on farms by aligning these standards with existing standards for children who work in other industries. For instance, the bill would raise the minimum age at which children can work on farms from 12 to 14; and it would prohibit minors from working on farms before 7am or after 7pm. The CARE Act would also prohibit minors from performing farm work that is especially dangerous, and it would increase penalties for noncomplying employers. Reid Maki, the director of Child Labor Advocacy with the National Consumers League, explained that under current law, “We don’t allow a 12-year-old to work in an air-conditioned office. Yet U.S. law allows that same 12-year-old to work 10-12 hours a day performing back-breaking work harvesting crops — even toxic ones like tobacco — in temperatures that are often in the 90s and even 100 degrees.” Around two-thirds of US minors who work in agriculture are Latino/a; and many of these children have immigrant parents or are immigrants themselves. Mónica Ramirez, president of Justice for Migrant Women, said, “Farmworker children pay the price for the inexpensive fruits and vegetables our nation consumes with their battered bodies, lost educational opportunities and broken dreams because they are forced to work just to make ends meet for their families.”
Six years ago, the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, fell apart, killing over 1,132 people and injuring another 2,500. Michelle Chen writes in the Nation about the successes — and failures — of worker organizing to improve workplace safety, promote collective bargaining rights, and improve labor standards in the wake of the collapse. In Bangladesh, “garment workers, labor rights groups, and local and international unions” developed a landmark workplace safety agreement, “the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.” The Accord codified a comprehensive set of safety codes and set procedures for ongoing monitoring of global supply chains. Over 200 multinational brands, such as H&M, Esprit, and American Eagle, signed on to the legally binding safety provisions in the Accord.
The Accord has successfully reduced major factory accidents and increased worker power and voice on the shop floor. As Bangladeshi labor activist Kalpona Akter explained, “[After] experiencing these hundreds and thousands of workers dying in the factory collapses . . . [the Accord is] a phenomenal change, and it should get recognition, and it should be continued.” However, though workers are rapidly forming unions, factory owners generally do not negotiate with these unions in good faith. Rather, factory owners and their supporters in government brutally suppress workers who are organizing for improved wages and working conditions. Indeed, in recent months, factory owners and the Bangladeshi government have fired or arrested almost 12,000 workers for participating in strikes, and the police have employed tear gas and rubber bullets to suppress the strikers.
Jeremy Gantz writes for In These Times about where the 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates stand on labor. Gantz discusses the candidates’ records; their stated policy and legislative positions; and their plans for how they will use the power of the Presidency to support workers and unions, even (potentially) without Congressional support. Gantz points out that “Public support for labor is at a 15-year high . . . [and] nearly half a million workers were part of a strike or lockout last year—the highest figure since 1986.” He asks, “Might we finally see Democrats place unions at the heart of their political agenda?”