News & Commentary

October 14, 2019

While GM workers enter week five of their strike, workers in other companies are also using collective action to achieve their labor goals. Mack Truck workers at six locations in three states launched a strike this past weekend. The strike includes 3,500 UAW members in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Florida. Mack Trucks, owned by Volvo, is one of the largest manufacturers of heavy-duty Class 8 trucks, engines and transmissions. Workers are demanding fair pay, an increase in benefits, and stronger job protection.

Additionally, 2,000 ASARCO hourly employees began their strike between Sunday night and Monday morning. ASARCO is a mining, smelting and refining company. Workers at five sites in Arizona and Texas authorized the strike, contesting unfair labor practices and stagnant wages for the past ten years. United Steel Workers, one of the nine labor unions representing ASARCO employees, announced on Friday that the strike would begin if management failed to terminate the extension agreement under which they have worked since December 2018. ASARCO’s four-year contract proposal neglected wage increases for nearly two-thirds of workers, froze the existing pension plan, and more than doubled the out-of-pocket health care expenses individual workers pay.

This strike occurs just days after the Supreme Court of the United States denied to review ASARCO’s request for a rehearing on a case involving unpaid bonuses. In June 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the federal district court’s interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement, whereby employees who were not part of the company’s pension plan still had a right to collect bonuses, was correct. The Supreme Court’s denial for review upholds the Ninth Circuit decision. ASARCO has exhausted the opportunity for appeal and must now pay $10 million in past bonuses to approxiamately 750 employees.

In an opinion piece for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Joel Naroff breaks down how to understand employment trends in light of the current labor market. The unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% in September, the lowest it has been in over 50 years, and there are more job vacancies than unemployed workers. These labor market conditions should drive wages up because the labor demand exceeds the supply. Nonetheless, increases in income and hourly wages have been slowing over the past 18 months. In Naroff’s view, these contradictions suggest that today’s low unemployment rate is not a suitable metric for the economy’s health. Rather, job gains and wage data are more revealing. If they continue to fall, he warns, we will know that the economy is in trouble.


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