Today's News & Commentary — September 11, 2015

Published September 11th, 2015 -  - 09.11.151


What is the place of police unions within the labor movement? Writing for the New Republic, Steven Cohen explores the uncomfortable dynamic presented by organized labor’s stated commitment to racial justice and increasing criticism of police unions. To illustrate, Cohen quotes AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka as observing that Michael Brown, whose mother is a unionized grocery story worker, was shot and killed by a unionized police officer. In the same set of remarks, Trumka not only called for a “serious and open-ended conversation” about labor’s often fraught history with race, but also asked the audience to “think about what it means to be a police officer in this country where violence is so often the norm.” Yet Cohen argues that “police unions have gone beyond simply defending the status quo to actively encouraging the very policies that foster public mistrust of police — and, hence, the impetus for officers to seek greater protections in the first place.” He concludes by suggesting that “if Black Lives Matter is the latest incarnation of the Civil Rights struggle, then the future of the labor movement stands next to it.”

Another California state agency has ruled that Uber drivers are employees. In a ruling handed down in August — but reported yesterday by Reuters — a branch of the California Employment Development Department has determined that a former Uber driver is eligible for unemployment benefits. In reaching a decision, the administrative law judge concluded that “there was in fact an employer/employee relationship” between Uber and the driver. An Uber spokesperson was quick to say that the ruling “does not have any wider impact or set any formal or binding precedent.” The full decision is available here.

In a report that may surprise some readers, the Washington Post‘s Lydia DePillis writes that “Larry Summers has become one of organized labor’s loudest and least likely proponents.” Commenting on the recent report tying union membership with economic mobility, Summers observed that “[t]raditionally in America, the people who spoke for the broad middle class were the union movement. And if they are able to speak with less force because they have fewer members, if they are pushed towards the margins, the damage done at each employment unit is the smaller part of the damage. The larger part of the damage is what it does to our broad political dialogue.” This after the AFL-CIO mobilized to block Summers’ nomination to head the Federal Reserve in 2013.

As the Supreme Court prepares to hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which may dramatically alter the landscape of public sector labor organizing, unions are refusing to sit pat. According to the Sacramento Bee, unions in California have sought to introduce a measure that would require employers to set aside time to discuss the virtues of union membership. Consideration of the measure, however, will likely have to wait until the next legislative session. Opponents of the proposal contend that “[t]here is ample time for the Legislature and affected parties to continue these discussions during the second year of [the] session and determine whether a legislative remedy is appropriate or needed.” The Bee reports that California Governor Jerry Brown apparently agrees with delaying further action on the proposal.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was joined by Vice President Joe Biden in Manhattan yesterday to announce a push to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15. The New York Times reports that Governor Cuomo characterized the proposal as “restor[ing] dignity to workers who could not support their families without public subsidies.” Of course, the Times also notes that “[j]ust six months ago, [Governor Cuomo] said $15 an hour, the minimum that fast-food workers demanded, was ‘too high,’ and proposed $10.50 as an alternative.” Republican State Senator Jack Martins, who serves as chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, questioned Governor Cuomo’s motives. “I really don’t know what happened between $10.50 six months ago and $15 now,” Martins said. “What’s the significance of $15? In my mind, it’s a political number. The governor has not established $15 as a fair number.”

The Seattle teachers strike continues into its third day. The two sides met separately yesterday with state mediators, but did not meet with each other, per the Seattle Times. Instead of picketing today, the striking teachers plan to participate in service projects in observance of September 11. A member of the teachers union’s bargaining team noted that there remains a lack of “mutual trust throughout the talks,” and that “the union is still fighting to make teacher evaluations more consistent, make changes to standardized testing and provide more training for school staff to address social equity.”

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