Weekend News and Commentary — January 18 & 19

Published January 19th, 2014 -  - 01.19.141


Last week, 350 members of Actors’ Equity, an actors’ union, meet to express their frustration with lower salaries for musicals on tour, according to the New York Times.  Prior to 2004, contracts for actors in musicals on tour tended to be the same as those for actors on Broadway.  In 2004, producers introduced tiered contracts, allowing for lower salaries for the touring company — the union agreed to the tiered contracts to encourage producers to use Actors’ Equity members on tour.  Producers argue that tiered contracts are necessary because success on Broadway is no guarantee that the production will be financially successful in other cities. 

In other art news, the Metropolitan Opera’s general director, Peter Gelb, has announced that he will be leading labor negotiations with the Opera’s 16 unions, the New York Times reports.  For the past four years, Mr. Gelb asked the former manager, Joseph Volpe, to lead negotiations.  The current contract ends in July, and some Union leaders expressed concern that this change in negotiator indicates the next round of talks will be contentious.

In other New York City news, the Washington Post reports that management at the Indian Point nuclear power plant has reached an agreement with its largest union, the Utility Workers of America.  The contract was set to expire at midnight this past Friday, but that deadline was extended during talks; the agreement as reached on Saturday.  The full union membership will need to approve the deal within the coming weeks.

Lilly Ledbetter, the plaintiff in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., penned a column in the Washington Post advocating that Congress and the President take more steps to guarantee paycheck equality.  She writes that women “still earn at least 7 percent less than their male peers just one year out of school – even when they have the same major and occupation,” and even when controlling for other factors.  She specifically argues that President Obama should issue an executive order that “would ban federal contractors from retaliating against workers who . . . share salary information.”

U.S. Postal Service workers are concerned about a new pilot program between USPS and Staples, the Washington Post reports.  In October the Postal Service began collaborating with Staples stores nationwide, allowing Staples to house mini-post offices in their stores and sell USPS products and services, such as priority mail and package handling.  The Postmaster General, Patrick Donahoe, described this is an innovative way to grow the Postal Service’s business.  The American Postal Workers Union, however, argues that this is a step towards privatizing the USPS, and this allows Staples to use lower-paid, non-union employees to perform Postal Service work.   

Following up on the recent coverage of Cambodian labor issues in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, which we previously covered, the Times Sunday Review has a long analysis of one of the protest techniques among Cambodian workers: fainting.  Several of the recent successful worker protests have included mass faintings, which have paralyzed production at garment factories and led owners who had previously refused to improve worker conditions to make slight concessions.  According to the anthropologists cited by the Times, “two-thirds of these episodes are associated with accounts of possession by local guardian spirits, known as neak ta.” 

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