Weekend News & Commentary — September 7-8, 2019
Workers at the Battery Wharf Hotel in Boston, represented by UNITE HERE Local 26, have been on strike since Thursday following a year and a half of contract negotiations. Workers are calling for improved pay and pensions; protections for immigrant workers; and policies to prevent sexual harassment and assault. Workers are also seeking to maintain their health care plan; and they are calling on the hotel to continue to participate in affirmative action programs in order to combat racial discrimination in the hospitality industry. Banquet server Paul Uttaro, who has taken on second and third jobs to make ends meet, explained that he is on strike to protest deteriorating working conditions at the hotel: “You went from values like respect and integrity and taking care of people . . . to humiliation, retaliation, just the exact opposite of how business should be done.” Housekeeper Serendou Kamara explained that she and her coworkers are on strike because the hotel has not taken workers’ concerns seriously in negotiations: “They [management] look at us like we are stupid . . . This is the only thing we can do so that they will hear us.” UNITE HERE is asking potential hotel guests to boycott the hotel and has set up a fund to support striking workers.
In 2015, in response to worker advocacy efforts, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo launched a “Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force,” which directed salon owners to pay workers over $2 million in unpaid wages and damages and mandated new safety requirements for nail salons. However, wage theft and unsafe working conditions remain rampant in the nail salon industry, according to organizers with the New York Nail Salon Workers Association (NYNSWA). For instance, Glenda — a former nail salon worker and current NYNSWA organizer — explained that the government’s failure to enforce safety standards has led many nail salon workers to develop eye problems, asthma, and reproductive problems. Moreover, as Kim Kelly writes for Teen Vogue, many immigrant workers are particularly fearful of coming forward to report workplace abuses. As one nail salon worker (who wished to remain anonymous) said, “the worker decides to endure the exploitation in fear of losing their job or being deported.” On Tuesday, September 10, NYNSWA will hold a worker speak-out in front of a Bronx location of Envy, a salon chain that has been accused of systematic wage theft.
The California State Senate passed SB 206, the Fair Pay to Play Act, which would bar colleges from retaliating against college athletes who use their celebrity to make money, such as by entering into endorsement deals. LA Lakers star LeBron James expressed support for the legislation, saying, “College athletes can responsibly get paid for what they do and the billions they create.” Under NCAA rules, colleges cannot pay athletes, nor can athletes make money off of their athletic success in other ways. NCAA President Mark Emmert threatened to bar California colleges from participating in NCAA championships if SB 206 were to become law. Moreover, several California colleges — including Stanford and the University of Southern California — are lobbying against the bill. The California State Assembly has yet to vote on this legislation.
The Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations (Cornell ILR School) is hosting a conference on Labor and the U.S. Constitution from September 26th through 28th. The Conference will feature panels on topics such as “Political Economy and the Constitution,” “Thirteenth Amendment,” and “Janus and the First Amendment.” Conference speakers include academics and union lawyers; and Judge Martha S. Berzon of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will deliver the keynote address. You can learn more here and register here; students are eligible for discounted conference registration rates.