News & Commentary

May 6, 2016

Is consolidation coming to organized labor? As reported by the New York Times, two of the country’s largest unions — AFSCME and SEIU — are looking to coordinate their political campaigning, organizing, and bargaining efforts throughout the country. The plan could pave the way for a formal merger of the two organizations, as their leaders look to “unite the power of [AFSCME and SEIU] at every level to deal with the unprecedented attack on working people and growing inequality in this country.” Specifically, the arrangement would allow the unions to “settle on common messages and strategies rather than tugging in different directions” and “eliminate duplication of fixed costs” for things like “phone banks, direct mail, and advertisements.” Union leaders also hope that “the joint efforts would prevent politicians from playing one union against the other when raising money for their campaigns.” Nevertheless, some challenges remain: union members point to “cultural differences between the organizations” and potential reluctance on the parts of union locals. There is also the question of AFL-CIO affiliation: AFSCME is still a member of the labor federation, whereas SEIU has not been affiliated with the AFL-CIO since 2005.

SEIU has made headlines in recent months for its relatively successful Fight for $15 campaign. However, as Shannon Gleeson notes in U.S. News & World Report, “there is far too little discussion on how exactly [a rise in the minimum wage], which at least labor leaders agree is moving in the right direction, will be implemented on the ground.” She argues that wage theft continues to be “ubiquitous,” citing two recent studies — including one of her own — suggesting that wage theft may prevent a $15 minimum wage from “translat[ing] into actual benefits for the most vulnerable workers.” Gleeson goes on to explore various legal and legislative solutions for the problem, including “investing in worker advocacy and fully functional enforcement agencies.”

One area where a $15 minimum wage would certainly be welcome is in the casinos of Atlantic City. ABC News reports that workers in AC planned to picket the Tropicana and Trump Taj Mahal casinos today as their union begins “what will likely be its toughest contract negotiations in nearly four decades.” Wages have remained stagnant for casino workers — rising only 80 cents an hour in 12 years — as they have looked to secure health insurance benefits and retirement plans instead. However, workers at the Trump Taj Mahal — which, like the Tropicana, is owned by billionaire Carl Icahn — have seen those benefits erode in recent years. Although the union and management predictably spin different narratives regarding the casinos’ ability to pay for better wages and benefits, one thing is clear: casino workers are struggling. “You have to decide, ‘Do I pay for my benefits, or do I pay the electricity bill, or the heat?,’” said one longtime worker who serves beverages at the Tropicana buffet. “People all over the city have to make these kinds of decisions. We gave back a lot of things to keep out health insurance from going up too much, but now we’re afraid we’re going to lose it altogether.”

Paid parental leave is generally considered to be a good thing for employees. But if some workers tend to benefit disproportionately from the policy, should all workers bear the cost? Per the New York Daily News, the New York City Managerial Employees Association — which represents thousands of workers in the Big Apple — doesn’t think so, and has filed suit against the city for “discriminating against older workers, who lost vacation days and a raise to pay for the policy.” Although the MEA insists that it supports the policy, it wants the city to figure out a different way of implementing it than cancelling a planned .47% raise and cutting two vacation days for employees who have worked for 15 or more years. For its part, the city contended that its plan was “a common sense policy that will make for healthier and more financially stable working families.”

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