Weekend News & Commentary — September 29, 2019
The Chicago Teachers Union has voted to authorize a strike, which will likely be scheduled for mid-October. The union’s latest contract expired in June. In three months of contract negotiations, the union and the city have failed to reach an agreement on pay, benefits, staffing, and class sizes. Unions representing school security guards and custodians and Chicago Park District employees have also voted to authorize a strike over ongoing contract negotiations, and a coordinated walkout by the three unions could leave Chicago parents with no public child care. Union president Jesse Sharkey has indicated that bargaining has been productive and solution-oriented in the days following the strike authorization vote, and Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot expressed confidence that a deal will be reached. If not, the union is expected to set a strike date by Wednesday, October 2.
The National Association of Immigration Judges has accused the justice department of engaging in unfair labor practices. The complaints arise out of two incidents that took place in August: First, the Department of Justice moved to decertify the immigration judges’ union, allegedly over disagreements about immigration policy. Second, sometime in late August all immigration court employees received an email from the Justice Department linking to a white nationalist website that discussed immigration judges using anti-Semitic language. In Friday’s complaints filed with the FLRA, the union also asked for clarity about which members of the bargaining unit are considered “inferior officers,” and therefore subject to appointment (and possibly removal) by the Attorney General. Union president Judge Ashley Tabbador said that the Justice Department’s actions have deprived immigration judges of their independence and placed judges in a “constant state of duress.” The Justice Department has not commented on the matter.
An Administrative Law Judge has ruled that a tweet by Tesla chief Elon Musk violated the National Labor Relations Act. In 2018, while the United Auto Workers were seeking to organize Tesla’s California assembly plant, Musk tweeted that Tesla workers were welcome to join a union, “But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?” On Friday, a labor ALJ found that this tweet constituted a threat of retaliation against employees who attempted to unionize. This is not the first time a tweet has placed Musk at odds with a federal agency; in 2018, the SEC filed charges against Musk for tweeting a plan to take Tesla private.
Members of the New Museum Union have voted to authorize a strike after a year of bargaining over their first contract. The New York City-based union, which is affiliated with the United Auto Workers, is seeking a minimum annual wage of $51,000 for museum employees, but has not been able to reach an agreement with management. The museum is currently engaged in an $89 million capital campaign.
For Truthout, Jeff Schuhrke writes that graduate student workers will “fight like hell” to stop the NLRB from changing its rule classifying graduate students as employees. Schuhrke calls the argument that grad students are not workers “absurd,” and points out that research and teaching assistant unions have successfully operated within public institutions for decades.