News & Commentary

March 16, 2016

As graduate students, adjunct faculty members, and other university community members increasingly seek to unionize, the experiences of University of California employees may give pause to those who are currently organizing at public colleges and universities. The Daily Californian notes that the state’s Public Employment Relations Board is currently experiencing a significant backlog that has prevented the agency from processing UC workers’ labor disputes in a timely fashion. Although PERB aims to process cases within 60 days of filing, it takes an average of at least 137 days to process even routine cases. “Underfunding has been a crucial problem (for PERB),” said the legal director of the union that represents lecturers and librarians. “When you have cutbacks in staff, it causes delays all down the line, because it takes longer for cases to be processed. They have more on their plate.” In fact, PERB has even kept one its five seats vacant, so as to use the funds that would have paid for that board member’s salary to pay for other costs. However, relief may be on the horizon: Governor Jerry Brown has proposed increasing PERB’s budget by $1 million for the 2016– 17 fiscal year.

Domestic workers are commonplace in Hong Kong — “one of the world’s richest cities” — but that doesn’t mean that they are treated fairly. In fact, according to a recent report by the human rights organization Justice Centre, “as many as 56,000 [of the roughly 336,000 migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong] may be in forced labor.” CNNMoney, which detailed some of the report’s findings, interviewed one worker who said “she was kicked, punched, fed rotten food and forced to work 20 hours a day for nearly a year.” The report notes that “[m]igrant domestic workers are uniquely vulnerable to forced labor, because the nature of their occupation can blur work-life boundaries and isolate them behind closed doors.” In a statement, the Hong Kong Security Bureau claimed that “local legislation provides a solid and proven framework to combat human trafficking.” But many migrant domestic workers “come [to Hong Kong] via agencies direct from their home countries — Indonesia, the Philippines and other Asian countries — and don’t meet their employer before signing a contract requiring them to live and work in their homes.” To make matters worse, “[b]y law, they’re only entitled to one day off a week.”

In case you missed it, Paul Krugman of the New York Times posted a short note challenging “the supposedly necessary relationship between globalization and the decline of organized labor.” The evidence? A graph showing that whereas union density in the U.S. has declined precipitously since 1970, union density in Canada has remained more or less steady.

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