News & Commentary

April 19, 2015

On Thursday, New York City Officials announced that all of the workers in a proposed office tower in the Hudson Yards project in Midtown Manhattan would be paid a living wage—$13.30 per hour—in the first broad application of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Executive Order No. 7. Signed last fall, the order calls for a living wage for all workers, including employees of retail stores and other tenants, in projects that receive subsidies from the city. Brookfield Property Partners, the project developer, will receive significant tax breaks for requiring that its tenants pay a living wage. Although many of the construction workers for the project would earn more than a living wage anyway, city government officials have estimated that the agreement will boost the pay for at least a few hundred workers, including those employed in cafeterias and parking garages. Asked if the Fight for $15 campaign had provided a tailwind for the administration’s programming, Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development replied, “I think we are the wind.”

Wal-Mart employees have claimed that their employer closed a location in the Los Angeles area for six months in retaliation for workers demanding better wages and benefits, Reuters reports. Wal-Mart, the largest U.S. retailer, denied the allegations, responding that it was closing five stories in four different states to address plumbing problems. At the Pico Rivera, CA location, 2,200 people were laid off as a result of the renovations. According to Pico Rivera City Manager Rene Bobadilla, the company’s closing was “not a normal thing to happen” and the city has offered its help to expedite the work needed to get the store open again.

The International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAM), which had been trying to organize Boeing Co’s South Carolina plant, withdrew its petition for an April 22 election, citing “a toxic environment and gross violations of workers’’ lawful organizing rights.” The IAM withdrew its petition after two organizers were threatened at gunpoint during home visits to Boeing workers and other organizers experienced numerous instances of hostile and near-violent confrontations. The National Labor Relations Board determined last month that 3,000 of the production and maintenance workers at the plant were eligible to vote on whether the IAM should represent them. Under NLRB rules, the union can repetition for a vote after six months, but would have had to wait 12 months if it held an election and lost. Since withdrawing its petition, the IAM has filed an unfair labor practice complaint, accusing Boeing of “deliberately encouraging and promoting harassment, assaults, and threats of violence against union supporters” over the last six months, seeking an injunction from the NLRB.

On Thursday, workers on the Gawker Media editorial staff announced in a blog post that they are trying to unionize. The post explained that a union is the only real mechanism to represent the interests of the company’s employees and could help employees ensure that everyone receives a fair salary. The post also alluded to “a time when much of the media was unionized,” citing the move to online journalism as a source of union membership decline in the industry. According to the New York Times, this past Wednesday, thirty Gawker Media employees met with union organizers at the Writers Guild in New York to learn about the unionization process and discuss their concerns. One Gawker employee has reported that one plan the group is considering is that only non-management newsroom employees would be able to join the union.

On Thursday a Michigan state legislative committee approved Senate Bill 8, which would require state agencies to install GPS tracking devices in all motor vehicles purchased or leased by the state to monitor where, when, and how many miles the vehicles have been driven for a twelve-month pilot period. The stated purpose of the statute is to improve “asset management” and improve efficiency in employees’ operation of state vehicles. The projected cost of the program ranges from $500,000 to $1.2 Million. The Lansing State Journal reports that some state workers’ unions, like the Michigan State Employees Association, predict that the program will help reduce employees’ administrative tasks by eliminating the need to log travel time. However, Ray Holman, legislative liaison for the United Auto Workers Local 6000, Michigan’s largest state-worker union, has emphasized that the program’s funding would be better spent on higher-priority issues.

10,000 migrant construction workers employed at NYU’s campus in Abu Dhabi were excluded from the protections of the university’s labor guidelines ensuring fair wages, hours, and living conditions, according to a report released Thursday by Nardello & Co, an investigation and research firm, at the request of NYU and an Abu Dhabi government agency. According to the report, NYU made an unprecedented commitment to providing fair working conditions prior to the construction of the campus by establishing guidelines calling for strict adherence to pre-existing UAE labor laws and, in some cases, implementing policies exceeding the minimum protections afforded by these laws. However, the protections afforded by NYU’s guidelines covered only about one third of the workers, the rest of whom were employed by subcontractors that were exempted from compliance in a process that was not administered by NYU personnel. According to the New York Times, NYU has pledged to repay any shortchanged workers and has taken “full responsibility” for any inconsistency between the university’s publicly stated commitment and its labor practices.

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