News & Commentary

June 11, 2015

The New York City Council has passed a bill regulating car washes in the area, the New York Daily News reports. The bill — which passed 43 to 7 — requires car wash operators not only to obtain licenses for the first time, but also to take out $150,000 bonds with which to compensate workers for labor violations. It is this latter provision that has car wash owners up in arms; notably, the required bond amount reduces to $30,000 for unionized car washes. “This is absolute extortion of small businesses,” one car wash owner said. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito stated that the bill was necessary “to prevent . . . [illegal labor] practices from happening in the first place,” and that it only came about after “a very long fight for fairness in the industry.”

Bloomberg BNA has coverage on the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision to vacate a district court injunction against Allegiant Air. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters had sought the injunction after Allegiant unilaterally changed pilot work rules during the course of negotiating a contract with the union. The court found that “a former employee organization that negotiated the pilots’ work rules was not their certified or recognized representative and that the rules were not a collective bargaining agreement under the meaning of the Railway Labor Act.” As a result, Judge Stephen Murphy wrote for the court, “when the Teamsters and Allegiant met to draft a collective bargaining agreement, there was no agreement in place.” Judges Richard Tallman and Johnnie Rawlison joined the opinion of Judge Murphy, who was sitting by designation from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

In line with what has proven to be a persistent trend, Politico reports that another former Obama staffer has joined the leadership of a corporation currently embroiled in a labor dispute. Robert Gibbs, former White House Press Secretary, will be joining McDonald’s as its head of communications. While McDonald’s labor issues are well documented, Gibbs is no stranger to thorny labor disputes either: he previously signed on to do P.R. work for groups bringing anti–teacher tenure lawsuits across the country.

Also from Politico, researchers at the Century Foundation have released a new report detailing the promise of digital labor organizing. In their report, Mark Zuckerman, Richard Kahlenberg, and Moshe Marvit suggest that “online organizing could help address [employer intimidation tactics], not only by making collective action less readily apparent . . . but also by employing technology that makes the online ‘footprints’ of snooping employers more visible.” The authors also contend that recent NLRB decisions have greatly facilitated the use of computer technology in union elections.

Commentators respond to the recent decision by writers at Gawker to unionize in a recent New York Times “Room for Debate” feature. F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, argues that rather than establishing “a traditional union that could be an impediment to the creativity needed in the new media workplace,” the writers should form “a professional guild that could support [creativity].” Meanwhile, Kendall Fells, organizing director of the Fight for $15 campaign, draws parallels from the Gawker unionization vote to ongoing efforts to organize fast food workers, adjunct professors, home care workers, and others.

Over at the Washington Post, Max Ehrenfreund and Lydia DePillis suggest that “the $15 minimum wage may become a kind of litmus test for Democratic candidates.” Noting that Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have “already embraced a $15 minimum wage,” Ehrenfreund and DePillis analyze Hillary Clinton’s recent call to a Detroit workers rally and assess where she might come out on the issue.

Finally, a bit of news from the world of poetry: Juan Felipe Herrera, the son of migrant workers, has been named the country’s new poet laureate. Herrera, whose work often touches upon themes of labor and hard work, is the first Latino to hold the position (after having previously served as, among other roles, poet laureate of California). Here are a few lines from his poem “Blood Gang Call,” as reprinted by the New York Times:

Calling all orange & lemon carriers,
come down the ladder to this hole
Calling all chile pepper sack humpers,
you, yes, you the ones with a crucifix
. . .
Calling all tomato pickers,
the old ones, wearing frayed radiator masks.

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