Weekend News & Commentary


Published December 16th, 2018 - 12.16.183


Friday night, Grinnell College’s undergraduate union announced that it will withdraw its petition to the National Labor Relations Board in order to prevent a ruling from harming other student unions.  The student union earlier voted to expand membership to cover all student workers, but the liberal arts college objected and appealed to the NLRB.  The college asked the NLRB to overturn the 2016 Columbia decision that accorded student workers the right to unionize.  Grinnell senior and adviser to the union Cory McCartan recognizes that “If [we] would have continued, we likely would have destroyed the rights of workers nationwide.”  It is likely but unclear if Grinnell’s administrators will let the students back out now.   Both Mother Jones and the Tribune report that the administration welcomed a withdrawal and would not oppose it; McCartan shared with the Des Moines Register that he had at first been hearing contrary rumors, and does not anticipate that the workers will receive a straight, reliable word from the college.

Also on Friday, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) signed a couple of lame-duck, fast-tracked bills that “water-down” minimum wage hikes and curb paid sick-leave benefits.   The Republican-controlled legislature had previously thwarted efforts to let voters decide directly on minimum wages and sick leave.  In September, after proponents of more robust, more worker-friendly versions of the measures gathered the requisite signatures for ballot initiatives, the legislature wrested the issues from voters’ hands: the legislature quickly voted to approve the initiatives, taking them off the ballot, but leaving open the space to modify the bills after the November election.  The initial wage proposal would have boosted the minimum from $9.25 to $12 by 2022; now, the minimum will rise to $12.05 by 2030.   The new sick-leave bill cuts paid time from 72 hours to 40, and now exempts employers with fewer than 50 employees from providing paid sick-leave at all.  More than 1 million of Michigan workers have therefore lost the guaranteed benefit.  Democrats have reacted swiftly and negatively to Snyder’s decision not to veto.

In a recent exit interview, Snyder, who served two terms as Governor after serving as chairman of the board of Gateway, Inc., has refuted criticisms that he ran Michigan “like a business,” with a focus on profit and cost-cutting bottom lines.  Instead, with his background as an accountant and venture capitalist, he explains that he imposed “business practices” on state bureaucracy and management, including through use of data and metrics to track finances and spending.

On Friday evening, employees at a massive Amazon fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota protested conditions that they claim infringe on religious freedom.  Approximately 250 workers and activists in “MSP1,” a center in a suburb of the Twin Cities, rallied and marched, spurred on by frustrations with the working pace Amazon demands.  Muslim employees find that the pace means workers cannot at once perform according to assessment standards (and, thus, not risk pay docks or termination), while also taking the time for prayer and bathroom breaks.  Congressional representative-elect Ilhan Omar (D-MN, 5th Dist.) addressed the protesters with remarks that embraced the power of collective action and reminded everyone that “Amazon doesn’t work if you don’t work.”  As Gizmodo observes, Amazon is spinning the action as an insult and detriment to those hard workers for whom “it was business as usual” on Friday.  Two years ago, Amazon faced similar protests for failure to accommodate the center’s heavily Muslim workforce.

The federal government may be nearing a shutdown, which would start December 22 and affect about 800,000 of the government’s 2.1 million employees.  As the Washington Post details, 40% of the 800,000 would be sent home without pay, while those called to work would have pay frozen, to be received after the government reopens.  Details remain murky on just who will or won’t be at work.  For example, 85% of the Department of Homeland Security’s 300,000 employees would remain on the job; the majority of Housing and Urban Development’s employees would not; most employees at the Treasury Department, including at the IRS, would not; most Forest Service firefighters, corrections officers, and forecasters for the National Weather Service, will be at work.  But highlighting that some services will remain fully operational only distracts from the harm of a shutdown, comments American Federation of Government Employees President, J. David Cox.

In Budapest last week, 3,000 demonstrators filled the streets with anger, denouncing new labor laws that grant employers the right to demand 400 hours of overtime from individual workers.  Protestors also claim that Hungary’s new administrative courts will rob power from the people.

Business Insider reports on Dubai’s persistent, systemic exploitation of migrant workers, who have built the glistening city  that is home to more than 30 billionaires.  Workers from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and elsewhere, are recruited to travel to the UAE with promises of high salaries, but may end up in debt to employers for arranging the contracts and travel, and cannot quit without facing possible incarceration, fines, or deportation.

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