Today’s News & Commentary — September 12, 2018
The Michigan state legislature just passed a package of minimum wage increases and paid sick leave — but workers’ rights advocates are furious. Labor activists secured enough signatures to put referendums to increase the minimum wage and establish sick leave protections on the ballot this fall. But before the referendum could go to voters, Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislature signed the bills into law. Labor activists believe the legislature is attempting to circumvent the popular measures through a last minute gambit that makes it easier to reverse the new workers’ rights laws. In Michigan, a ballot initiative approved by voters can only be overturned by a three-fourths majority of the legislature — but now, by pre-empting the ballot referendum, lawmakers can undo the protections through a simple majority vote.
Unemployment is at a record low but U.S. workers’ real wages are still falling, leaving many workers in poverty. Yesterday, the New York Times profiled just a few of the millions of Americans who have jobs but still live in poverty. Over the last 40 years, American productivity has increased by 77 percent, but real wages for people without a college education stayed flat and the poverty rate hasn’t fallen. Today, millions of Americans spend half the year working or looking for employment, but still fall below the poverty line. Partly due to attacks on organized labor, 41.7 million workers earn less than $12 an hour (usually without health insurance). Without federal tax benefits and transfers, the report notes, the number of Americans living in deep poverty would jump from 5 percent to almost 19 percent — proving that in today’s America, telling the poor to go back to work is no solution to poverty.
Amazon delivery drivers are regularly denied overtime pay, pressured to drive at dangerously high speeds, and are even forced to urinate in bottles to fulfill punishing delivery schedules for the shipping giant, according to interviews with 31 drivers published yesterday by Business Insider. Drivers report that dispatchers bully drivers into putting their health at risk. When Zachariah Vargas’ fingers were caught in his truck door, he told his dispatcher that he was bleeding profusely. The dispatcher told him to keep delivering packages for hours before seeking medical care. When he left his shift early, he was mocked. The drivers interviewed were supervised by third-party delivery companies that help Amazon manage drivers without hiring them as full employees (and providing associated benefits like health insurance). The Business Insider report reveals a wide range of alleged abuses, many substantiated by witnesses, text messages, and photographs, at the third-party delivery providers supervising couriers.
The second nation-wide prison strike ended this week on the anniversary of the Attica Prison uprising. The Columbia Journalism Review details how prisons systemically limited media access to prevent coverage of the strikes — and the violence in a South Carolina prison that left seven dead and precipitated the strike. Journalists and incarcerated people face a complex network of state policies restricting “everything from the length of interviews to the pens and paper reporters can bring in.” Prisoners trying to share information about the strikes risk retaliation, including being thrown in solitary.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike as contract negotiations continue. Over 90 percent of both urban and rural members voted in support of a strike if they do not secure to a contract by September 26.