News & Commentary

June 18, 2019

Lolita DePalma

Lolita De Palma is a student at Harvard Law School.

Vail Kohnert-Yount

Vail Kohnert-Yount is a student at Harvard Law School.

Five of the undocumented immigrant workers who were fired from Trump golf clubs in New York and New Jersey are planning a press conference this morning outside the Amway Center in Orlando, where Donald Trump is expected to officially announce his reelection campaign. “These workers, many of whom were subjected to workplace abuse and wage theft, spoke out in order to shed light on the hypocrisy and cruelty of Trump and his attacks on immigrants,” said their lawyer, Anibal Romero. Although the Trump Organization has denied knowledge of the workers’ immigration status, some of the workers allege that not only did Trump management know but also that managers even helped them procure fake immigration papers, which could be a federal crime.

On Friday, Volkswagen production workers in Tennessee voted against unionizing. 833 of the roughly 1,600 workers who voted opposed UAW’s unionization effort. Volkswagen was more hostile to this unionization effort than it was during UAW’s previous effort in 2014. Mark Sexton, a Volkswagen worker, said, “It’s definitely different. There’s not any neutrality at all.” UAW pointed to federal labor laws as the central obstacle in the way of their unionizing efforts. “The Law does not serve workers, it caters to clever lawyers who are able to manipulate the NLRB process,” said UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg. The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board instead blamed UAW for the loss, citing the recent federal corruption charges filed against prominent UAW officials.

This Sunday, Congress set a record for the longest stretch of time it has gone without raising the federal minimum wage. The minimum wage has stagnated at $7.25 an hour for almost ten years. Today, this wage has 35% less buying power than when the minimum wage was $1.60 in 1969. In CNN Opinion, former Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu advocates for raising the minimum wage to combat economic inequity.

At the San Francisco International Airport, 1,500 food service workers, represented by Unite Here Local 2, voted to go on strike last week. Less than half of food service workers at the airport are covered by health care and the median wage is $18.66 an hour. One of the workers, Roberto Alvarez, said, “I prepare food and beverage for some of the world’s biggest airlines, but I have to go to a free clinic because my company insurance is so expensive that I can’t afford it.” Unite Here Local 2 is pushing for similar actions at many other airports across the country.

At American Airlines’ request, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction late Friday afternoon against the Transport Workers Union of America and the International Association of Machinists’ slowdown. American Airlines claims that the slowdown violates the Railway Labor Act’s requirement that both the union and the employee remain neutral during contract negotiations. According to the airline, the slowdown has forced it to cancel more than 722 flights.

Recently, Uber used its app to alert drivers in California that “changes to California law could threaten your access to flexible work with Uber” and ask them to sign a petition to the state legislature “to modernize the law.” Bloomberg‘s Josh Eidelson explained the ongoing political debate, beginning with the 2018 California Supreme Court ruling that workers conducting “work that is outside the usual course” of a firm’s business are employees—not independent contractors—entitled to protections under state wage law. Given California’s size and primacy for tech and labor, “whatever happens there will reshape the national debate over the legal rights and status of gig workers.”

Rolling Stone profiled the United Food and Commercial Workers as “America’s most powerful cannabis union.” By 2011, the UFCW had launched a national campaign to organize marijuana workers with the cooperation of many industry leaders, who found that partnering with a union lent political legitimacy to their rapidly growing interests. Even some business owners expressed enthusiasm for working with the UFCW. Dave Rosen, who owns what he said is Nevada’s only unionized dispensary, saw a union contract as a way to support the middle class. “I believe there are three new jobs, period: Uber, Lyft and weed. We already know that Uber and Lyft aren’t providing a living wage and health insurance,” he said. “The chasm between rich and poor only grows at historic levels, and it has tracked directly with the decline in unions.” But, the magazine noted, “as the UFCW’s influence grows, so does its list of critics, who say the union sometimes works against the goals of the larger cannabis movement,” by—for example—lobbying against a state bill that would allow licensed growers without retail permits to sell at fairs and farmers markets.

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