News & Commentary

November 26, 2018

Rachel Sandalow-Ash

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

After participating in a protest with the Sunrise Movement, a climate activist organization, representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) released a proposal to establish a Select Committee on a Green New Deal.  Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal calls for the Congressional Committee to develop a plan that “transition[s] the United States economy to become carbon neutral and….promote[s] economic and environmental justice and equality.”  Ocasio-Cortez further specifies that the Green New Deal should “provide opportunities for high income work, entrepreneurship and cooperative and public ownership;” establish a “job guarantee program to assure a living wage job to every person who wants one;” and “deeply involve national and local labor unions to take a leadership role in the process of job training and worker deployment.”  Lauren Burke, a former union organizer who works on labor-led climate initiatives with the Labor Network for Sustainability, writes in that the Green New Deal should also include stronger protections for workers’ right to organize.


Following a settlement with its former employees and their families, Samsung has apologized to workers who contracted serious illnesses — and sometimes died — as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals in the company’s South Korea factories.  Samsung has agreed to pay 150 million won ($132,649.45) to each former and current employee who worked at the company for more than a year and who has suffered from work-related diseases.  Hwang Sang-gi, a co-founder of the workers’ health activist group Sharps, said, “No apology would be enough when considering… the pain of suffering from occupational diseases, the pain of losing loved ones.”  But he also stated that he views the apology as a promise to improve safety conditions in Samsung factories.  Sharps has identified 117 Samsung workers who have died from exposure to toxic chemicals, and hundreds more who have suffered from cancer and other serious health problems.

Rolling Stone reports on the rise in sex worker organizing and political mobilization in recent months and years.  Earlier this year, sex workers fought unsuccessfully to prevent the passage of SESTA-FOSTA, a law which — as previously reported by OnLabor — “makes it a crime to operate or manage a website that ‘promotes or facilitates prostitution.’”  Now, sex workers in New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. are working with supportive politicians to move towards the decriminalization of sex work at the state and local levels.  Community organizer Lola Balcon expressed cautious optimism about these efforts, saying, “you have coalitions rising of people who care about criminal justice and racial justice and immigration issues all working together.”

Following significant budget cuts several years ago, the Labor Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is now experiencing increases in enrollment and funding.  Two years ago, students, workers, and labor activists secured a three-year funding commitment from the University.  As part of this commitment, the University and labor unions are working together to provide full tuition waivers and paid internships to twelve masters’ students at the Labor Center.  The Center is also offering new courses for undergraduate and graduate students on interdisciplinary and intersectional topics such as “women and work” and “sports, labor and civil rights.”

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