Weekend News & Commentary — January 12–13, 2019


Published January 13th, 2019 - 01.13.196


Sunday is day 22 of the shutdown.  Furloughed federal employees will receive back pay for these days, as approved by the House and Senate late last week.  Contractors’ back pay will be attended to in separate legislation, now pending.  As the Washington Post explains, employees in unpaid status who must show up to work are guaranteed back pay, but those furloughed are not; Congress has customarily agreed to the retroactive payments, however.  According to Inside Edition, not all furloughed workers are hanging out at home trying to pass the time.  Some have taken new gigs as bartenders and Uber drivers.  The Coast Guard is no longer recommending its employees become garage sale administrators.

Frontier Airlines pilots have a new contract after nearly three years of negotiations.  Last week, 77 percent of voting-eligible pilots approved a deal with the Denver-based budget carrier, and secured a 53-percent pay raise (on average) and a $75 million ratification bonus.  (According to the Air Line Pilots Association International, on a per-pilot basis this bonus amounts to the highest that has ever been negotiated in the industry.)  What Westword calls “a decade of beef” started when Frontier filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008, which led pilots, hoping to avoid furloughs, to forfeit 14.5 percent of their pay plus $4.75 million’s worth in 401(k) contributions.  In 2011, with Frontier under new ownership, the pilots gave up another $55 million of compensation, but received a promise to negotiate for higher pay in the future, once Frontier turned profits.  A profitable Frontier later proved reluctant to negotiate, and the pilots have been working under the 2011 contract’s terms since the contract expired in March 2016.  Last year, the pilots’ strike threats and legal action demanding good-faith bargaining pressured the airline to show up to the table.  The new contract takes effect this Wednesday.

In Los Angeles, public school teachers will strike Monday morning, save for a last-minute weekend agreement.  United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) has been negotiating with the Los Angeles Unified School District since April 2017.  While Friday afternoon’s offer promised smaller class sizes (by two students in the middle school classes) and a full-time nurse in every elementary school, teachers are demanding more support and further resources to protect the schools.  As former teacher Peter Greene discusses in Forbes, this – like recent statewide strikes across the country – marks a new kind of labor action, wherein the goals are not just better working conditions in local districts but a sturdier system to fight for and work in, at all.  That is, as Greene points out, the UTLA is battling a “privatization push” and its foe, Superintendent Austin Beutner, a former investment banker with no background in education, represents the peril posed to public schooling everywhere.

While the relationship between the teachers and the district is increasingly acrimonious, the teachers are trying to communicate effectively with parents and drum up their support.  On Friday, UTLA Vice President Gloria Martinez and L.A. Unified parent Josh Rutkoff hosted a town hall and fielded questions involving student attendance procedures (and consequences), as well as the nature of the contract disagreements.  While the attendance questions remain slightly unsettled – it seems students are expected to show up and will not be excused from doing so, but will not be penalized on their records for absences – the district has accused the union of “intentionally mislead[ing] students, families, and communities of Los Angeles who will be hurt by a strike that will do nothing to improve our public schools.”

Hollywood’s entertainment unions are among the UTLA’s supporters.  According to the Hollywood Reporter, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, the Teamsters, and Local 47 of the American Federation of Musicians have issued statements of support. (The Writers Guild and Directors Guild have not commented.)  Union representatives have touted the value of solidarity and are urging their members to show up to walk the picket line with the educators.

While U.S. teachers’ unions have been generating headlines for a while now, teachers across the pond are also ready for a raise, and are willing to fight for it.  According to one of Scotland’s largest teaching unions, teacher pay has fallen 20% in real value over the past ten years, and recruitment and retention are suffering in result.  Having recently rejected the latest offer from the Scottish Government, the union is preparing for a potential strike.

Earlier this month, civil rights activist John Salter, Jr. died at home in Pocatello, Idaho, at age 84.  Salter (who later changed his name to John Hunter Gray) once worked in Arizona mining camps as a labor union organizer.  But he was in Mississippi during the state’s first sit-in at a lunch counter, on May 28, 1963.  As the organizer of an NAACP youth council at Tougaloo College, the publisher of pamphlets and studies on poverty and racial inequality, and close friend to Medgar Evers, Salter was at the center of the Jackson Movement – a direct action campaign to desegregate Jackson and command national attention.  Salter endured multiple brutal beatings during weeks of nonviolent resistance actions.

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