News & Commentary

March 10, 2019

Labor activist and union organizer Nerexda Soto was arrested Wednesday when she met with Unite Here workers on site at the Hyatt-owned Andaz Hotel in West Hollywood.  A small group of Unite Here Local 11 workers and supporters protested the arrest Friday.  Protestors demand that hotel management allow union representatives to communicate with members on hotel grounds.  The Andaz Hotel is one of eight area hotels that have yet to secure a deal with workers, after contracts expired November 30.  Sixteen other hotels have settled negotiations.

College athletes may not be closer to full pay days, but, for their work as student-athletes, they can now receive more benefits, following a ruling on an antitrust suit in the U.S. District for the Northern District of California.  Judge Claudia Wilken ruled that the NCAA cannot “limit compensation or benefits related to education.”  Schools can supply more scholarship money – for postgraduate degrees, study abroad travel, etc. – as well as furnish supplies tied to education – including computers and musical instruments.   The plaintiffs, former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston, Clemson player Martin Jenkins, and others, sought an injunction lifting all caps on compensation and striking down rules that prohibit a “free market” system of financial incentives.  Judge Wilken expanded available compensation, but narrowly tied that compensation to education-related expenses.  Commentators consider this ruling a non-win for both sides.   But both sides are claiming victory.  Plaintiffs-attorney Steve Berman has stated that the case has exposed that the “NCAA’s weak justifications for this unfair system are based on a self-serving mythology that does not match the facts.”  NCAA legal counsel Donald Remy sees the ruling as a strong protection for amateurism, recognizing that “college sports should be played by student-athletes, not by paid professionals.”  The Ninth Circuit will hear the appeal, should either side pursue it.

Full-time employees at the University of Virginia will earn what may be a living wage ($15 an hour), starting January 2020.  The $15 figure appears to cut the difference between the living wage calculated for a single adult in Charlottesville in 2018 – $12.02 – and that estimated for a family of four with two working adults – $16.95.  As the Cavalier Daily reported last fall, these numbers – results of MIT’s living wage calculator – do not account for the value of benefits that UVa employees earn but contract workers do not.  Contract employees have not traditionally earned the same wages as their university-employed counterparts – in 2018, UVa paid employees a minimum of $12.38, while Aramark paid UVa’s dining staff a minimum of $10.65.

The Living Wage Campaign at UVa dates to 1996, when On Labor contributor Professor Brishen Rogers was an undergraduate.  Over two decades, workers, students, and other community members fought hard for fair and equitable wages for all employees, contract and university alike.  For example, in 2006, “Wagers” hosted sit-ins, teach-ins, and rallies.  In 2012, over twenty students undertook a hunger strike to protest the university’s failure to “provide moral leadership” in an issue of economic justice.  The City of Charlottesville responded to campus activism when the University did not, passing a living wage resolution following the 2006 actions and raising wages further in 2012.   Today, as Charlottesville’s cost of living continues to rise, Wagers maintain that $15 is not a landing spot. Yet, it’s a well-celebrated landmark.  The campaign fights “to ensure that everyone who works on . . . campus can live with dignity in the Charlottesville community.”

New Mexico state legislators are divided over how to set the minimum wage, which has been $7.50 an hour since 2009.  On Friday, the state Senate approved an $11 mark, reached gradually over three years, and not to be exceeded.  Employers can also pay high-school aged students a lower, $8.50 an hour “training wage.”  The House has previously approved a $12 benchmark, with automatic increases keyed to inflation rates and cost of living.  State republicans have argued that higher wages will destroy local businesses, especially in rural, more cash-strapped areas.  As the Albuquerque Journal explains, Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who campaigned on raising the minimum, supports the House proposal, and so it is unclear if she will veto the Senate bill.

Costco has raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour.   As Fortune reports, the increase is part of efforts to “attract and retain workers in a tight labor market.”  Costco manages a workforce of approximately 245,000, and is enhancing compensation across the board.  Supervisors will also see pay raises.  All workers – including hourly workers – will have access to an improved paid parental leave program.  As the Wall Street Journal reports, business has been good for Costco, which reported $35.39 billion in total revenue for 2018, and $889 million ($2.01 a share) in profit.

Negotiations between Stop & Shop and its Massachusetts workers have stalled, and another local of United Food and Commercial Workers Union will vote today on whether to authorize a strike.  According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, union leaders for UFCW Local 1459, which represents more than a thousand employees at 17 stores across western Massachusetts, are frustrated that management is not budging on proposed cuts to benefits and holiday pay.  Five UFCW locals have been negotiating a new contract since the previous expired on February 23.  Two local unions – UFCW Local 1445 and UFCW Local 371 – have already authorized a strike.  (Each must vote separately.)  Stop & Shop, which traces its roots to a Somerville, MA grocery market that opened in 1914, is a subsidiary of Ahold Delhaize, which also owns Hannaford stores.

Grocery workers in Colorado are also eyeing a strike, as negotiations have stalled between King Soopers and UFCW Local 7.  Union representative Liz Barr says that workers in 109 King Soopers and City Market locations are “ready to fight . . . ready to stand up for themselves” after management walked out of negotiations.  King Soopers stated that labor has “misrepresented” the facts – with regards to both what’s on the table and how management has treated bargaining.  King Soopers is a Colorado subsidiary of Kroger.


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