Weekend News & Commentary — September 8–9, 2018

Published September 9th, 2018 -  - 09.09.183


Elon Musk, Tesla, Inc.’s CEO, has been no stranger to scrutiny.  But a recent appearance on a radio show has exacerbated concerns that Musk is unfit to lead the automobile company, all while infuriating lower-level workers who have been held to far higher standards for their personal conduct.  When Musk smoked marijuana on the live show, weeks after having admitted on twitter to mixing the sedative sleep-aid Ambien with alcohol as he handles the pressures of the job, both stockholders and company personnel took note.  (Tesla shares dropped 6.3 percent, continuing a dive, and the recently-arrived chief of accounting and the head of human resources both departed the firm last week.)  The financial health of the company aside, former production worker Crystal Guardado told Bloomberg that she is rattled by Musk’s hypocrisy, since the company fired her last year for failing a marijuana drug test.  Guardado had initially disclosed to Tesla that her use of a physician’s advised tincture might yield positive THC tests; she was fired after she began fighting for better labor conditions and for unionization with the UAW.  (The NLRA forbids retaliation against employees for their union activities.)  Guardado’s THC consumption was always off hours; Musk was representing the corporation in his capacity as CEO when he smoked publicly.

At Harvard, service workers are thriving, according to the New York Times.  Since university president Lawrence Summers initiated a Wage and Benefit Parity Policy (WBPP) in 2002, contracted custodial, retail dining, and security service workers receive compensation and benefits on par with those employed directly by the university.  In result, unions at Harvard strengthened.  The unions representing the in-house workers have been able to bargain for better pay and treatment without risk that the university would outsource for cheaper labor.  And the contracted workers have joined the unions.  As the Times explores at length, for some contractors “the economics are tricky to get right,” but the policy’s success may also indicate that other “policies to set a floor on the price of labor could well justify their cost.”

The Harvard Crimson describes recent political activity from the Harvard Graduate Students-United Automobile Workers, which was established in May 2018.  The graduate student union’s Time’s Up Committee has been advocating for Massachusetts legislation that would mandate academic institutions complete biannual campus-wide climate surveys on issues of sexual assault and harrassment.  Committee members have run a phone bank to vocalize support for the pending Bill H.4810, joining at least eight other campus groups to push for this latest version of the bill to become law.  Philosophy doctoral student Ege Yumusak, HGSU-AW spokesperson, embraces the union as a “platform for international representation,” wherein organizers can “participate in the fight to end sexual violence in any way [they] can using the representative power of unions.”

Police unions are following the lead of the National Association of Police Organizations, which has called for a boycott of Nike.  According to NAPO, Nike’s Kaepernick ad campaign – focusing on the football player’s sacrifice of his re-signing prospects for his politics “grossly insults the men and women who really do make sacrifices for the sake of our nation.”  The national president of the Fraternal Order of Police has called Kaepernick’s protest of police violence “uninformed and inflammatory,” and similarly echoed frustrations that law enforcement professionals are too quickly demeaned and disrespected.  Local chapters, like the Northern Colorado Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3 agree.

In contrast, the National Black Police Association assesses Kaepernick’s “choice to openly protest issues surrounding police brutality, racism, and social injustices” not as roundly “anti-police” action, but rather as reflecting “direct alignment with what law enforcement stands for – the protection of a people, their human rights, their dignity, their safety, and their rights as American citizens.”  NBPA leader Sonia Y.W. Pruitt told the Washington Post that NAPO and the Fraternal Order misrepresent the breadth of political views of the nation’s officers.

Last week the New Yorker published “An Inside Account of the National Prisoners’ Strike.”  Via a contraband phone, a striker in a South Carolina maximum security prison has been in contact with the publication, and stressed that the prison laborers “just want to be able to take care of [them]selves as men and women.”  The striker spoke of penny wages, decrepit buildings, and the coercion of high telephone rates.  He stressed, especially, the way prison leaves folks in “the same dilemma,” if not worse, than they were when they arrived; without the opportunity to earn some money for their work, they leave destitute, with only a bus ticket.  The caller wishes to be treated like a human being – mercy he thinks everyone deserves. “The nature of the crime can’t change, but the nature of the person can.”  He suggests that fair wages for a day’s work would go a long way toward rehabilitation.

The strike, which began on August 21 –  the anniversary of the day that, in 1971, prison guards shot and killed Black Panther Party member George Jackson – is set to end today, September 9 – the anniversary of the Attica Prison uprising, also in 1971.

In Massachusetts, Quest Construction has agreed to pay $61,000 to exploited workers.  Fall River’s Herald News reports that an eight-month investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor revealed that workers on a Medford apartment complex for developer Mill Creek were either not being paid, or were being paid by personal check without payroll deductions.  The settlement was made possible by the Brazilian Worker Center, which assisted the mostly Portuguese-speaking workers in making claims.  According to Quest, all the blame belongs to unidentified subcontractors.

On Friday in Marseille, employees of a McDonald’s franchise won the right to determine their future.  In the struggling Saint-Barthélémy neighborhood of the French port city, the workers fought against the sale of the restaurant to Hali Food, a Middle Eastern foods operator.  Because workers had never met anyone from Hali Food, they could not trust that their jobs were safe – which constituted a threat not only to their families but also to the community.  A judge agreed and blocked the deal.  One of the “jubilant” organizers felt “proud to be French” where “[t]hey’ve listened to the little folks in the neighborhood.”  France is home to nearly 1,500 McDonald’s locations, out of 37,241 worldwide.

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