News & Commentary

May 2, 2021

Kevin Vazquez

Kevin Vazquez is a staff attorney at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 2023. The opinions he expresses on this blog are his own and should not be attributed to the IBT.

Yesterday, in celebration of May Day – which, as the Chicago History Museum noted yesterday morning, was designated in 1889 by an international group of socialists and trade unionists, who formed the Marxist International Socialist Congress in Paris, as a day to support workers and honor the achievements of the labor movement, in remembrance of the Haymarket Affair in Chicago and the deaths, arrests, and executions that followed in 1886 – hundreds of thousands of workers around the world rallied to protest the continuing injustices and inequities, a disproportionate number of which have been placed on the backs of laborers, resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Workers and unions took to the streets in France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Turkey, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, and many other countries, with police clashes and arrests following in some instances. In the United States, workers and unions, remembering essential workers lost to COVID-19, demanding better working conditions and protections, and calling for passage of the PRO Act, demonstrated in a variety of states – even though, in the U.S., Labor Day is celebrated in September, not in May with the rest of the world.

In the digital world, May Day was also celebrated. Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations launched on Saturday the “Cornell-ILR Labor Action Tracker” – @ILRLaborAction on Twitter – which aims to create a “comprehensive database of strike and labor protest activity across the United States” in an effort to “improve and democratize how strike and protest activity is captured” and to “better inform and support labor movement activists, policymakers, and scholars.” The interactive database, which includes data from throughout the country, chronicles strikes and labor protests as they are happening (and compiles them after they have happened).

In other news, a Guardian piece written by labor journalist Steven Greenhouse this morning stakes the claim that, 100 days into his presidency, Joe Biden is showing that he is “one of the most pro-union presidents in American history” – leaning on Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, in which he declared that “unions built the middle class” and called for the PRO Act to be placed on his desk to sign. The article also points to Biden’s executive order establishing the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment last Monday, which will investigate and recommend ways to use existing policies to promote greater union membership and explore new policies to accomplish that result, a move that labor experts have heralded as “significant.” Biden also, of course, as the article notes, endorsed the Bessemer Amazon unionization campaign and has vigorously supported the PRO Act, which, if signed into law, would be the most important pro-labor legislation since the New Deal.

In the same vein, Biden’s $4 trillion economic plan, which he also trumpeted on Wednesday – and which includes both his infrastructure and “family” plans – is, according to the White House, targeted at creating union jobs in construction, energy, and other sectors, a goal it intends to effectuate through a variety of measures. The plan, Biden says, will be financed at least partially through tax increases on the wealthiest Americans and corporations – including greater funding for the IRS to strengthen its efforts to prevent and punish white-collar tax evasion, which costs the Treasury tens of billions of dollars every year.

Finally, on the heels of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh’s declaration that many gig workers should be classified as “employees” and entitled to benefits last week, which signaled a clear shift in federal government policy, the New Republic chronicled delivery workers’ at DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, and other tech companies fight for “the right to pee” – which, in reality, as the piece notes, is a fight for a living wage, employment status, and so much more. The immediate impetus for the article was the opposition of a group of community board members in the Upper West Side, a wealthy Manhattan neighborhood, to a resolution that would have encouraged restaurant owners to allow gig delivery drivers to use their bathrooms while picking up deliveries – a commonsense and morally decent resolution that was characterized as some board members as “crazy” and “awful.” Gig workers instead, as noted in the New Republic, frequently resort to urinating in bottles while on the job – not unlike many Amazon drivers, as the company recently acknowledged. Many labor unions, such as SEIU Local 32BJ in New York City, have supported these efforts, which coalesce with their broader efforts to organize gig workers, and, as noted previously, the Biden Administration ostensibly supports them as well. Whether this support and action will translate into success, however – in a world in which gig drivers are so often viewed and treated as disposable tools rather than human beings, despite the heroic role they have played during the pandemic, keeping countless people fed and restaurants afloat at the expense of their own health and, as described in the article, personal dignity – remains to be seen.

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