News & Commentary

June 15, 2014

The New York Times, Guardian, and Wall Street Journal report that President Obama stepped in to halt a Philadelphia-area rail strike yesterday. The strike came after nearly 4 years of unsuccessful contract negotiations with SEPTA, the Southeast Pennsylvania Transport Authority. Nearly 99 percent of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ members voted to go on strike, which began at 12:01am Saturday. Within hours, President Obama signed an executive order creating a presidential emergency board to mediate the labor dispute at the request of Gov. Tom Corbett. The appointment of the emergency board requires the union members to return to work and bars them from striking for 240 days.

In further coverage of the Vergara v. California decision, which struck down the state’s teacher tenure law, Slate considers statistics cited by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu. Judge Treu cites to expert witness Dr. Berliner, stating that “1 to 3% of California teachers are grossly ineffective.” When contacted by Slate, Dr. Berliner stated that figure was more a “guesstimate” and that he never used the words “grossly ineffective.” In broader coverage, the Washington Post highlights teacher unions’ responses to the decision. Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union, made a video challenging so-called “school reform” advocates.

In minimum wage related news and commentary, USA Today describes state and municipalities’ attempts to advance the minimum wage. The piece highlights a recent study that shows that San Jose, CA’s increase from $7.25 to $10.10 has benefited workers without affecting growth. The Denver Post features an opinion piece outlining the various perspectives on increasing the minimum wage. It highlights a rough consensus from a panel of economics experts from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where 47 percent agreed that the benefits of raising the minimum wage outweighed the costs. According to the Washington Times, President Obama has used Father’s Day as an opportunity to promote his federal minimum wage increase initiative.

In New York City this week, labor groups protested outside of the Department of Labor due to its failure to investigate wage theft claims. The New York Daily News describes how a recent audit of the DOL found that it had 17,000 open wage and hour cases and that complainants faced extremely long delays. The protestors highlighted cases from the restaurants Indus Valley and Earthen Oven, against whom workers have had pending cases for over six years.

The Las Vegas Sun describes the difficult working conditions of university adjunct faculty. The story highlights that nationally, universities are increasingly relying on part-time, adjunct professors, stating that they make up over three-quarters of higher education faculty. At the University of Nevada. Las Vegas, such adjuncts are paid  $24,456 a year. Last fall, the death of Duquesne adjunct  Margaret Mary Vojtko’s highlighted the low-pay and limited job security of these faculty and sparked calls for unionization.

Mother Jones features a piece detailing Hillary Clinton’s relationship with Walmart, which has been accused of violating workers’ rights. Although her agents recently chose to avoid scheduling book signings at the retail store, the former-Arkansas first lady used to have a much stronger relationship with Arkansas-based big box retailer. Clinton served on the board for Walmart from 1986-1992 and as recently as November 2013, Alice Walton, one of Walmart’s owners, donated the maximum $25,000 to the Ready for Hillary Super-PAC.

The Associated Press describes how labor unions have met with little success in promoting legislation that would mandate labor history in school curriculums. Currently, California and Delaware are the only states with laws promoting such curriculums. The measure failed in Connecticut this year for a third consecutive time.

In international news, the Gulf Daily News describes the formation of the Bahrain Labour Union Free Federation (BLUFF), a national construction union for migrant workers. BLUFF split from the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, a move that Cathy Feingold of the AFL-CIO has described as an “absolutely blatant attempt to split the union movement” in Bahrain.

The Washington Post reports that close to 84,000 Cambodian workers have fled Thailand following last month’s coup. Explanations of the mass exodus include threats of an impending crack down as well as rumors that Thai authorities had targeted and killed Cambodian workers.

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