News & Commentary

July 28, 2020

Jon Levitan

Jon Levitan is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

In moments of national crisis, workers and management in critical industries tend to form fragile truces. Most famously, the AFL and CIO both pledged not to strike during World War Two in order to support the war effort. Now, while workers are striking more and in more prominent fashion, there have been fewer strikes in the critically important healthcare industry. But that fragile truce between healthcare workers and their employers is showing some cracks: more than 700 workers at a hospital in Northern California hospital recently concluded a five day strike. The workers, represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), authorized a strike in February after working without a contract for over a year due to a contentious bargaining campaign. Management used an old playbook, painting the striking workers as unconcerned with the community they serve: “we are deeply disappointed that NUHW has decided to hold a five-day strike given that the number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise in Sonoma County and the potential for a significant increase in hospitalizations remains.” The workers said they have “been here for this community over and over again,” and refuse to be forced into a worse contract by management.  

In other news from the Golden State, there are now over 45,000 more workers represented by a union than there were yesterday. In a massive landslide victory, more than 97% percent of voting child care providers in California voted to certify Child Care Providers United, a joint venture between the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), as their exclusive representative to bargain with the state. The campaign to organize the child care workers, who are overwhelmingly women, and more than half are latina, has been ongoing for 17 years. It was made legally possible when Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law last year that allowed the providers to unionize, making California the 12th state to do so. Newsom congratulated the workers on the victory, calling them “front line sheroes.”

Major League Baseball has only been back for a weekend and is already dealing with a major COVID-19 outbreak amongst one of its teams. One player who opted out of the season, David Price, said he did so partly because “players (sic) health wasn’t being put first. I can see that hasn’t changed.” Commissioner Rob Manfred, who graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Labor Relations, claimed that players’ health was his top priority. But curiously, in the same statement, Manfred said that the only thing that would actually jeopardize the season would be “[a] team losing a number of players, making it completely noncompetitive.”

If baseball, naturally socially distant with relatively small rosters, is proving untenable in a pandemic, football is a whole different story. The sport is already dangerous enough, writes Mik Awake for the New Yorker, but the league’s callous and longstanding disregard for Black lives threatens to turn the NFL’s return during a pandemic and national outrage at systemic racism into a disaster. Awake draws a clear link between the NFL shrouding the effects of CTE on its (mostly Black) players, the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick, and its willingness to rush back to play and risk exposing its players to a deadly virus. Awake writes, “[b]y obscuring its plans to combat a disease spreading rapidly within its ranks, the N.F.L. is forging headlong into an already catastrophic public-health disaster. But that should surprise no one, because it’s what the league has been doing for years.”

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