Today’s News & Commentary—September 5, 2019
The observance of Labor Day earlier this week has inspired a bumper crop of commentary on the history, present, and future of the American worker. In the New York Times, Noam Scheiber examines the relationship between established unions and grassroots labor activists. In recent years, says Scheiber, independent activists have invigorated workers in industries and workplaces that traditional unions have been slow to organize. For New York Magazine, Eric Levits notes that, while unionization in America is at a historic low, organized labor is winning the “war of ideas,” with public approval for labor unions at its highest in over fifteen years. But a captured zeitgeist, Levits warns, is valueless without concerted action: it remains to be seen whether changing attitudes will translate to new policy. Perhaps with this warning in mind, Jane McAlevey advises in The Nation that mass strikes are necessary for building worker power, reducing wealth inequality, and addressing climate crisis. For Teen Vogue, Katie Barrows celebrates her first Labor Day as a member of the Non-profit Professional Employees Union, writing: “If I’d known earlier in my career what I know now about the benefits of a union, I would have talked to my coworkers about our shared problems and organized one.”
And for the New Yorker, Dan Kaufman reflects on the history of racial division within the labor movement, and on how those divisions have been exploited by opponents of organized labor. In writing this piece, Kaufman no doubt relied on one or more of the New Yorker’s celebrated fact-checkers, who won employee status on Tuesday; the magazine voluntarily recognized a staff union in June of last year.
Meanwhile, an op-ed in Tuesday’s San Francisco Chronicle argues that California’s AB5 legislation, which would require non-exempt businesses to grant independent contractors employee status, poses an existential threat to print journalism.
A new lawsuit accuses eighteen of America’s largest chicken producers—who collectively produce over 90% of the country’s chickens—of conspiring to suppress wages for their largely immigrant workforce. Plaintiffs accuse producers including Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms, and subsidiaries of sharing wage information and coordinating when setting wages for new positions. The suit alleges that this coordination has occurred for at least ten years, and seeks to certify a class of hundreds of thousands of former chicken processors.
Companies that contract to provide free staff meals to San Francisco tech companies have agreed not to fight unionizing efforts among their workers. About 45 on-site staff cafeterias operate within San Francisco; currently, only one is unionized. The employers’ offer of card-check neutrality is a response to a proposed local government measure that would place restrictions on employer-backed cafeterias, which San Francisco supervisors believe have a negative impact on the local economy.
Nationwide wage increases have led to more heated debates about the tipped minimum wage, Bloomberg reports. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers— $2.13 per hour—hasn’t changed in almost thirty years. While some states have eliminated the tipped-wage system, the last statewide law to adopt equal tipped pay was passed in 2000. This may be about to change, however: in the last year, sixteen states introduced legislation that would eliminate a lower minimum wage for tipped workers. These efforts face fierce opposition from the restaurant industry, which employs 81% of the nation’s tipped workers.
Yesterday, Vail wrote about Leif Olson’s resignation from the Department of Labor after an apparently anti-Semitic Facebook post was made public. Olson was reinstated just hours later, after an investigation found that the post was intended to satirize, rather than amplify, anti-Semitic rhetoric.