News & Commentary

May 6, 2015

The New York Times describes a decline in the prestige of police unions following the events in Ferguson, North Charleston, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Staten Island, stating that the political context has shifted and police unions have been forced to adapt. Despite what the Times calls a “hardline public stance,” more police unions have declined to fund the legal defense of officers accused of egregious misconduct. However, they have remained resistant to larger scale, structural changes. For example, the police union in Baltimore objected to Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s invitation to the Justice Department to overhaul the city’s police department. The Times also describes how the public and elected officials are less willing to contextualize incidents of police violence. According to a Quinnipiac University poll in January, 77 percent of New York City voters disapproved of New York police union chief Patrick Lynch’s statement that Mayor Bill de Blasio had blood on his hands after the shooting deaths of two police officers in December.

In Tucson, Arizona, the police union is requesting improved retirement medical coverage. According to the Arizona Daily Star, the Tucson Police Officers Association is demanding medical coverage comparable to what firefighters receive. Councilmember Steve Kazochik stated in response that the disparities exist because the unions negotiated differently and that the city could not afford the increase.

According to the Los Angeles Daily News, the Los Angeles City Council moved yesterday to create a new division to combat wage theft. At the hearing, restaurant worker David Lopez described how he was paid $440 for five days a week, working up to 17 hours a day, in clear violation of state and federal minimum wage and overtime laws. The City Council is also considering raising the minimum wage to $13.25 by 2017 and $15.25 by 2019.

The Albany Times Union describes the work of immigrant subcontractors digging trenches in suburban neighborhoods to install Verizon fiber-optic FiOS cables. Calling these men from Guatemala, El Salvador, Puerto Rico and Mexico the “new migrant workers,” the article describes how they move seasonally from Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas in the winter up the East Coast through the spring to install the cables. Verizon competes with Time Warner Cable to lay residential fiber-optic cables and provide alternative Internet offerings. The men work 12 hour days, six and a half days a week, earning $150 a day.

According to Fox6Now, lawmakers in Madison, Wisconsin debated yesterday the repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law. Prevailing wage laws set the minimum wage for contractors working on projects that involve government bids. Republican opponents state that the law artificially inflates wages while proponents argue that it protects workers.

The Bangor Daily News describes the decline of unions in Maine as the Pine Tree State debates a right-to-work law. Approximately 11 percent of Maine’s working population is unionized, just below the national average of 11.1 percent. Also matching the rest of the country, union ranks declined precipitously in the manufacturing sector as it has exited the state while public sector unions remain strong, representing 35.7 percent of state and municipal workers.

In international news, residents of Alberta, Canada voted out the Progressive Conservative Party after 43 years in favor of the New Democratic Party, which was partly founded by labor unions. The New Democrats rose from four seats to 53, while the Conservatives dropped to 11 seats. Alberta’s economy is dominated by the oil industry and its oil sands have traditionally been lightly regulated. The New York Times raises the question of how New Democrats will toe the line between environmentalism and retaining union support.

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