Weekend News & Commentary — July 28–29, 2018

Published July 29th, 2018 -  - 07.29.183


Entry-level pay for some Disneyland workers will rise to $15 an hour by January 2019, and $15.45 by mid-June 2020.  Hourly workers will see yearly raises of 3 percent.  The new wages – up from an $11 an hour minimum – follow months of negotiations and disputes between Disney management and the four-union coalition representing the workers; the details of the agreement follow last week’s “cautious” celebrations of a union win.  While Disney and local business leaders are touting the deal as “historic” and “unprecedented,” the deal is also woefully under-inclusive: the raises apply only to the estimated 9,700 members of the four unions representing retail workers, ticket takers, ride operators, bus and truck drivers, and hotel and resort cleaning staff, and not to the full workforce of 30,000.  Workers and activists are therefore pushing a stronger measure: a November ballot initiative for a $15 an hour minimum and a $1 yearly raise through 2022 for all workers at the resort and at other hospitality businesses that the city subsidizes.

The LA Times reports that Disney has already suggested that it will abandon plans for new hotels should the measure pass.  Disney and the city of Anaheim have struggled over whether the theme park, with soaring profits and yet a host of subsidies, incentives, and tax pacts, pays its fair share to the municipality. The Disney corporation, meanwhile, is thriving. Disney has been reporting high operating incomes from its 11 global parks (over $1.3 billion quarterly, prompting an expansion of Disneyland Paris).  And, notably, Disney and 21st Century Fox shareholders this weekend approved a “blockbuster” $71.3-billion deal merging the two entertainment giants, with Disney taking over the bulk of Fox assets.  In Anaheim, where SEIU-West called off a highly visible “Shantyland” and hunger strike, that CEO Bob Iger stands to make over $100 million from the merger, is not lost upon organizers.

In South Korea, Hyundai workers did go on strike – for only two days, rather than the twenty-four of last summer – and received what appears to be a modest, but undisclosed raise.  According to Reuters, the quick effort and minor result suggest that “the union may be softening its stance amid growing criticism, falling profits, the near bankruptcy of GM Korea and potential U.S. tariffs.”

In Chile, workers at the world’s largest copper mine have rejected a contract offer from BHP, who owns the mine.  The Escondida mine workers expressed a strong desire to strike, and complained of “prejudicial” labor conditions.  Last year, the workers conducted a 44-day strike that rattled copper markets, but did not yield a new deal.  This year, management has assuaged investor anxieties with promises of a quick fix, but the 2,500 miner-strong union has not budged on its demands for a high signing bonus, pay raise, and compensation for the end of a housing benefit plan.  Because the copper prices are stronger this year than they were last year, the union might have more leverage, as the company will try to avoid halting production.

On Friday, the NFL and the NFL Players Association (“NFLPA”) concluded a “constructive meeting regarding the [national] anthem policy and the very serious social justice issues that have been the basis of some players’ protests,” a joint statement reads.  The brief statement, which indicates that discussions will be ongoing, speaks of progress in coming to an agreement, but some commentators are skeptical that any “permanent solution” will arise.  NBC Sports’ Mike Florio predicts “the controversy will linger for as long as politicians aimed at politicizing the issue can score points with their base, create a convenient distraction, or both.”  The NFLPA, which filed a grievance challenging the anthem policy on July 10, met on July 19 with the league’s owners for discussions that came only to a “standstill.”

Organizer Chris Brooks writes in Jacobin that unions should not resort to the “direct reimbursement” scheme some have advised as the salve to Janus woes. In place of worker fees, in a direct reimbursement scheme public sector employers pay the union the equivalent of the fees figure.  Professor Sachs, who has explained why and to what detriment the very nature of agency fees has been misconstrued, has demonstrated the viability of this approach.  But Brooks sees the issue differently, and argues that in the private sector, especially, the scheme would likely be illegal, and would reinforce boss dominance by funding company unionism.  In his short piece, Brooks counters Professor Aaron Tang, who has indicated that the gain of the direct reimbursement is in “taking workers out of the equation”: Brooks calls “naïve” Tang’s belief that a dispute-resolution board could fairly maintain the necessary space between employers and employees.  Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner is also skeptical that direct reimbursement would be good for workers, rather than merely good for the Democratic Party, which is heavily funded by union money.  Brooks, instead, calls upon unions to “get down to the hard work of organizing.”

This morning, the Editorial Board of the right-leaning, recently bankrupt but re-acquired Boston Herald, takes a similar shot at such Janus-remedial schemes – albeit, from a different political position from Brooks. Referencing the “heroic efforts” of Mark Janus, the Herald walks through the reasons Janus was “sensibly” decided, before lampooning Massachusetts’ legislators’ efforts to protect public sector unions.

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