Today’s News & Commentary — October 17, 2019
It’s a gangbusters day for strike news.
The Chicago Teachers Union is officially on strike after failing to reach a last-minute deal with the city. The union, whose latest contract expired in June, is asking for a 15% pay raise over three years, limits on class sizes, and more counselors and nurses in schools. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the city of Chicago simply can’t afford to meet the union’s demands. Teachers picketed this morning in front of Chicago public schools, which have been closed for the day. As I wrote last month, Chicago Park District workers had also been planning a strike, which would have left Chicago parents with no public child care options. With a CTU strike imminent, the Park District was able to reach an agreement yesterday with the park workers union, SEIU Local 73, which has been operating without a contract for over a year.
General Motors and the United Auto Workers have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract. The deal, which the UAW GM council will vote on today, could bring an end to the longest autoworker strike in decades. The tentative agreement came on the strike’s 31st day. The strike has cost GM an estimated $2 billion in earnings, and strike-watchers have been optimistic about a potential agreement since GM CEO Mary Barra joined the bargaining table on Tuesday. While neither the union nor the car manufacturer has released details of the proposed contract, the Detroit Free Press reports that it includes 3% pay raises, lump-sum payments to some workers, and substantial investment in domestic plants. Key issues in the ongoing negotiation have been protecting wages against inflation, securing low health-care costs for workers, job security, and pay equity for so-called “temporary workers,” many of whom have worked for GM for several years.
A resolution in the autoworkers’ strike could create complications for a parallel strike by UAW-represented janitors who work in struck GM plants. The janitors, who are not directly employed by GM, will not benefit from any potential agreement between the UAW and General Motors. Reaching an agreement in one strike but not the other could leave autoworkers in the position of having to decide whether to cross the janitors’ picket line. For now, both strikes continue.
Earlier this week, office cleaners in DC, Maryland, and Virginia, were able to reach an agreement with the cleaning contractors who employ them, averting a strike that would have affected more than 1,000 office buildings in the DC area. The workers, who are represented by 32BJ SEIU, have staged two large protests in Washington over the last few weeks, including one in which DC Mayor Muriel Bowser took an active role. Details of the proposed contract will be released Monday, pending a ratification vote by union members.
In non-strike news, the New York Times reports that crowdfunding company Kickstarter has fired two workers who have been active in organizing a staff union. The story was originally broken by April Glaser at Slate, who wrote last month about Kickstarter employees’ drive to establish “the first white-collar union at a well-known tech company.” Both stories highlight the tension between Kickstarter’s public branding as a progressive organization and its staunch opposition to unionization.
Finally, a feature in the New York Times outlines the ways in which unpredictable schedules harm hourly workers. A report by UC Berkeley’s Shift Project shows that irregular shift work disproportionately affects Black and Latinx workers, and creates knock-on effects for workers’ physical and mental health and that of their children. The report coincides with the reintroduction in the House of the Schedules That Work Act, a federal bill that would prohibit employers from retaliating against workers who request scheduling changes. For Vox, Stephanie Wykstra explains how similar laws have been gaining momentum at the state and local level.