News & Commentary

March 3, 2021

Marina Multhaup

Marina Multhaup is an Associate at Barnard, Iglitzin & Lavitt—a law firm in Seattle, Washington, that represents unions, and a former student member of the Labor and Employment Lab at Harvard Law School.

Yesterday, Senator Sanders said that he would move to force a vote on a $15 federal minimum wage after advising Democrats to “ignore” the recent Senate parliamentarian decision. As Nikita noted last week, the Senate parliamentarian had previously declared that the minimum wage amendment couldn’t be passed through the budget reconciliation process attached to the Covid stimulus bill. As Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders said he will force a vote on a $15 minimum wage amendment and then will “see how the votes go.” Senator Elizabeth Warren indicated that she agreed with Sanders’ decision, but emphasized filibuster reform as the long-term solution.

In other federal news the Biden administration announced late last night that they had accepted OMB nominee Neera Tanden’s withdrawal from consideration for the position. Tanden’s nomination was controversial from the beginning, especially from the progressive wing of the party, and she faced tough hurdles in the senate confirmation process. After receiving opposition from key Democratic senators, and failing to secure Republican support, there appeared to no longer be a path to confirmation for Tanden.  The director of the Office of Budget Management is a top economic post, responsible for creating the budget for the President’s agenda. The director can have a powerful impact on policymaking and reports directly to the President. Biden hasn’t yet announced a new nominee, but did say he would find Tanden a position in the administration that didn’t require Senate confirmation.

Yesterday the Democratic Socialists of America launched a new campaign for labor rights and a livable planet. The campaign’s first action is to go “all in on a national push to pass the PRO Act,” on the theory that passing the PRO Act would grow the collective capacity needed to win a “just transition” to a green economy.  The DSA explained that it views passing the PRO-Act as crucial to winning a Green New Deal and solving our intertwined climate and economic crises. The campaign’s slogan, “Workers & The World Unite!” harkens to the IWW’s infamous slogan while explicitly tying matters of environment and labor together.

The Communication Workers of America announced yesterday that workers at Glitch had signed a collective bargaining agreement with management, which the CWA said was the first agreement signed by white collar tech workers in the United States. Though there has been a rush of unionizing activity within the tech industry, Glitch workers are the first to not just form a union but also reach an agreement with management and sign a contract. The contract lasts for eleven months and does not include wage increases, which the union said was not its priority. Instead, the agreement includes just cause protections for all Glitch employees, recall rights for workers that were laid off earlier in the pandemic, and other worker protections.    

Finally, the Montana House of Representatives voted down a right-to-work bill yesterday with the help of a strong showing from labor. The bill, HB 251, like other so-called “right-to-work” legislation, would have barred private-sector unions from requiring non-members covered by CBAs to pay dues (essentially extending Janus to the private sector), and would have forbade making union membership a condition of employment. Unions “turned out in force” to oppose the bill, filling the Montana State Capitol with hundreds of workers for the vote. 29 Republicans joined all 33 Democrats in opposing the bill, which lost 62-38. HB 251 was the third anti-union bill that the Montana legislature voted down this week alone, after defeating SB 89, which would have prohibited public employers from deducting union dues from paychecks, and SB 228, which would have made it easier for public employees to opt out of a union.  CJ Schultz, president of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 30, said that he was proud of the way his members organized to defeat these bill but that labor needs “to start being on the offense and not the defense.”

Though Montana is perhaps known as a red state, it has a long and rich history of labor organizing and union advocacy. During debate on HB 251 on the Montana House floor, Representative Derek Harvey of Butte invoked Frank Little and the Butte strikes of 1917, a little-known but fascinating radical part of Montana’s history and labor’s history in general. Frank Little was an outspoken Wobblie who crisscrossed the country in the early 20th century, agitating against capitalism and World War I and organizing workers. He arrived in Butte, Montana in 1917 and helped organize a copper miners’ union strike against the incredibly powerful and monopolistic Anaconda Mining Company. Little was murdered under mysterious conditions less than a month later. The mining strikes in Butte “electrified” the country, was a “defining moment” in American labor history, and continued to be a site of militant labor organizing over the next hundred years.  It’s striking that the representative of Butte, Montana invoked this history in his remarks against a modern right-to-work bill, over a hundred years later.

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