Weekend News & Commentary — April 21 – 22, 2018
Friday was a big day for unionization efforts in New England. Late in the afternoon, election results revealed that Harvard University teaching and research assistants had voted to unionize. During the election held on April 18 and 19, 1,931 ballots were cast in favor, and 1,523 were cast against. Exit polls conducted by the Harvard Crimson indicated that a majority of voters on the Cambridge and Allston campuses voted in favor of forming a union, while a majority of the Longwood campus voted against. Two years ago, Harvard research and teaching assistants made a push to organize, but the election results were thrown out after the NLRB concluded that the university had “unintentionally omitted” 533 people from the list of eligible voters. It is unclear how the university will proceed, but eligible teaching and research assistant now can bargain collectively with the University as members of Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Worker.
And in Connecticut, workers on the cleaning staff at Foxwoods Resort Casino voted 163-131 to unionize. The workers will be represented by Unite Here, which became the fifth union to represent workers employed by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. The election comes on the heels of continued controversy over the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act, which would exempt enterprises owned and operated by Native American tribes from federal labor regulations. The Act passed the House in January but has stalled in the Senate.
Strong police unions have traditionally been viewed as a barrier to effective policing reform; in response, they have drawn the ire of activists who are fighting to end what’s been called the war on black bodies. On Friday, however, one deputy sheriff lost his job; the sheriff of Harris County, Texas fired Cameron Brewer, who in late March fatally shot an unarmed black man Danny Ray Thomas. Brewer, who joined the sheriff’s department in 2016 with five years’ prior experience, was on administrative duty while an internal investigation ensued; ultimately, the department concluded that Brewer, who is also black, broke policy on use of force. The Harris County Deputies’ Organization has criticized the firing, and lawyers from the union have indicated that they will appeal the termination. Texas civil rights groups have praised the sheriff’s decision as “a step in the right direction.”
Workers in the fight for equal rights lost a long-time leader late last month. Carolyn Jacobson, 67, is remembered in a New York Times obituary as a deeply committed advocate and organizer whose “ ‘lifelong work and passion’ ” was “‘to inject and secure recognition of women’s issues within the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the ranks of labor; and to encourage and enroll women into positions of influence in the labor movement.’” Over the course of a forty-year-career, Jacobson’s influence was significant, as she secured a place for women’s health care on bargaining agendas and created pathways for women to take the helm more readily. Jacobson’s career speaks to an irreplaceable zeal and ingenuity, honored in the work of other women; as Elizabeth H. Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., told the Times, “I am one of many women labor leaders that stand on her shoulders and have benefited from her legacy.”
The New York Times Editorial Board invoked the legacy of women’s rights leaders in a statement supporting the battle-worn, but apparently enduring Equal Rights Amendment, as Illinois recently took steps toward becoming the 37th state to ratify, 36 years passed the deadline set by Congress. “A Rebuke to Trump, a Century in the Making” explores the possible impact – likely minimal – of an ERA in today’s legal landscape, but stresses the security it would afford women’s rights, as well as the symbolic power it would wield.
In legal employment news, it appears that that desire and urgency that many feel across the country to “rebuke” power is prompting a rise in law school applications, even while the market for entry-level hires continues to contract, as the ABA reports.