Today’s News & Commentary – October 15th, 2019
Yesterday, members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) rallied and marched in downtown Chicago. Taking advantage of yesterday’s school holiday, the marchers hoped to rally public support for the nearly 35,000 teachers, Chicago Public Schools support staff, and Chicago Park District employees who may go on strike on Thursday. Negotiations between the unions and the city are continuing today, but as of last night, the sides have yet to agree on contract terms.
Rebecca Burns writes for In These Times about the broader implications of the possible strike. Though the two groups are bargaining separately—with CTU representing the teachers and SEIU Local 73 representing support staff and parks workers—each has set October 17 as their strike date should negotiations fall through. More notable, however, are the unions’ demands, one of which has focused on the city’s affordable housing policy (or lack thereof). CTU has asked Chicago Public Schools to institute a program to help new teachers find affordable housing, aid students and families in danger of losing their homes, and advocate more broadly for affordable housing throughout the city. While CPS has no legal obligation to bargain over housing policy, Burns argues that the demands make substantive and tactical sense. There is no question that a lack of affordable housing directly affects teachers and their students (over 16,000 students in Chicago are homeless). Additionally, this strategy of “bargaining for the common good” has the potential to garner wide-ranging community support by expanding the scope of the bargaining process to broader issues on the working-class agenda, which more clearly touch the community writ large. A poll from the weekend found that Chicago voters were more likely to support a walkout than they were to oppose it.
Over the weekend, Deanna reported on a slew of worker-protection laws that California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law last week. Yesterday, Alexia Fernández Campbell published a piece in Vox focusing on one of the more targeted pieces of legislation: a bill requiring cannabis stores in the state to enter into “labor peace agreements” once they employ 20 or more employees. Technically, the requirement isn’t new. California already requires cannabis businesses to enter into these agreements once they reach a certain size. The new law would put businesses on a deadline of 60 days, replacing a more lenient regulation which required agreements “as soon as reasonably practicable.” While the precise terms of the labor peace agreements vary from one employer to another, the agreements generally include a promise by labor organizations not to encourage picketing or striking in the lead-up to unionization. In return, employers promise not to disrupt the union’s organizing attempts, and may agree to give unions access to the workplace. A similar law exists in New York, where medical cannabis dispensaries are also required to enter into labor peace agreements.
Last night, reports broke that the United Auto Workers (UAW), now in the fifth week of their strike against General Motors, are summoning local union leaders to meet in Detroit on Thursday morning. At this time, it’s difficult to predict the exact purpose of the meeting: this could be an indication that a tentative agreement has been reached, or it could simply be a meeting to discuss the union’s next steps with local leaders. A spokesperson for UAW declined to comment on the request, and a spokesperson for General Motors confirmed that talks were still “ongoing.” Meanwhile, General Motors has now lost an estimated $2 billion as a result of the strike.