News & Commentary

October 27, 2019

Deanna Krokos

Deanna Krokos is a student at Harvard Law School

The 40-day UAW strike came to an end of Friday, as workers approved a 4-year deal by 57.2%.

The contract includes major wins for workers. In addition to promised raises and performance bonuses, it remedies the long-criticized “two-tier” system. The contract lays out a structure to bring the pay of workers that were brought in at lower wages during the aftermath of the Great Recession up to the level or their pre-Recession counterparts. Though job security was a major factor motivating the strike, the contract does not include any provisions for preventing the shutdown of U.S. plants. It does, however, require GM to make substantial investments in remaining U.S. factories. The strike was the longest GM had seen in nearly 50 years.

The GM victory could signal more change in the industry if the UAW engages in “pattern bargaining”. The Wall Street Journal speculated that Ford is likely the next target and that the GM contract could serve as a “template” for further negotiations.

The Detroit Free Press noted that the contract was “a reasonably good deal” for workers, but took the occasion to argue for the benefits of “sectoral bargaining,” a means by which unions could advocate for all workers in a given industry. Rather than efforts directed at one-employer, the strategy would bring employers throughout an industry to the table and reach overarching agreements. Sectoral bargaining has become a part of the broader workers’ rights conversation, and has featured in the labor platforms of many Democratic candidates. It would not only create protections for more workers, but it would also even the competitive playing field for employers, removing a significant disincentive for them to offer better deals.

In The New York Times opinion section this week, David Brooks wrote about the complicated tradition of tipping in the United States. There are good reasons to tip; it rewards good service creates opportunities for workers to earn above the abysmally low minimum wage. However, those benefits are never a guarantee, and Brooks highlights some of the downsides of a system that relies on discretionary tips for workers to be fairly compensated.

Far from meritocratic, the tipping system reveals and perpetuates bias. He cites the overtly sexist dynamics it encourages, and the troubling disadvantage faced by tipped-workers of color. It allows people to express unfair bias and prejudice through compensation, and leaves workers without any security or equality reflected in their paychecks. The practice discriminates between young and old, black and white, and creates division between different classes of workers both throughout the industry and in individual workplaces. In the current system, everyone should tip, and tip well. But Brooks’ critique highlights the problems with a system that relies on the fairness of strangers to make sure workers are paid. For an overview of the evidence showing bias in tipping, see “The Case Against Tipping in America” by Eater.  



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