News & Commentary

May 17, 2019

Rachel Sandalow-Ash

Rachel Sandalow-Ash is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

Both houses of Mexico’s legislature passed a domestic workers’ rights bill, which President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is expected to sign into law.  The bill extends Mexico’s minimum wages and benefits — including social security, healthcare, and maternity leave — to the country’s domestic workers.  The bill also bans children younger than 15 from engaging in domestic work; allows older teenagers to work no more than six hours per day; and requires employers to provide live-in housekeepers with nine consecutive hours of rest each day.  Domestic workers and their supporters are excited about this legislation, which will benefit over two million cleaners, cooks, babysitters, gardeners, caretakers and others.  However, some advocates are concerned about how well the legislation will be enforced.  “Many people will likely continue to hire domestic workers without registering or complying with the laws, ” said Maite Azuela, a human rights activist in Mexico City. Marcelina Bautista, a domestic worker who founded Mexico’s first domestic workers’ union, said, “We can only hope [the legislation] will improve the lives of so many women not only on paper but in reality.”


In higher education labor news, non-tenure-track faculty at Mercy College in New York and Occidental College in California have voted to unionize with SEIU.  At the University of Chicago,  Graduate Students United (affiliated with the AFT and the AAUP), announced that it is holding a strike authorization vote to pressure the university to recognize and bargain with the union.  Graduate student workers at UChicago voted to unionize in an NLRB election nearly 19 months ago, but the university refused to recognize the union.  In response, the union withdrew its representation petition so as not to give the NLRB an opportunity to overturn the NLRB’s 2016 Columbia decision.  Meanwhile, at Bowdoin College, housekeepers and other hourly workers are fighting for a living wage, with the support of many students at the college.  Tracy, a Bowdoin housekeeper, explained, “The food bank is someplace we were told to go if we can’t afford to feed our families…At our mandatory meetings…we’re told how many millions Bowdoin has, but we’re told there isn’t any money for a living wage.  [It’s] like a slap in the face.  I’m tired of fighting just to be treated fair.”  Bowdoin’s endowment is nearly $2 billion.


The Philadelphia City Council approved a bill that would bar employers from firing or laying off workers in the parking industry without just cause.  If Mayor Jim Kenney signs the bill, it will be enacted into law. SEIU 32BJ advocated for the bill and is advocating for a similar just-cause bill for fast food workers in New York.  While the Philadelphia law will apply to only around 1,000 workers, both supporters and opponents understand that this legislation could be the first step to expanding just-cause protections to other workers in the city.  Marjorie McMahon Obod, an employer-side labor lawyer, noted, “Right now, it’s the parking industry…Next time it could be hospitals…It could be all industries that service Philadelphia.”  Montana is currently the only state with just cause employment; in all other states, non-unionized workers can be fired at will.  Almost all union contracts include just cause protections.


Splinter reports that the AFL-CIO dedicated less than 10% of its 2018-2019 budget to organizing, down from around 30% a decade ago.  The AFL-CIO’s investments in organizing in the first decade of the 2000s seemingly paid off, as 2008 saw the largest annual union membership gain “in a quarter of a century — more than 420,000 new members.”  The AFL-CIO currently dedicates the largest portion of its budget to funding political activities.

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