Weekend News & Commentary — May 11-12, 2019
Staffers on Julián Castro’s presidential campaign have chosen to unionize, unanimously selecting the Campaign Workers Guild (CWG) as their representative. The campaign voluntarily recognized the union, in accord with a neutrality agreement it had previously entered with CWG. Campaign manager Maya Rupert said, “Unions are essential protections for workers, including campaign workers, and the teams of people who work to elect our leaders should do so with the protections of union organizing. Our campaign is extremely proud to be the first presidential campaign to take this step with the Campaign Workers Guild, and we look forward to bargaining in good faith.” The Castro campaign is the third Democratic presidential campaign to unionize; as Jared reported earlier this week, the Sanders campaign has entered a contract with UFCW Local 400 on behalf of its staffers, while Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.)’s campaign recognized its workers as members of Teamsters Local 238 last month.
In more organizing news, about 200 workers at the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) voted overwhelmingly to join the American Federation of Government Employees. The organizing drive at the agency gained traction late last year, after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced plans to place ERS under the control of USDA’s chief economist, a move seen to undermine the research group’s independence, and to relocate the service outside of the D.C. area to Kansas City, Indiana, or North Carolina. A USDA employee, who spoke anonymously out of fear of retaliation, told HuffPost that the potential choice between their jobs and a cross-country move changed employees’ perspective on unionizing: “It all changed when the move came and we realized how little leverage we have. They [agency leadership] know full well you do real damage to an agency when you move it. The notion that this is about making ERS more effective, that’s patent nonsense.”
The Raise the Wage Act, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024, remains short of Democratic votes in the House of Representatives. As OnLabor previously reported, centrist Democrats are rallying around an alternative proposal by Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.) that would account for regional differences in the cost of living and purchasing power, leaving the Raise the Wage Act just shy of a majority. Though the bill’s odds of success in the Senate are low, passing the $15 federal minimum wage in the House is seen as an important signaling tool for Democrats entering the 2020 election season. According to the Wall Street Journal, the House Education and Labor Committee has been meeting with members of the Blue Dog Coalition in an effort to see if minor changes, including possible regional adjustments, can attract moderates’ support.
Politico reports that the Trump Administration is considering an addition to its draft immigration reform legislation that proposes to make E-Verify mandatory for all employers. President Trump’s immigration platform in the 2016 election advocated for nationwide, compulsory E-Verify, but the Administration has made little reference to the program since that time. The bill, which is still being written, would also end the diversity visa lottery, reallocating its 50,000 visas to employment-based applications, and reduce family-based immigration in favor of skill-focused immigration.
Sarah Jeong, writing for the New York Times, situates the cause of Uber’s lackluster IPO this week in its fundamentally flawed business model, which not only forecloses large profit margins, but also “excludes a future of fair labor practices.” But Uber is not interested in reforming its current strategy. Rather, the company hopes to wait out its discontented workforce until self-driving car technology eliminates the need for human drivers altogether. As Jeong puts it, “Robot cars don’t complain, don’t strike and don’t have families to feed.”
This Mother’s Day weekend, the Washington Post shares the story of Anna Lee Fisher, one of NASA’s first female astronauts. Fisher trained for her space flight in the year immediately following the birth of her daughter and balanced work and family in a sometimes-hostile environment while preparing to join five other women in a class of thirty-five new astronauts. She eventually became chief of NASA’s space station branch and one of the longest-serving astronauts in NASA history. This week marks thirty-five years since her historic liftoff.