Today’s News & Commentary — May 21, 2018
The Editorial Board of the New York Daily News yesterday drew attention to what has been a repeated “pilgrimage” in a stymied search for equal rights and fair treatment: the yearly trip of “some of New York State’s 100,000 field hands to the Capitol” to ask for rights to overtime pay, an unpaid weekly day off, and collective bargaining. Farmworkers across the state (“dairy workers from Western New York, apple pickers from Central New York and onion harvesters from the Hudson Valley”) are “[d]iscriminated against by state law” because they are singled out as exempt from rights available to almost all other workers. (The Employment Relations Act, a relic of segregationist policies, exempts nannies and farmworkers from collective bargaining.) According to the Daily News, the state Assembly yearly supports the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, a corrective to this discrimination, but “the Senate GOP leadership, in thrall to the Farm Bureau Growers lobby,” stops the bill from reaching the Senate floor. The bureau has also succeeded so far in fighting fired dairy worker Crispin Hernandez’s challenge to the law in a discrimination suit filed with support of the NYCLU; Gov. Cuomo declined to defend the law, but the bureau stepped in. New York State produced over 2.7 billion dollars in milk last year.
Tomorrow the Las Vegas members of UNITE HERE’s Culinary and Bartenders Unions will vote to authorize a citywide strike that could begin any time after contracts expire on June 1. The unions – representing 50,000 bartenders, food and cocktail servers, cooks and other kitchen workers, as well as bellmen, porters, and housekeepers – could cripple the hospitality industry with a work stoppage that would affect 34 casino resorts. According to statements from representatives, the unions seek higher pay (a “fair share” from the “windfalls” of Trump tax cuts), new rules for workplace safety, sexual harassment, and immigration enforcement, and stronger protections from threats to job security that include robotics and subcontracting. The Culinary Union’s last citywide strike lasted 67 days in 1984, when 15,000 members lost an estimated 75 million dollars in wages and benefits. UNLV Professors Ruben Garcia (Law) and Bill Werner (Hospitality) both anticipate the rank-and-file will approve the strike option, but that the unions will not decide to strike. The vote demonstrates “solidarity,” but “June 1 is not necessarily a hard deadline,” Garcia commented to the Las Vegas Sun.
In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy has signed a pro-union bill that anticipates – and shields against – a Janus blow to public sector labor rights. The Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act facilitates organizing by protecting rights to communication: the Act grants representatives of public sector unions access to work email systems in order to recruit and communicate with members; authorizes on-site, break-time meetings and meetings with new employees; extends union membership to most part-time public employees; and, imposes financial penalties on employers who interfere with decisions to join or form a union. The Act also specifies that employee data are not government records subject to public disclosure. Opponents have argued that the new law overly extends already existing protections or imposes burdens that should only be the result of a collective bargaining agreement; some have predicted that First Amendment issues may arise from granting union access to employee data. Gov. Murphy, a former financier who ran last fall on a pro-worker platform, in April signed an Equal Pay Act and has supported a 15 dollar minimum wage. He also raised judicial salaries on Friday, hoping to “attract quality legal talent to the state bench.”
As teachers’ unions continue to command attention nationwide, in California the gubernatorial race is a key site in “the battle for the future of California’s schools,” the Associated Press reports. Charter school advocates are rapidly outspending the unions. The unions have spent 4 million dollars in support of candidates Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom for governor and Assemblyman Tony Thurmond for state schools chief. Pro-charter donors have given more than 22 million dollars to the campaigns of former L.A. mayor Antonia Villaraigosa for governor and Marshall Tuck, former schools executive, for state schools chief. The heftiest Villaraigosa-Tuck donors include billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Netflix founder Reed Hastings, and venture capitalist Arthur Rock. Villaraigosa, once a union organizer, has developed an increasingly acrimonious relationship with teachers unions. He is unlikely to beat Newsom in the June 5 primary, but needs second place to advance to the general election. As New York Magazine observes, a Villaraigosa v. Newsom race will reveal “how far some of the deepest pockets in the country are willing to dig” in the battle against teachers’ unions.
While Janus v. AFSCME’s decision worries many union advocates, Lily Eskelsen García, president of National Education Association, remains optimistic for the future of the labor movement. García told the Guardian that she has “never been more confident.” García, the daughter of a Panamanian immigrant and the first Latina president of the 3-million-strong NEA, has seen that historically marginalized workers – notably, women, immigrants, and people of color – are increasingly empowered and will not fade or be cowed by right-wing, anti-union activists. The public sector education unions are “the strongest unions today” and “these are unions that by and large are made up of women with women leaders,” García asserted.
Oregon’s Corvallis-Gazette Times reports that Oregon State University faculty members may soon be ready to form a faculty union. Organizers have been meeting since February, and Associate Professor of History Marisa Chappell has counted over 1,000 signatures authorizing United Academics of Oregon State University to negotiate on behalf of the 2,500 faculty members. Certification with the Oregon Employment Relations Board requires a simple majority. In recent years, faculty unions across the country have been proliferating, particularly those that represent non-tenure track or part-time members.