News & Commentary

September 14, 2015

The United Auto Workers union announced yesterday that it has chosen Fiat Chrysler as its target company in ongoing negotiations with Detroit automakers, the Detroit Free Press reports.  The current contracts with all three Detroit companies—Fiat Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford, expire at 11:59 pm tonight but are likely to be extended.  At Fiat Chrysler, 45% of hourly workers make entry-level wages (about half the $29 hourly wage of veteran workers), compared to about 20% of workers at GM and Ford, according to the Associated Press.  The selection of Fiat Chrysler as the lead company came after weekend-long talks between the bargaining teams at all three automakers.  While the move surprised some, Kristin Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor noted that crafting an agreement with the company widely viewed as the “most difficult” allows the UAW to potentially pursue better deals from GM and Ford after the Ford Chrysler deal is ratified.

The New York Times reports that federal lawmakers, consumers, and the fishing and pet food industries are taking steps to combat forced labor at sea. In the last month, consumers have filed two class-action lawsuits in the Central District of California against Mars and Nestle, two of the biggest producers of seafood-based pet food.  The suits accuse the companies of failing to disclose their dependence on forced labor.  Additionally, several members of Congress have introduced legislation aimed at preventing the use of “trafficking and slavery in the fishing industry.”  Many lawyers and lawmakers credit a recent investigative New York Times series, “The Outlaw Ocean,” with making them aware of the plight of migrant men and boys sold into captivity on fishing boats in the South China Sea.

As the Seattle teachers’ strike continues, Politico reports that Wisconsin governor and Presidential candidate Scott Walker has criticized the teachers on his campaign website.  Writes Walker, “It’s time to put a stop to this type of organized extortion, just like we did in Wisconsin.”  Today, Walker is expected to give a talk in Las Vegas on his ideas for labor policy.

Amenities and design features are “the new normal” in Cambridge, MA’s biotech hub, as competing firms ask Boston-area architects to “redefine modern laboratory facilities,” according to a Boston Globe story. Company executives are eager to use architectural design to “attract employees, increase productivity, and foster collaboration.”  But designing spaces for laboratory work comes with unique challenges.  Despite researchers’ concerns about the need for quiet and concentration, open floor plans, with no offices even for top executives, are a feature of many of the new layouts—though some provide “escape pods” for solitude.  Moreover, positioning desks within the laboratory itself means workers must comply with higher safety requirements and cannot eat or drink at their desks, but scientists located at desks away from the lab “might feel isolated or less productive.”

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