Today’s News & Commentary — March 4, 2019
Oakland teachers voted to ratify their union’s tentative agreement with the school district, thus ending their strike. As reported yesterday in OnLabor, the Oakland Education Association – Oakland Unified School District contract includes an 11% raise over three years, a one-time 3% bonus, reductions in class sizes in high needs schools, an increase in the number of support staff, and a five-month moratorium on school closures. The vote was fairly close; 58% of voting OEA members voted to ratify the contract, which will run through the 2020-2021 school year. A number of teachers and school staff have spoken to the press about their reasons for voting yes or no. For instance, Tim Marshall, a sixth grade teacher who voted in favor of the new contract, said, “It’s not everything that we hoped for . . . but it’s a good first step,” and that he hopes that the momentum from the strike will lead to further productive conversations with the school district. Grace Bigler, a high school English teacher who voted no, said that the deal did not do enough to guarantee funds for support staff and enrichment programs.
OnLabor’s own Sejal Singh, Vail Kohnert-Yount, and Ivy Yan write in the Harvard Crimson calling on Harvard to agree to strong protections against discrimination and harassment in its first contract with the Harvard Graduate Students Union (HGSU-UAW). Harvard graduate student workers voted to unionize in April 2018 and began negotiating with the university in October. In the union organizing drive and contract campaign, student workers at Harvard have consistently called for strong protections against discrimination and harassment. However, the university administration is trying to carve out discrimination and harassment from the contract grievance procedure. Sejal, Vail, and Ivy write, “Under no circumstances should student workers agree to a contract in which we cannot vindicate our rights not to be harassed or discriminated against at work.” HGSU will hold a rally calling for discrimination and harassment protections in our first contract on Wednesday, March 13th at 12pm.
Maryland state legislators have introduced a bill to allow state university employees to negotiate directly with the Board of Regents, the body that “sets wage and personnel policy for the system’s member institutions.” Currently, state university employees must negotiate with their respective university campuses, whose leaders often have little power to determine budget allocations, pay rates, or terms and conditions of employment. Sam Luebke, deputy director for AFSCME Council 3 — which represents state university workers at 9 of the 11 state university campuses — explained that the current collective bargaining system has led to stagnant wages. Indeed, over 70% of AFSCME Council 3 members earn less than the living wage for one adult and one child in Maryland’s Prince George’s County. The situation faced by Maryland state university workers mirrors that of many private sector workers who work for a franchisee or subcontractor and are unable to negotiate with the “lead company” that effectively controls their wages and working conditions.
Since this past January, striking Mexican workers at 70 maquiladoras in the northern border city of Matamoros have won significant wage increases and bonuses. In Labor Notes, Paolo Marinaro and Dan DiMaggio describe the trajectory of these workers’ and their unions’ efforts to secure fair wages. Specifically, in previous contract negotiations, the Union of Laborers and Industrial Workers of the Maquiladora Industry (SJOIIM) had secured provisions guaranteeing that if the Mexican government raised the minimum wage, maquiladora workers across the wage scale would receive a proportionate wage hike. However, when Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, announced a minimum wage increase, maquiladora employers refused to implement the proportionate raise. When negotiations broke down, workers went on strike. Mariano and DiMaggio write that unlike in the US, when a union officially declares a strike, “a workplace cannot be opened;” that is, companies cannot hire temporary replacements. Thus, Mexican workers are better positioned than their American counterparts to exert economic pressure on their employers.