Today's News & Commentary — July 23, 2015

Published July 23rd, 2015 -  - 07.23.151


Chalk up another victory for the Fight for $15 movement. As reported by the New York Times, a New York state panel recommended on Wednesday that the minimum wage for fast-food workers be raised to $15 by 2018. The move affects the fast-food industry’s roughly 180,000 workers in the Empire State, although the changes will affect New York City before the rest of the state. Irene Tung, policy researcher for the National Employment Law Project, suggested that the raise “will likely put pressure on employers in other industries to raise wages in order to compete for workers.” Indeed, the Times interviewed several retail workers who contended that they “also work hard for [their] checks” and hoped to receive a similar wage bump.

Not to be outdone, the University of California made its own minimum wage announcement yesterday, declaring that it would elevate the wages of some of its workers to $15 as well. The Los Angeles Times notes that approximately 3,200 employees who work more than 20 hours a week, as well as several thousand subcontractors doung work for the university, will benefit from the raise. Although the plan calls for any additional revenue to be drawn from “parking fees, hospital revenues and bookstore sales” rather than tuition increases, critics of the move, such as Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, suggested that students would ultimately bear the costs of the raises. Nevertheless, U.C. President Janet Napolitano called the decision “the right thing to do for . . . workers and their families.”

While New York might be willing to go toe to toe with McDonald’s and Burger King, it appears less inclined to pick a fight with the dominant player of the gig economy: Uber. The New York Times reports that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has backed down from his earlier proposal to cap the number of for-hire vehicle licenses issued by the city, which his administration had argued was necessary to limit traffic congestion. Uber spared little expense in mounting a vigorous response to the city’s proposal, enlisting the support of celebrities such as Neil Patrick Harris and Kate Upton, and even going so far as to add a “de Blasio view” to its app that showed users the wait times that they would purportedly face should the proposal go into effect. Governor Andrew Cuomo — frequent de Blasio foil — also opted to enter the fray, publicly characterizing Uber as “one of the great inventions of this new economy” and proclaiming that “government should [not] be in the business of trying to restrict job growth.” The public relations campaign appears to have worked, as the city has agreed to shelve the proposal while it conducts a four-month long traffic study.

That $10 goat cheese you bought from Whole Foods? It may have been made on the backs of the incarcerated. Vice discusses the upscale grocery chain’s sale of products manufactured by prison laborers (click here for OnLabor‘s four-part series on prison labor). The article focuses on the practices of Colorado Corrections Industries, an arm of the state’s Department of Corrections, which contracts with businesses (including several that sell their wares to Whole Foods) to provide prison labor for pennies per hour. Advocate Alex Friedmann suggested that the implication “that prison labor provides job skills, offers inmates something useful to do, and allows them to learn valuable skills obscures the exploitation that is occurring” through such arrangements.

No matter what the Supreme Court ultimately decides in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Ass’n, at least one union says that it will be prepared. United Teachers Los Angeles Executive Director Jeff Good told LA School Report that “[t]here’s been a concentrated effort . . . to turn UTLA into an organizing union and an organizing culture.” Good’s comments echo similar sentiments expressed by AFT President Randi Weingarten, who had suggested earlier this month that unions “have to walk the walk” and maintain “an enduring relationship” with their members. For related discussion about how unions are shifting their strategy in anticipation of a potentially dramatic alteration of the union organizing landscape (courtesy of the Supreme Court), see Professor Sachs’s post on AFSCME’s efforts to sign up more full-fledged union members.

One potential area of growth for teachers unions might be in a place that few people would expect: charter schools. Rachel Cohen, writing in the American Prospect, takes a closer look at the nascent charter school unionization movement that is building steam across the nation. In an interview published by Salon over the weekend, Cohen suggested that charter school teachers are seeking to organize not only for the enhanced job stability that unionization would bring to their lives, but also “because they think that that’s how they’re going to best serve their kids.”

Turns out that Donald Trump can’t outshout everyone after all. The Wall Street Journal reports that a federal judge has ruled against the Republican presidential candidate’s beleaguered casino company in its efforts to silence union protests about ongoing labor issues at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. The company — which is currently operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection — contended that “the automatic stay of bankruptcy bars communications by [the union] to potential customers.” However, Judge Kevin Gross of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware ruled against the company, finding that “Congress intended to allow ‘the natural interplay of the competing economic forces of labor and capital’ to operate without the threat of injunctions from the federal courts.”

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