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Workplace Issues Today

The UK government plans to implement a scheme to address the labor abuse and slavery that is taking place at hand car washes across the country. Individuals coming from Eastern Europe to work at hand car washes are frequently subject to poor working conditions, violence, and debt bondage. Most workers at these small firms are estimated to be victims of exploitation, according to modern slavery experts. The responsible Car Wash Scheme will attempt to combat worker slavery and abuse by auditing hand car washes, recognizing those that operate legally, and increasing investment into the anti-slavery drive so that more investigations can take place.

See Kieran Guilbert, Reuters, Oct 22 2018

An investigative panel recently found that Japanese ministries have been falsifying their records regarding their numbers of employees with disabilities, in order to meet legal quotas. In Japan, public employers must ensure that employees with disabilities make up at least 2.5% of their workforce. Japanese ministries included thousands of people in their numbers of employees with disabilities who did not have documented disabilities-many people included in this number were retired, while some were even dead. All of the ministries denied intentionally falsifying numbers, however the panel assumes that they intended to inflate numbers to meet quotas. In response to these findings, the government has announced plans to employ over 4,000 people with disabilities and strategies to prevent this kind of misconduct from taking place in the future.

See The Japan Times, Oct 22 2018

Three trade unions in Nigeria are threatening to continue their strikes indefinitely if the government does not make an immediate effort to meet their demands for higher wages. The minimum wage in Nigeria is currently 18,000 naira ($49.59) per month. Unions compromised with government officials to come up with a new minimum wage of 30,000 naira ($82.64). However, unions have yet to see the new minimum wage agreement become law. The unions have stated that if they do not see that the government has made progress towards increasing the minimum wage by November 6, they will go back out on strike.

See Camillus Eboh, Reuters, Oct 22 2018

A Marriott owned hotel is under investigation by the California Labor Commissioner’s office after the union, representing cleaning staff, brought numerous allegations against hotel management and its third-party staffing agency. Marriott workers in multiple cities are currently on strike. In Chicago, the company is being sued for not paying workers properly. In California, the union has made claims that Marriott is exploiting undocumented workers. Hotel management insists that the allegations being made by the union are false, and are an attempt to increase bargaining power.

See Paige Smith, Bloomberg Law, Oct 19 2018

Over 350 students and staff members participated in a pro-labor walkout at the University of Chicago on Thursday. Last year, graduate students voted to unionize in an NLRB election but decided not to move forward due to apprehension about the NLRB’s new Republican majority using the case to change their position regarding graduate students’ right to form unions. Students at the walkout rallied to protest low wages, and inadequate benefits- echoing the concerns of other graduate students across the country. When asked to comment, the University expressed continued support of free speech and a commitment to working with graduate students to resolve this issue.

See William Yuen Yee, The Chicago Maroon, Oct 19 2018

Ryanair is making progress towards labor agreements with pilots in numerous countries, following costly strikes. The airline agreed to recognize unions for the first time almost a year ago, and has struggled to manage labor relations since then. This agreement led to a multitude of strikes that have put the company in a poor financial position- ultimately encouraging the firm to make concessions and agree to bargain. The company has reached agreements with both Portuguese and Italian unions, is making progress in Britain, and it appears that Spanish pilots will be up next for union recognition. While there is more work still to be done, it appears that Ryanair is making progress and will continue to do so in order to better the firm’s financial position.

See Padraic Halpin, Reuters, Oct 19 2018

Two senators are taking Amazon to task on work environments that prevent workers from voicing concerns as well as pursuing union activities. Amazon had recently raised its minimum wage for US workers, following a campaign spearheaded by Senator Bernie Sanders to reproach the company for low wages. Now, Senators Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are reproving the retail giant over an Amazon video that was sent to managers at Amazon’s Whole Food Markets, warning them of union organizing “signs” such as workers who mention “living wage” and “steward”, and who hand out fliers and wear union shirts. The video also stated that unions were not “in the best interest of our customers”. Under federal labor law, managers are allowed to predict what happens were workers to unionize, but they cannot make threats if they were to do so. The two senators are also bringing up reports that workers have been retaliated against when voicing concerns over low pay and stressful work environments.

See Senators criticize Amazon over possible anti-union behavior, Jeff Stein, The Washington Post, Oct 18 2018

The Walt Disney Company and labor unions in Anaheim have been contributing well over half of all contributions towards election campaigns that will determine the fate of a disputed initiative – Measure L - as well as the majority of seats on the Anaheim City Council, giving the two entities more say in Disney’s hometown. Measure L, an initiative that labor unions helped place on the ballot, would require large hospitality companies that receive a city subsidy to pay their workers a living wage. Disney is the largest employer and economic driver in Anaheim, with approximately 30,000 employees; its three hotels along with other hotels generate occupancy taxes that comprise 46% of the city’s $330 million general fund budget. Disney’s relationship with the city has been less comfortable since 2014, when an ACLU lawsuit was filed that gave Latino residents more say in city politics by changing the way city council members were elected. Labor unions who represent Disney workers have out-donated Disney, with $1.5 million in contributions – about 34% of campaign funds so far. Opponents to Measure L say that the higher salaries would impede new hotels from being built in Anaheim and thus affecting the construction industry and its workers.

The thousands of undocumented workers who staff Louisiana’s seafood industry not only have to contend with physically dangerous work, but many have to duck sexual harassment as well. The workers remain quiet, because the owners of large seafood processing plants located in rural areas are often on good terms with local police, and they fear being reported to the police and being deported. They also fear police brutality, reportedly common against “guest” workers. One owner threatened violence against workers if they spoke about poor working conditions. The recently formed Seafood Workers Alliance – currently comprised of hundreds of members from 15 different plants in Louisiana – is helping workers organize to address these issues by suing employers and building community alliances – particularly with the African-American community - to help workers push back when abuses occur. Some low wage employers have tried pitting African-American workers against Latino workers, saying that guest workers have come to Louisiana to take their jobs. The Alliance has built enough momentum to help reinstate seven workers who had lost their jobs, including the president of the Alliance who had lost his job when trying to convince management to raise the wages from $9 an hour to $12 an hour.

A UPS union wants to change part of a labor contract that was recently ratified. While 54.2% of union members who participated voted to reject the contract, the contract was ratified because less than half of the bargaining unit voted. When this occurs, the union must have two-thirds of members voting no in order to reject the agreement. Some union members are upset because they feel that this vote is not representative of their opinion of the contract. Members take issue specifically with part of the contract that will create a new class of drivers who work on the weekends for a lower starting salary. According to a Labor Education Program Director at the University of Illinois, the outlook for the union is grim- even if the union is allowed the opportunity to re-vote and the contract is rejected. The director believes that the union lacks leverage, and the employer is unlikely to make concessions regardless of whether or not the contract is ultimately ratified.

See Andrew Wallender, Bloomberg Law, Oct 17 2018

A group of Harvard undergraduates, graduate students, and union members are protesting the dismissal of Harvard University Health Services employee, Malyi Shing. The group held a demonstration on Thursday where they went to confront the University’s Director of Labor and Employee Relations, in his office. Shing was dismissed by the university after making allegations of racism and sexual harassment in her workplace. While the University claims that Shing was terminated because of “insubordinate conduct,” she insists that her dismissal was retaliation against her for making said allegations. Additionally, it wasn’t until five months following her dismissal that she began receiving unemployment benefits, which resulted in significant financial hardship for Shing. The Harvard activist group is ultimately fighting for the University to reimburse Mayli Shing for the five months she endured without benefits, and reinstate her as an employee.

See Molly C. McCafferty, The Harvard Crimson, Oct 17 2018

Union employees of the South African weapons manufacturer, Denel, are protesting pay cuts and reduced working hours. The employee upset began after the company failed to pay managers their full wages last month and owners revealed that they may not be able to pay full employee salaries in the future as a result of their dire financial situation. While protests continue, a company spokesperson claims that there is no dispute between labor and management. However, the protests taking place currently are not legally protected, so there is nothing to prohibit management from dismissing striking employees.

See Nomvelo Chalumbira, Reuters, Oct 17 2018

Over 8,000 council workers in Glasgow, many of them women who have never been on picket lines, are planning to strike for two days next week to protest long-standing pay disparities. The strike will affect homecare, schools, nurseries, cleaning and catering services across the country, which is estimated to be the biggest pay-related strike seen in the United Kingdom. The issue stems from a 2006 decision by the Glasgow council to introduce a job evaluation plan that would address gender pay disparities, but female workers say that it furthered discrimination because despite female-dominated jobs (such as catering and cleaning) being declared of equal value to male-dominated jobs (such as trash pickup), those positions were still paid less due to a complex system that was detrimental to people who worked split shifts and irregular hours. Critics have accused the unions of favoring male workers with labor relations disputes over female workers for decades and of only using the current pay dispute to curry favor with the current Scottish National Party administration.

U.S. Steel reached a provisional agreement with the United Steelworkers union for a new collective bargaining agreement for their 14,000+ workers that would break the previous agreement’s three-year wage freeze. In ironing out the terms of the proposed four year contract, the Pittsburgh-based steelmaker suggested raising wages for those in the lowest tier by approximately 21% by September 2023. The union has pointed out that increased costs for the health insurance coverage would counteract much of that raise. The contract still needs to be ratified and voted on by workers.

The choice of CEOs to choose lightening-rod celebrities in order to market products, or who limit current product supply lines to align with personal beliefs, are altering taboos of having politics at work. Corporate managers, who have traditionally declined to choose sides on sensitive topics at work, are increasingly making their positions known. For example, Levi Strauss’s CEO, who made a $1 million donation on behalf of the company towards preventing gun violence, experienced hate mail and threats towards him and his family, with some of the angry responses coming from employees, who felt that the company’s donation was hostile towards their gun ownership rights. CEO-sourced activism has increased since 2014, when Apple CEO Tim Cook openly supported gay rights, while the then-CEO of Starbucks shared an open letter about racial tensions in the country. Since then, Nike has chosen NFL quarterback-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick to represent the brand, while Dick’s Sporting Goods has chosen to raise the age for buying a gun to 21, while also pulling assault-type guns from store shelves. Society in recent years has become increasingly polarized, enabled by social media amplifying the ability to spread passionate opinions towards influencers. Corporations who choose to be influencers may play up their partisan identities, which can impact recruitment of younger workers.

See CEOs who market activism transform politics at work, Yuki Noguchi, NPR, Oct 16 2018

The graduate student union at the University of Iowa has struggled to reeducate members and establish a new system for collecting dues, following the implementation of new laws that impact the collective-bargaining rights of public employees. Public-sector unions must now be re-certified every time their contracts expire. More than 50% of the members in a bargaining unit need to vote in order for re-certification to take place. Members are counted as voting “no” if they do not vote. Additionally, unions in the public sector are no longer allowed to collect dues via payroll deductions. The graduate student union leadership is concerned that members will not show up to vote for re-certification, and is struggling to become stable financially as a result of the new laws that have significantly diminished union power.

See Aadit Tambe, The Daily Iowan, Oct 15 2018

The management of an Indian rock quarry has been convicted of holding employees in debt bondage, and using violence to enslave workers. In India, “bonded labor” has been banned since 1976, but remains prevalent due to poor enforcement mechanisms. Typically when survivors are rescued, their cases are not pursued by the legal system; less than 2% of these cases result in a conviction. However, the court that oversaw this specific case sentenced the employers involved to over 11 years in jail. The hope is that this strict sentence will send a message to employers, and set a new precedent for cases involving slave labor.

See Anuradha Ngaraj, Reuters, Oct 15 2018

The Janus v. AFSCME decision stated that unions cannot require employees who are not union members to pay dues, unless they consent to doing so. Following this decision, employees have filed five lawsuits against unions in an attempt to recover more than $150 million in union dues that were paid previously, but are now considered unconstitutional as a result of Janus. Although courts have rejected many of these lawsuits, fighting them in court is a huge expense. Unions are already suffering from a loss of revenue as a result of no longer receiving dues from nonmembers, who will inevitably benefit from union negotiations.

See Robert Iafolla, Bloomberg Law, Oct 15 2018

Members of a Chicago orchestra have gone on strike, following their employer’s new contract proposal. The company, Lyric Opera, would like to reduce the size of the orchestra and the number of performance weeks due to financial pressures. In just four years, the amount of donations and grants that the orchestra receives annually has decreased by nearly half. However, orchestra members argue that reducing the orchestra size and number of performances will only exacerbate the problem by further decreasing interest in the opera.

See Howard Reich and Hal Dardick, Chicago Tribune, Oct 12 2018

The New York City teachers union and city officials have peacefully reached a tentative agreement, several months before the old contract expires. The new 43 month contract includes compounded wage increases, and financial incentives to fill openings at schools with high employee turnover rates. Critics are displeased that the deal will not address large class sizes, or the expenses related to the pool of educators who are not teaching but remain on the payroll due to school closures or disciplinary action. The contract still has to be approved by union members, however it appears that both sides are content with the agreement.

See Leslie Brody, The Wall Street Journal, Oct 12 2018

The prime minister of Japan intends to pass a bill this year that will allow foreign workers entry into the country, in response to blue-collar labor shortages. Japan is struggling to find people to fill positions in industries such as agriculture and construction. This foreign labor policy would have separate tracks for unskilled and skilled workers, with the latter being allowed to stay in the country indefinitely. In the past, Japan has restricted immigration due to a desire to keep the population more homogeneous in order to retain cultural values. However, as employers struggle to fill positions in key industries, policy makers appear to be more open to letting immigrant workers in.

See Peter Landers, The Wall Street Journal, Oct 12 2018

Due to high operation costs and price fluctuations for milk and feed, it has been easier for large-scale dairy farms to stay in business as they can spread production costs over large herds, such as 15,000-20,000 cows at farms in the West and Southwest. Small scale operations in the Northeast and Midwest, such as the Tullando farm with their 480 cows in New Hampshire, are finding automation and high tech advances necessary in order to reduce labor costs as well as fight the problem of finding labor to begin with. Farms often are unable to compete with wages offered elsewhere. Milking robots, such as the Astronauts developed by Dutch company Lely, help small dairy farm stay efficient in troubled economic times; one robot can replace four full-time employees. Four years ago, the demand for U.S. milk dried up in Europe as a quota limiting the amount of milk European farms could produce was removed; at the same time, milk drinking had decreased in the U.S population, leading to a disruption in the three year cycle of price and demand fluctuations that dairy farmers had come to rely on and creating a milk glut where in some cases, unused milk had been dumped. Trump's recent trade deal with Canada and Mexico will open up new avenues for U.S. dairy farmers in Canada, but it increasingly appears that automation will reduce human capital concerns and expenses for struggling dairy farmers, even if the initial cost for automation is high. Currently 4.5% of U.S. dairy farms are using robotic milkers.

The majority of Greece's 275 tourist attractions were shuttered Thursday, potentially losing about 100 million euros in revenue as over 3,000 members of the Vafiadis union, representing cultural ministry workers, participated in a one day strike over fears that more and more of the country's prized architectural sites were being placed on the list for privatization according to the terms of bailout lenders. A superfund was created in 2016 to manage and sell state assets for the next 99 years, as part of the bailout terms the country had to accept in order to remain in the EU. The finance minister denied that architectural and heritage sites would wind up on the list, but Greece is still well short of the funds it has said it would raise from privatization in order to pay its third and final bailout; the country has the highest debt load of any EU state and received 288 billion euros in rescue loans since 2010. The cultural minister has conceded that mistakes may have been made on the list and has asked the finance minister to release the list of properties that would be exempt from privatization in order to assuage fears.

Observers are concerned that, despite Amazon receiving praise for raising the minimum wage for its US and UK employees last week, that broader issues surrounding the company will be ignored. While Amazon’s recent wage hike received praise from future presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders, minimum wage increases in the US have still failed to keep pace with inflation. The Economics Policy Institute estimated that a full-time minimum wage worker in 1968 should have earned $20,600 a year; in 2017, the figure earned by a federal minimum wage worker was $15,080. While the figure that Amazon’s low-wage workers earn will increase, concerns remain that they will still struggle to earn further wage increases in a timely fashion, unless changes are made to the current federal minimum wage. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) cited concerns over Amazon’s broader impact on the economy in at least two areas - the company’s increasing use of automation has resulted in half the employees needed to run brick-and-mortar stores, and the company’s increasing monopolization of the marketplace means that the opportunity for small and medium businesses to succeed has disintegrated.

Unionized AFL-CIO employees voted unanimously to strike, following management’s proposal of a new contract. The proposed agreement included reduced sick leave, insufficient wages, and diminished layoff protections. A spokesperson for the union expressed that accepting an inadequate contract would send a poor message to the other unions represented by the organization. The AFL-CIO has been under significant pressure in recent months due to the activities of an unsupportive administration, and a steady decline in membership. If union members do strike, the Washington-Baltimore News Guild at the AFL-CIO will refuse to work as well.

See Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg, Oct 10 2018

Food industry workers are turning towards non-traditional unions and organizing tactics in order to attain greater wages and working conditions. In the past, food industry workers have struggled to organize and to make gains due to public perception of their positions being temporary, and primarily held by young people. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 1% of food workers are union members compared to around 10% of the general workforce. Now, the IWW and the Fight for 15 have emerged as key players in this renewed movement that uses aggressive tactics, such as salting, to secure benefits for these employees.

See Teke Wiggin, Huffington Post, Oct 10 2018

Massachusetts State Police troopers have been accused of payroll fraud following a financial review conducted within the department. Troopers who are union members have negotiated a benefit that allows them to take paid time off when engaging in union activity. A colonel revealed that union members have been taking advantage of this benefit on days when they are not scheduled to be on duty. The union has stated that they are prepared to take action against the misuse of this benefit. Unfortunately, the police department is planning to eliminate the practice of paying for union positions due to union members’ abuse of a taxpayer funded benefit.

See Matt Rocheleau, The Boston Globe, Oct 10 2018

The U.S.'s largest home healthcare union, which represents approximately 385,000 in-home healthcare workers in California, is now offering debit cards as a way for workers to easily deposit union dues without having to write a check, due to a proposed new rule by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that would prevent the ability of states to send Medicaid money to "third parties" (such as unions). Medicaid funds the salaries of home health aides, which would prevent unions such as Service Employees International Union Local 2015 from collecting union dues as part of employee paychecks. Many of SEIU Local 2015 members are Medicaid-funded home health aides who were already used to the idea as a 2014 Supreme Court case had already banned mandatory fees for Medicaid workers. The debit cards are an example of how unions are struggling to find ways to continue to be funded, with the Supreme Court case in June preventing public sector unions from collecting fees from non-members and with July's proposed rule affecting the ability to collect voluntary dues as well.

The world's largest hotel chain continue to experience a multi-city work walkout as nearly 3,000 additional workers went on strike in Hawaii on Monday. Unite Here, which represents hospitality workers, said 7,700 members were on strike in seven cities, including Detroit, Boston, San Diego, San Jose, Oakland, and San Francisco, for the hotel chains Marriott, Westin, and Sheraton. About 12,000 Marriott workers are currently working without a contract, thus more strikes may be expected in the near future. A local union president in Detroit commented that the workers had gone through a wage freeze and years of minimal wage increases due to the Great Recession, and now that the economy is recovering, are expecting more from Marriott's improved profits, which were up 25% from the previous year's second quarter. Besides pay raises, the union is also seeking "panic buttons" for housekeepers, in order to prevent sexual harassment and assault, as well as better scheduling for housekeepers, whose work schedules can be erratic when guests choose to skip room cleanings for conservation.

On Friday, workers at UPS and UPS Freight had rejected the proposed collective bargaining agreement on the table by a ratio of 54 to 46 percent, which was a triumph for the “vote no” movement that had been instigated by the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) and activists from the Teamsters United coalition. Due to a loophole in the constitution of the Teamsters, however, union officials for the Teamsters declared the contract ratified. The union officials and company leaders had pushed hard for the contract, and prior to the vote, Teamsters Package Division Director Denis Taylor had said the contract would be enforced even if workers voted against it. The loophole in the Teamster constitution states that contracts could be ratified even if members voted it down, unless voter numbers went over 50% or “no” votes were over 66%. Although it wasn’t clear post-vote whether the union would follow through with the loophole, TDU activists weren’t happy and are calling for Taylor’s removal as negotiator and for the union to return to the table to re-negotiate. At issue is the fact that Amazon, as UPS’s biggest customer as well as rival, raised their minimum wages last week to $15, while UPS was still offering only $13. Other concerns on the table include excessive overtime, surveillance, and supervisory harassment.

A British union is encouraging Uber drivers to strike on Tuesday. In recent months, Uber drivers around the world have been protesting their working conditions. Drivers in the UK plan to avoid signing into the app for 24 hours, in order to protest low fares and minimal workplace rights. Additionally, drivers plan to hold protests outside of Uber’s offices. The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain is anticipating that hundreds of drivers will participate in the upcoming strike.

See Costas Pitas, Reuters, Oct 8 2018

A Best Buy in North Carolina, impacted by Hurricane Florence, is offering employees full pay for volunteer work, while the store is undergoing repair. Many employees in regions impacted by the hurricane have been unable to work, due to structural damage caused by the disaster and thus are experiencing financial pressure due to a loss of wages. Fortunately, Best Buy has established the Richard M. Shulze Family Foundation, which is intended to help employees financially during emergency situations. The Foundation will allow employees at the Wilmington location to receive full pay while they assist their community in recovering from the hurricane.

See Michael Praats, Port City Daily, Oct 8 2018

Approximately 30,000 Toys ‘R’ Us employees were laid off with no severance pay, following the retailer’s closure. However, some of the company’s former employees have contacted the private equity firms that funded the toy retailer, asking for financial assistance. Many former Toys ‘R’ Us employees are facing financial hardship as a result of the abrupt store closures that took place this summer. Those employees who have been in contact with investment firms, have been successful; over $20 million has been raised for a hardship fund so far. The closure of Toys ‘R’ Us has led to major criticism of private equity, which is already facing widespread condemnation.

See Michael Corkery, The New York Times, Oct 8 2018

Nearly 2,500 hotel workers walked off jobs at seven Marriott properties in San Francisco, joining striking Marriott workers in Boston, Oakland, and San Jose – all of whom were calling for higher wages, workplace safety and job security. The strike in San Francisco comes during a busy convention season and did result in the cancelling of at least one event with 550 attendees - the annual gala event for the non-profit Shanti Project which supports serious or terminal illness patients. 98.6 percent of the more than 8,000 hotel workers represented by Unite Here Local 2 voted in late September to strike. The city’s biggest hotel employer is Marriott, which employs approximately 2,300 workers. Strikes were also authorized in Detroit, Honolulu, Maui, San Diego and Seattle to allow staff to join the picket lines.

A Microsoft engineer, hoping to bring a lawsuit against the tech behemoth on the behalf of approximately 8,000 female employees, will have the 2011 Supreme Court case Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes to contend with as precedent against filing suit using class-action status. A female engineer was given a lower performance ranking, despite being told she had an outstanding year deserving of a higher performance rating, due to company policy that caps top rankings. In addition, she was passed over for promotion in favor of less qualified men and was paid less than her male peers; overall, women at Microsoft earn a “significant” 8.6 percent less than men. The Walmart case in 2011 had ruled that there wasn’t enough “commonality” among plaintiffs being evaluated by thousands of managers to justify a class; the Microsoft plaintiffs believed that the forced ranking system made it an issue of corporate culture. While a U.S. District judge ruled in favor of Microsoft in July, due to the Walmart precedent, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has agreed to review the case.

While many employees dream of the benefits of a freelance life – flextime, flexplace, being one’s own boss – the challenges – primarily financial and administrative – can be beyond what’s imagined. Freelancers are part of the expanding contingent workforce, which is estimated to make up one-third of U.S. employees. The challenges are that an employer is no longer contributing toward Social Security, health insurance, retirement, or paid vacations; women may find putting off maternity plans due to the uncertainty of income and lack of provided paid leave. Some may find that lack of training, the complexity of meeting tax requirements, and unfamiliarity with current demand has led them to undercharge for their services, but charging more in a gig economy may not be possible in low-paying fields or where competition for services is fierce. Financial insecurity makes it difficult for independent workers to save money; only 8 percent are able to save for retirement, compared to 42 percent of those with an employer.

With the apparent decline of union power evidenced by the decreasing numbers of union members and strikes per year, as well as by the enactment of right-to-work laws in five states since 2012 and the Supreme Court ruling this year against required union fees for public employees in the Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the labor movement appears to be struggling against current political climates. A new book, A History of America in Ten Strikes, suggests that what unions need to do to revitalize what characterized the powerful labor movement during its heyday years after the New Deal is to re-emphasize to employees that the labor movement is more than about wage and benefit protections, but that involvement in labor movements gives workers a stronger say in societal conditions and the politics that may prevent respect and fairness.

In the face of setbacks to public sector unions due to the Supreme Court ruling against required union fees earlier this year, one union in Peoria, Illinois is trying a different approach to increasing membership and needed funds – by working on community outreach and visiting employees at home to find out what employee’s concerns are. The 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers union is seeking to spread the message that the union is interested in members being involved with their union from the ground up, giving members more say and power in how the union operates. Giving union members more say in what agendas the union should pursue will hopefully increase membership and allow the union to be a more effective ally for its workers.

The USMCA trade deal involving Mexico and Canada, introduced on Tuesday as an update to NAFTA by President Trump, received circumspect reactions by labor leaders, who, while appreciative of the administration’s attempts to seek input and answer queries, stated that they wanted to see more specific language regarding worker protections in the final version. The sticking point for House Democrats and labor officials is that while the deal does guard the workers’ right to strike, expands the definition of the minimum wage, and addresses violent intimidation of workers, it lacks a detailed plan as to how these will be enforced. The text of the trade deal was meant to be the final version, but union presidents are hopeful that enforcement mechanisms will be implemented in the bill that Congress will use to ratify the deal; labor officials are also waiting to see whether Mexico adopts its own labor law reforms.

Professor Lois Gray, a leader in the field of labor management relations, passed away recently at the age of 94. She joined the ILR School shortly after it was founded, where she worked as the director of extension. In her role, she mentored union leaders- thus bringing an academic field into the real world through education. Professor Gray was a researcher, author, and a member of the New York State Employment and Training task forces, whose contributions to the field of labor relations will not be forgotten.

See Sam Roberts, New York Times, Oct 3 2018

In order to address a shortage of skilled workers, Denmark leaders have proposed a policy that would reduce work permit requirements for foreign workers from specific countries. The country’s economy has grown tremendously over the past nine years. However, this economic growth and accompanying low unemployment rates has led to a labor shortage in several fields- especially those involving construction and technology. This specific policy is unique in that it will encourage workers from outside of the EU to immigrate to Denmark, and as a result it will likely face backlash from the more exclusionist Danish People’s Party. In order for this policy to be ratified, it will have to be approved by parliament.

See Peter Levring, Bloomberg, Oct 3 2018

Students at an Aveda Institute located in Chicago were recently recognized as having employee status, by a federal judge. Aveda’s cosmetology students were required to perform various manual labor tasks, such as cleaning floors and washing towels. Students reported that they were unable to refuse to perform these tasks. While the cosmetology school’s representatives argued that manual labor was part of the students’ education, federal judge Judith Levy disagreed and ruled that those students performing said tasks should legally be considered employees.

See Associated Press, The Detroit News, Oct 3 2018

On Tuesday, hundreds of fast-food workers from McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy’s gathered in Detroit to push for a $15 minimum wage and the right to union representation - blocking several lanes of traffic - and resulting in 18 people, including Rashida Tlaib, former state representative who is running for a U.S. House seat, and Abdul El-Sayed, former Democratic candidate for governor, being arrested by Detroit police for disrupting the peace. At a similar protest earlier in the day in Flint, Michigan, eight people were injured when a pickup truck plowed into the protesting workers; Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver were in attendance but were unhurt. Similar protests in favor of wage increases for fast food workers are expected later this week in Chicago and Milwaukee, amongst other cities; McDonald's recently experienced large-scale walkouts protesting sexual harassment. The fast food worker protests adds to the increasing labor unrest in Michigan. On Sept. 17, University of Michigan nurses voted in favor of a three-day work stoppage to protest "…continuous violations of their workplace rights." Two days later, 98 percent of the 160 housekeepers, servers, cooks and door attendants at the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit hotel voted in favor of a strike. Last but not least, more than 160 road projects in Michigan came to a halt for nearly four weeks after heavy equipment operators stopped working.

See Arrests, injuries highlight protests of fast food workers in Michigan, Annalise Frank, Crain's Detroit Business, Oct 2 2018

Amazon, long plagued by stories of poor working conditions and low wages in its warehouses, has decided to increase the minimum wage for its workers in the US and UK, to $15 and £9.50 respectively. The increase in base pay means that Amazon’s British workers will effectively receive a pay raise of 28% in London and 18% elsewhere, while the lowest paid US workers will receive an increase of 36%. CEO Jeff Bezos commented that “we listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead.” Some economists theorized that the move was necessary due to labor shortages. Decreasing unemployment levels in the US have helped workers demand higher pay, resulting in the fastest wage increases in nine years. In the UK, companies have found it harder to recruit staff, due to a decrease in the number of EU workers since the Brexit vote.

The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago has ruled unanimously that suburban Lincolnshire in northwestern Illinois does not have the right to establish a local right-to-work law. “Right-to-work” laws allow workers to opt out of paying union fees even if those workers benefit from collective bargaining. The court stated that while the National Labor Relations Act allows individual states to pass right-to-work laws, it does not allow for passing that responsibility to local governments, due to the likelihood of conflicting labor laws on the local level. The decision conflicts with a ruling made by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016 in Kentucky, which ruled in favor of local regions being able to establish right-to-work laws. This sets up the possibility that the case may be taken to the Supreme Court for review, which the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center intends to do. The Liberty Justice Center represented Lincolnshire and also represented Mark Janus, whose case against “fair share” union payments reached the Supreme Court and dealt a blow to unions nationally earlier this year.

As of today, Michigan will require that all food stamp recipients are employed. Individuals who are currently participating in the program will have three months after their next annual case review to find a job, before their benefits are withdrawn. In 2002 Michigan removed this barrier to assistance due to high unemployment; now that unemployment rates have decreased, the state will reestablish this requirement. In order to meet this requirement, an individual must work at least 20 hours per week in a paid position, a job training program, or as a volunteer at a nonprofit.

See Meira Gebel, Detroit Free Press, Oct 1 2018

New contracts have been ratified at five more Chicago hotels, while ten hotels remain out on strike in hopes of securing greater benefits and work conditions. The five that recently reached an agreement include four Hilton hotels, and the Inn of Chicago. The new contracts will increase wages, benefits, and overall working conditions for hotel hospitality workers. Union representatives also report that the new agreements will allow workers to keep their health benefits, in the event that they are laid off during the winter months.

See Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune, Oct 1 2018

German parties are currently debating as to whether or not asylum-seekers should be offered foreign worker status if they find employment and learn to speak German. Coincidentally, Germany faces a shortage of skilled workers. While it would take up to five years for a refugee with a low education level to learn German and become qualified to fill a skilled position, the refugee is already living in Germany. The alternative is to ask refugees to return to their home countries, and hire skilled workers from abroad. Leaders have yet to reach a consensus regarding how these concerns should be addressed.

See Michael Nienaber, Reuters, Oct 1 2018

The European low-cost flight service, Ryanair, has canceled hundreds of flights as workers prepare to go out on strike. The company’s CEO has a history of expressing anti-union sentiment, consequently, unions were just recently granted recognition by the airline. One of the major sources of employee discontent comes from Ryanair using foreign-employment contracts, thus subjecting workers all over Europe to Irish labor laws. This employment arrangement creates tremendous inconvenience for workers- many find it difficult to open bank accounts, purchase phone plans, and access unemployment benefits in their home countries. An additional grievance that workers will protest in the upcoming strike is the use of third party hiring services and contractors, as opposed to hiring regular flight crews.

See Cole Stangler, The Atlantic, Sep 28 2018

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi stated, at a conference, that the company would provide benefits to its workers, “if it’s something that can work in the ecosystem.” In recent legal decisions, Uber drivers have been defined as independent contractors rather than employees. This means that drivers are not entitled to the benefits given to employees. However, in Europe where labor laws are different, Uber is already offering some benefits for drivers such as parental and sick leave compensation. The benefits offered to European drivers are limited- only those who have completed 150 rides in the previous eight weeks are eligible. When asked to comment, Uber referenced a statement signed by the CEO earlier this year which advocates for the creation of a federal benefits system that can be utilized by independent contractors.

See Glenn Fleishman, Fortune, Sep 28 2018

The Dutch furniture store, IKEA, has been accused of disrespecting its workers’ rights to collective activity. Unions have alleged that management has harmed unionization efforts in the United States, Ireland, and Portugal. The Dutch government has been asked to intervene, as the company has not taken appropriate action against the anti-union management tactics being displayed in the aforementioned countries. In light of these allegations, IKEA has stated that it complies with labor laws in all markets where it operates, and that it respects its workers’ rights to unionize.

See Anna Ringstrom, Reuters, Sep 28 2018

A U.S. Federal Court has ruled that charter schools in Louisiana must acknowledge and bargain with teacher unions. In 2016, the United Teachers at New Orleans was asked by the teachers of International High School of New Orleans to represent them in contract negotiations. Voice of International Business and Education, the holder of the charter, had denied the request for representation, stating that in order to collectively bargain, the union needed the approval of the employer. Eventually, the court ruled that Voices is not a political subdivision of the state, and thus is not exempt from the ruling of the National Labor Relations Board.

See Will Sentell, The Advocate, Sep 27 2018

Amazon has reportedly sent a training video to Wholefoods Inc. explaining workplace organizing and how to prevent it. It has been claimed that the video asks managers to be aware of the “warning signs” of union activity. Staff writer of Gizmodo, Bryan Menegus, released a tweet alleging that Amazon included the statement “Unions are lying, cheating rats” in its video. As a response, an Amazon spokesperson says that the company stands behind its video claiming that the company only wants to better engage its employees and better train its managers.

See Erin Corbett, Fortune, Sep 27 2018

Board Chairman Lee-Sanghoon and twenty-seven other high-level executives from Samsung and its partner companies have been indicted for allegedly undermining a labor union of its employees. The indictments come after years of rumors about the company’s strong disapproval of labor unions. South Korean prosecutors of the case have deemed Samsung’s actions as “an organized crime”. The company has been alleged to have taken many different approaches to discourage its employees from joining labor unions such as threatening to lower the wages of union workers. Samsung has even cut off business ties with companies who are pro-unions.

See Sam Kim, Bloomberg, Sep 27 2018

Harvard’s newly formed graduate student union is preparing to vote on a long list of bargaining objectives. The list addresses a wide variety of issues- ranging from childcare to international student protections. Some of these goals include negotiating free tuition, lower housing costs, and greater health coverage. The union is also seeking to establish a formal third-party grievance procedure. Union negotiators hope to begin bargaining with the university before the end of the semester.

See Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Molly C. McCafferty, The Harvard Crimson, Sep 26 2018

The video game developer Telltale Games decided to close their studio, dismissing approximately 250 employees with no notice, reason, or severance pay. A former employee has filed a suit against the company alleging that the large layoff is in violation of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. The WARN Act requires firms with at least 100 full time employees to provide 60 days’ notice prior to mass layoffs or closures, exceptions being made only when company action is a result of “circumstances that were not reasonably foreseeable.” However, the state adoption of the law will make it difficult for Telltale Games to fight against the allegations. California’s reworking of the law does not allow exceptions to be made even when closure is a result of circumstances that were out of the firm’s control.

See Legal Entertainment, Forbes, Sep 26 2018

Amidst an NLRB investigation into Tesla’s alleged labor law violations, emails have been uncovered that suggest that management was employing anti-union tactics. Gaby Toledano, who recently stepped down from her position as “chief people officer,” suggested in an email to Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, that key union advocates be offered positions as full-time safety staff. Toledano also wrote that she would consult with the Tesla legal team to guarantee that the full-time safety staff would be considered managers. Promoting union advocates to management positions would prohibit those individuals from supporting union organizing activities. Tesla continues to deny the allegations that the NLRB has brought against the company.

See Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg, Sep 26 2018

Fashion company H&M has not been following through with its 2013 promise that it would provide fair living wages for its textile workers by 2018, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), based on interviews with 62 workers in supplier factories from Cambodia, India, Turkey, and Bulgaria. The CCC report found that H&M workers in Cambodia earned less than half the estimated living wage; those living in India and Turkey were earning a third of the living wage. The company - which has more than 4,800 stores in 69 nations - disagreed with the CCC’s findings, saying that it had reached at least 600 factories and 930,000 garment workers with its fair living wage strategy, and that “there is no universally agreed level for living wages…(which) should be defined and set by parties on the labor market through fair negotiations between employers and workers representatives, not by Western brands.” The Ethical Trading Initiative – a group of trade unions, companies, and charities, commented that “the issue of living wages is bigger than one brand, and too few companies have initiatives to drive up wages.”

A federal appeals court in San Francisco has dealt a blow to Uber drivers, ruling that the drivers are unable to group together for purposes of a class action lawsuit to fight for better pay and benefits. The decision doesn’t come as a surprise, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court gave more power to employers in May, forcing workers to file for individual arbitration rather than class action lawsuits. A lawyer for the drivers noted that thousands of drivers have already signed up for individual arbitration, and that if “Uber wants to resolve these disputes one by one, we are ready to do that -- one by one.”

See Appeals court rules against class-action status for Uber drivers, Joel Rosenblatt and Bob Van Voris , Bloomberg, Sep 25 2018

Labor unions in Argentina staged a nationwide strike on Tuesday to protest the declining value of the peso, one of the world’s highest inflation rates, and reduction measures ordered by President Mauricio Macri, including decreasing subsidies on utility rates, layoffs of state workers, new taxes on exports, and the elimination of several ministries. The strike grounded flights, crippled bus and train lines and closed the main agricultural port. Many hospitals provided only emergency services, garbage wasn’t picked up, and many stores and banks didn’t open. President Macri initiated market-friendly changes in 2015 that received praise from investors, but which have also caused labor unrest in a country with traditionally strong state benefits.

See Argentina’s workers strike to protest economic crisis, snarling essential services, Luis Andres Henao, The Associated Press, Sep 25 2018

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against Walmart Inc. on Friday, claiming that the Walmart did not accommodate pregnancy-related medical restrictions, and denied pregnant workers' requests for unpaid leave. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 prohibits workplace discrimination against pregnant women; in 2015 the Supreme Court also ruled that the act addressed the need to provide the same type of accommodations to pregnant employees as it does similarly disabled workers. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of employees at distribution centers in Wisconsin; the retailer is also facing class action lawsuits in Illinois and New York for denying accommodations to pregnant women in its stores.

Several senators have urged the Secretary of Education to overturn a one-sided collective bargaining agreement with the nation’s largest federal employee union, claiming that the department had broken federal labor laws in March when it had ended negotiations with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) on a new collective bargaining agreement and implemented a contract that ended numerous employee benefits, including telework, alternative work schedules, official time and nearly two dozen categories of issues that had been subject to grievance procedures. The AFGE filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the department with the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which found in July that the union’s case held merit. The senators wrote that the department’s attempts to implement a “management edict” have weakened its ability to recruit and retain employees, and have asked the department to provide information about what has been done to resolve outstanding unfair labor practice charges, as well as provide the number of employees who have left since the implementation of the new contract.

A California state senator has co-authored a bill that would require greater gender equality in public boardrooms, mandating that public companies headquartered in the state must place at least one woman on their board by the end of 2019. The bill also demands that two women must sit on public boards with five members, and three on boards of six or more by 2021. As of June 2017, more than 25% of the 445 publicly traded companies in California had no women on their boards. Opponents to the bill, including the California Chamber of Commerce, argue that the bill’s quota system does not address a lack of diversity along racial and ethnic lines, and that legislating to address gender equality would create “token” measures that would ultimately harm. Legislation pushing gender diversity is not unique – Massachusetts and Illinois have passed non-binding resolutions to address the issue. In 2003, Norway required 40% of corporate board seats be held by women, which was followed by France and other European countries. In 2015, Germany followed suit, requiring 30% of corporate board seats be held by women. Earlier this year, the New York State Common Retirement Fund announced its opposition towards the re-election of all directors on U.S. corporate boards without a single woman.

On Thursday, the U.S. stated that it is taking a stand against forced labor- as a means of protecting American jobs. The International Labour Organization and Walk Free Foundation estimate that 25 million people are engaged in forced labor, and more than $400 billion worth of the goods entering the U.S. annually are manufactured by exploited workers. While the issue of unethical labor sources has been framed in the past as a human rights violation, the Trump administration seeks to fight slave labor to ensure that the U.S. can compete fairly in the global market. This position is consistent with the administration’s “America First” policy, which seeks to “create a fair playing field” for the U.S. and its trade partners.

See Sebastien Malo, Reuters, Sep 21 2018

A recent study, conducted by Vanderbilt’s Tae-Youn Park and Brownlee O. Curry Jr., has found that mothers represented by unions are at least 17 percent more likely to take advantage of paid maternity leave, than their nonunionized counterparts. Currently, the U.S. lags behind other industrialized countries in ensuring paid maternity and paternity leave. There are leave plans provided by individual employers and some state-based programs, however, Park notes that having those plans in place does not necessarily mean that parents will take advantage of them. Park’s research seeks to identify the barriers that prevent new parents from taking leave, and identifies unions as a key player in helping employees take advantage of existing parental leave plans.

See Nathaniel Luce, Vanderbilt Business News, Sep 21 2018

Walmart has surveyed its employees to gain a better understanding of which employee benefits would be most valuable to new hires. The shifting labor market has forced employers to increase employee benefits and perks to retain current employees and attract new hires. In the past year, more than one third of employers have increased employee benefits, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Walmart has raised its starting wage, implemented a more relaxed dress code, and expanded its employee benefits in order to remain competitive. Now it seems that Walmart is seeking to add to its list of employee perks, once again, as it attempts to keep up with other large employers.

See Matthew Boyle, Bloomberg BNA, Sep 21 2018

Nurses and union workers from the California Nurses Association and the Caregiver Healthcare Employees Union who work at Palomar Health hospitals in California have been picketing outside of the hospitals to protests against alleged short staffing and working conditions. Palomar claims that there is nothing wrong with the staffing levels and that the hospitals meet or even exceed federal issued guidelines. In fact, Palomar believes that the workers and unions are motivated by the recent Janus Supreme Court decision on labor unions rather than the actual alleged labor disputes.

As of September 14, the National Labor Relations Board has asked field offices to begin pursuing unions that have been slow or unprofessional in responding to worker complaints. The NLRB is holding unions to a higher standard in providing fair representation to employees, by asking to implement or use tracking systems that records response time to worker complaints. The new directive is similar to other policy changes that increases pressure on unions in recruiting and maintaining membership numbers.

See New NLRB directive to hold unions accountable for negligent behavior, Hassan A. Kanu, Bloomberg BNA, Sep 20 2018

The graduate student union at Columbia University announced that it plans to strike again, in an attempt to pressure the university to negotiate. Graduate students first voted to unionize in 2016, since then they have been fighting for recognition. The university refuses to engage in negotiations with the union, with a university spokesperson stating that a union will threaten Columbia’s essential academic functions, and unnecessarily disrupt undergraduate students’ education. The strike in April interrupted core courses, and resulted in the cancellation of numerous discussion sections in the weeks leading up to finals. If the graduate student union strikes again, undergraduate courses will undoubtedly be impacted negatively.

See Emma James and Noah Percy, Columbia Spectator, Sep 19 2018

The leadership of Unite Here Local 11, which represents around 2,700 hotel workers, and Disneyland Resort management have finally reached a tentative agreement following over a year and a half of negotiations. The four year contract, if approved, will raise Disneyland’s starting wage to $15 an hour. A study that was conducted by the unions representing Disney workers earlier this year found that many employees reported not earning a wage that allowed them to cover their basic expenses. Negotiating a living wage is a substantial win for Disneyland Resort unions, who have been fighting for better wages and benefits for over a year.

See Hugo Martin, LA Times, Sep 19 2018

During the economic crisis in 2009, the minimum wage in Greece was decreased by up to 32 percent. This reduction was implemented in an attempt to stabilize the Greek economy and make it more competitive during a time of immense volatility. Following Greece’s third “international bailout,” leaders have submitted a draft amendment to parliament, in an attempt to rapidly increase the minimum wage. The draft states that the increase to the minimum wage will be complete by 2019, and will involve discussions with unions, employers, and government.

See Renee Maltezou, Reuters, Sep 19 2018

Some Disney employees who also work as Lyft drivers have filed statements with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that they do not wish to seek representation from unions, and that they are “happy with their working conditions”. The local Teamsters union had requested almost 60 “Minnie Van” drivers to be included in their bargaining units, with a regional director of the labor board approving the request in May. Disney had appealed the decision, asking to delay any requirement to bargain over the drivers. The drivers against unionization are being represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and had wanted to side with Disney in a current labor dispute over concerns that they would be forced into the Teamster pension plan, lose seniority and lose income.

Nashville’s population increased by 11.6% between 2010 and 2016, but the subsequent construction boom has been deadly for its workers – 16 were killed during 2016 and 2017, the deadliest two year range in over 30 years, resulting in the city being named the most dangerous city in the south for construction workers in a 2017 report. Half of the deaths were Latino workers in a city where Latinos make up 10% of the population. 11 of the 16 deaths were due to lack of safety harnesses that could have prevented deadly falls. Workers spoke of a culture of intimidation and fear that prevented basic safety concerns from being addressed. Some progress is being made– a coalition of Latino, black, and white workers recently aligned with city council allies to have Major League Soccer agree to a list of improvements for the employees working on the football stadium being built, including building affordable housing in surrounding communities, preference for contractors with good workplace safety records, and an improved minimum wage of $15.50 for workers at the stadium. Current minimum wage for Nashville construction workers stands at $14 despite the building boom.

At rallies and protests today in 10 U.S. cities, McDonald’s workers spoke out about sexual abuse, coercion and harassment as common occurrences in the restaurants, with the company doing little to improve working conditions, despite complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Tuesday’s protests, inspired by the #MeToo movement, occurred in Chicago, Durham, Kansas City, Missouri, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Orlando, San Francisco and St Louis. Workers described being groped, forced into corners, and being kissed by managers, while fearing to speak out for fear of losing their jobs. While organizers described the strike as the first nationwide to specifically target sexual harassment, they noted that this was part of a larger problem of workers being exploited, with the company resisting unionization attempts as well as the movement to increase wages to $15 an hour. According to a 2016 survey performed by Hart Research Associates, 40 percent of female fast food workers reported being sexually harassed.

Construction workers in Turkey recently returned to work after protesting poor work and living conditions at the site of the new Istanbul airport. Employees have reported inadequate food, living quarters infested with bedbugs, and unsafe practices at the construction site. According to a statement released in February from Turkey’s labor ministry, accidents and health problems at the airport construction site have caused 27 worker deaths since 2015. Protests commenced after 17 workers were injured in a shuttle accident. The president of the IYI-SEN union believes that employees have returned to work due to threats from management, and notes that police presence at the work site has increased. According to union representatives, it is unclear as to whether or not protests will continue.

See Ali Kucukgocmen, Reuters, Sep 17 2018

Michigan Medicine nurses have voted to authorize a three-day strike. Recently, union representatives filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging numerous labor law violations. Nurses claim that their employer has failed to bargain in good faith, retaliated against workers who exercise their right to free speech, and altered nurses’ shifts without prior union approval. The employer has expressed concerns regarding patient safety in the event that a strike does occur. Despite the authorization, union representatives have stated that a strike is not their goal.

See Marc Daalder, Detroit Free Press, Sep 17 2018

In recent years, the gig model has offered an alternative employment solution in “shift work” industries that struggle with high turnover. The gig economy has expanded into the food delivery, transportation, hospitality, and retail industries with great success. The author suggests that one industry that could benefit greatly from adapting the gig model is the restaurant industry, which faces an exceptionally high employee turnover rate and as a result, high training costs. The restaurant industry shares a lot of commonalities with the other industries that have implemented the gig business model approach, the author proposes that industry leaders should consider shifting from employees to independent contractors.

See Chris Comparato, Forbes, Sep 17 2018

This spring, Harvard graduate students successfully established a union. Negotiations between the union and the university will begin soon. Harvard joins schools such as Cornell, NYU, and Georgetown who have all agreed to or begun bargaining with unionized graduate student workers. Yale continues to struggle to establish a graduate student union, as the university is critical of the union’s procedures. The university claims that the chosen bargaining unit is not representative of the larger graduate student population, and thus does not agree to validate the vote.

See Carly Wanna, Yale News, Sep 14 2018

On Thursday, the NLRB proposed a rule that would overturn the Obama-era Browning Ferris standard. If this rule is passed, only employers who have direct influence over their employees will be defined as “joint employers.” This definition is narrow in contrast to the current standard which holds that a company that exerts direct or indirect control is considered a joint employer. Business groups have a strong interest in overturning the Browning-Ferris standard because it broadens the definition of the types of employers that can be held responsible for labor law violations.

See Daniel Wiessner, Reuters, Sep 14 2018

The Burgerville Workers Union has filed an Unfair Labor Practices charge with the NLRB, after Portland workers were informed of an unwritten uniform policy that prohibits non-work related buttons. Employees wearing buttons that represent causes such as the Black Lives Matter movement, were told to remove their buttons as they are prohibited from the workplace. While this policy does not prevent the use of buttons protected by the NLRB, the union is displeased that the company did not discuss such a policy before enforcing it. Burgerville has released a statement, suggesting that this issue is not within the NLRB’s authority.

See Alex Frane, Portland Eater, Sep 14 2018

Pilots and cabin crew for Ryanair, Europe’s largest low-cost airline, walked out for a full day on Wednesday in Germany, grounding 150 flights out of a scheduled 400, with threats to engage in more strikes. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary insisted that they were prepared to deal with strikes in order to defend their “cost base” and that the strikes had nominal impact on operations, warning that job cuts may result from continued “wildcat strikes.” The airline had come under criticism for hiring some of its pilots through third-party agencies rather than employing them fully; German services union Verdi is asking for significant pay increases for cabin crew. The airline had only recently decided to recognize unions last December in an attempt to improve relations with pilots and relieve staffing inadequacies.

See Ryanair pilots, cabin crew stage full-day walkout, halts 150 flights in Germany, Maria Sheahan and Sarah Young, Reuters, Sep 12 2018

Mexico President-elect Andrés Manuel Luís Obrador has proposed legislation to improve collective bargaining rules, partly to shift power from labor leaders to union workers, and partly to comply with the new trade agreement with the U.S., which had been negotiated this summer with an eye towards exerting more control over wages in Mexico. Currently, “protection agreements” may occur where deals are struck between labor leaders and management without worker consent. An estimated nine out of 10 agreements have been struck without worker consent or even knowledge. The new legislation would require the votes of at least 30% of union workers before a new contract is signed. Protection agreements currently in place would be given an expiration date unless workers vote to extend them. The president-elect had campaigned with promises to improve worker wages and end “boss rule” in unions. Average wages in Mexico were almost 50% lower than in the next poorest OECD country, Hungary; the national minimum wage is around $1,150 a year.

1,250 United Steelworkers members in two local unions in Massachusetts have been on lock-out strike for three months in tense labor negotiations with National Grid, a British utility company, with two of the most contentious demands involving benefits most workers today no longer have. The unions are holding strong in trying to maintain a company-funded pension retirement plan for its new hires rather than a 401k retirement plan; they are also refusing to agree to a new health care plan that would raise costs substantially for employees. The unions’ insistence on not having a two-tiered system – one for current employees and one for new hires – in order to not incur resentment among workers, may hurt the unions’ bargaining potential in a time of waning union power. Union leaders are refusing to budge, however, saying they are doing this not just for themselves, but for “organized labor everywhere.” Locked-out workers are picketing company facilities, holding demonstrations, heckling replacement workers, and documenting numerous safety violations by inexperienced contractors and supervisors now doing the jobs, with almost 100 alleged safety violations being reported to the Department of Public Utilities. The locked-out workers are getting unemployment at half their base salary, but have no health insurance. The company’s lock-out after the contract expired this year is being challenged with the National Labor Relations Board.

As surfing becomes an Olympic sport in 2020, the World Surf League announced it will raise prize money for its women athletes in 2019, to equal those of male surfers. The gender pay gap between surfers has been significant, with prize money at an Australian competition earlier this year resulting in $100,000 for male winners and $65,000 for female winners. The WSL had received negative publicity in June when a photo from a South Africa junior surf competition showed a male and female athlete holding up their prize checks, worth 8000 and 4000 rand respectively. In addition, the State Lands Commission in California required the WSL to offer equal pay in order to receive a permit to hold its annual big-wave competition at Mavericks. Last year, BBC Sport did a study which found that while 35 of 44 sports governing bodies awarded equal prize money, the disparity in those sports that did not was often striking, notably with female soccer players. Five members of the U.S. women’s soccer team filed a wage discrimination suit in 2016 against the U.S. Soccer Federation, alleging that female players were paid a quarter of their male counterparts, even though the women's team had earned $20 million more in revenue.

While Tesla CEO Elon Musk has insisted that he remains neutral on unions, several current and past employees have shed details on Tesla’s anti-union working climate, describing it as a “culture of fear.” . The car company has been in the news often for anti-unionization efforts, with employees stating that upper management has always quashed pro-union sentiments quickly, and those who are fired are pushed to sign non-disclosure agreements prior to receiving their last paycheck. One past employee cited the cause of his termination as being two unsatisfactory performance reviews whose ratings had been altered after the fact to give a lower score, although his supervisor’s positive comments remained. Prior to his unionization attempts, the employee’s performance reviews had been highly rated for several years; his supervisor confirmed that the ratings had been lowered. Currently on trial is an NLRB complaint over Musk’s promise in 2017 to fix safety concerns if unionization attempts ceased. Similar charges are currently under consideration by the NLRB, including alleged surveillance and intimidation against workers attempting unionization.

Blue-collar jobs in the goods-producing sectors such as the mining, construction and manufacturing industries grew 3.3 percent in the year preceding July, the highest rate since 1984. Much of the recent blue-collar job growth can be attributed to rebounding oil prices, and rebuilding efforts post-hurricanes Harvey and Irma. A strong global economy has also fueled the construction and manufacturing industries, which have driven most of the growth. Rural employment grew at an annualized rate of 5.1 percent in the first quarter, with smaller metro areas growing 5 percent – both larger than the 4.1 percent growth in large urban areas, according to a report by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. The economy has added 656,000 blue-collar jobs, while the services sector has added 1.7 million, but the rate of growth in blue-collar jobs is accelerating, while service-sector job growth has hovered around 1.3 percent for the past year. The good news may not last forever; long-term growth still favors technological industries and large cities, and Trump’s tariff war may dent momentum.

See Blue-collar job growth rate, highest in 30 years, revitalizes rural areas, Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam, The Washington Post, Sep 10 2018

Cornell received the Goat of Labor Award at the 35th Labor Day picnic on Monday. The award is given to the employer accused of the most egregious labor violations in the local community. The ongoing labor issues at the Maplewood construction project was cited as the reason for Cornell winning the title. A petition was recently circulated by the Tompkins-Cortland Building & Construction Trades Council, an AFL-CIO affiliate. The petition urges the University’s use of local union labor in future construction projects.

See Hnin Ei Wai Lwin, The Cornell Daily Sun, Sep 5 2018

The current prison labor strike has garnered far more media attention than the national prison strike in 2016. Major news outlets including the New York Times, the Guardian, Al Jazeera, and the Washington Post have covered the story in sympathetic op-ed’s. Prison historian Dan Berger attributes several factors to the sudden newsworthiness of prison militancy, including the efforts of millions of activists. Groups of formerly incarcerated activists including All of Us or None, Just Leadership USA, and the National Council of Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls have done substantial work in bringing attention to issues of mass incarceration. Activism around incarceration has grown with the radical labor movement, the most prolific example of solidarity between the movements is the Incarcerated Workers’ Organizing Committee. The IWOC is closely tied to unionists of the Industrial Workers of the World and other radical labor groups.

See Jared Rodriguez, Truth Out, Sep 5 2018

In the wake of Greece’s third EU bailout and the accompanying austerity measures implemented last month, seamen in Athen’s ports went on strike this week. Ships will remain docked for a full 24 hours. The national seamen federation PNO says that negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement have stalled due to the employer’s inability to meet demands for wage increases. Shipping companies have been forced to reschedule numerous sailings.

See Renee Maltezou, William Maclean, and Ed Osmond, Reuters, Sep 5 2018

According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 55% of Americans have a favorable view of labor unions, compared to 33% who hold an unfavorable view. The results are not a new development, in fact, the same poll has shown that a majority of Americans have supported the idea of labor unions for the last three decades. Still, BLS data shows that only 10.7% of all wage workers in 2017 were union members. Union membership fell to an all-time low in 2016, to about half of the 1986 rate of 20.1%. According to the Pew Research study, 51% of Americans view the decline of labor unions as effecting workers negatively, while 33% believe the decline has been good for working people. African Americans, people who hold advanced degrees, and young adults are most likely to believe that the decline of unionization has had a negative impact on workers. Along party lines, 68% of Democrats and left-leaning independents believe the decline of unions has negatively affected workers, while 53% of Republicans and right-leaning independents see the decline of unions as being mostly good for working people.

See Drew Desilver, Pew Research Center, Aug 31 2018

Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced that they have reached a handshake agreement with Mexico on NAFTA terms that include a number of demands made by the AFL-CIO last summer. Included in the deal was boosting the amount of automotive content that had to be sourced from within the NAFTA region, raising that threshold to 75% from 62.5%. This increases pressure on auto manufacturers to source their materials in North America, boosting the hiring of workers in the region. The deal also requires that 40-45% of that content comes from factories where workers earn at least $16 an hour, which is much higher than the wage in most Mexican factories. Thus, factories would have an incentive to keep workers in the U.S. and Canadian factories.

See Josh Zumbrun, The Wall Street Journal, Aug 31 2018

Trump recently nominated Mark Gaston Pearce (D) to serve on the NLRB for another term. The board will still remain under Republican control, but Pearce’s nomination is nevertheless a surprising victory for labor advocates. Trump’s decision to nominate Pearce was made in the face of near-unanimous criticism by the business community and the Republican party. The three-vote majority-ruled process for approving union elections unfair labor practice complaints means that Pearce will be able to effectively team up with fellow board-democrats Lauren McFerran to make substantive decisions in some cases.

See Hassan A. Kanu and Tyrone Richardson, Bloomberg Business, Aug 29 2018

The NLRB has officially filed a complaint against Tesla for anti-labor tweets made by owner Elon Musk in May. The tweet threatened that workers would lose their stock options if they unionized. Shortly after the complaint was filed, Musk tried to explain his reasoning behind the comment, saying that the union was unlikely to let employees hold stock in Tesla. Nevertheless, the Board found Musk’s comment threatening and illegal. Musks social media activities have also sparked multiple lawsuits and an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

See Kate Gibson, CBS Money Watch, Aug 29 2018

Brandeis’ graduate student union has reached a tentative labor deal with the university. While several other schools have elected unions since the landmark Columbia decision permitted collective organizing among graduate student workers, this is the first time that a student union has successfully negotiated a deal with a university. Administrators at Harvard and Tufts have, however, agreed to bargain with their graduate student unions. Still, several institutions including Columbia stand in stark opposition to the concept, arguing that unionization will lead to more aggressive tuition hikes.

See Kirk Carapezza, WGBH, Aug 29 2018

Over the weekend, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson officially shot down Trump’s executive orders aimed at weakening federal labor unions. In an opinion published on Saturday, Judge Brown Jackson said that Trump exceeded his authority when he signed the executive orders in May, pointing to the fact that Congress established the collective bargaining rights for federal employees through the Federal Service Labor-Management Act. The case was brought by four Unions representing federal employees. The 122-page decision concluded that the unions’ had a stronger argument, and keeps the rights of Federal Employees intact.

See Gregory Korte, USA Today, Aug 27 2018

Unite Here local 362 struck deal with Disney World that will raise wages to $15 by 2021, a 50% increase from their current wages. The agreement covers thousands of park and resort employees, who will also receive the $1,000 bonuses the company had promised them earlier this year. The deal also includes back pay of 50 cents per hour or 3%, whichever is higher, for all hours worked since September 2017. The agreement is the culmination of a highly-publicized and tenuous unionization drive. Both sides have expressed they are very happy with the deal.

See Jackie Wattles, CNN Money, Aug 27 2018

Target employees at the Huntington Station, New York location could become the company’s first-ever unionized workers in an upcoming union election next week. The store is located on the north shore of Long Island, about forty minutes outside of New York City. The NLRB approved the election last week and will take place on either September 7th or 8th. The store’s 250 employees will decide whether or not they want to be represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500. The company currently has no unionized stores, although has faced elections in the past. Management at Target’s Minneapolis location is protesting the board’s approval of the election, on grounds that a supervisor allegedly participated in the unionization drive.

See Mark Reilly, Minneapolis/St.Paul Business Journal, Aug 27 2018

The latest statistics from the International Labor Organization show that more than four-hundred million working people around the world work forty-nine hours or more per week. Notably, Elon Musk even revealed spending his birthday pulling an all-nighter in his factory. While many of his fans saw this disclosure as a natural and admirable part of being Silicon Valley’s most notable entrepreneur, that tone sets a dangerous precedent. There is a slew of evidence that shows working overtime is a health risk and reduces productivity. Nevertheless, millions of people from medics to gig economy workers are seemingly reluctant to speak out against this ‘long hours’ culture. A study of job records over thirteen-years showed that jobs that require high amounts of overtime pose a 61% increased risk of on the job injury compared to jobs without overtime. Working excessively long hours is a serious hazard and can have major consequences, even for billionaires like Elon Musk. After a recent New York Times interview Tesla’s stock fell 8.8% amid suspicions about Musk’s declining mental health. With the growing gig economy, it seems unlikely that platforms like Uber and GrubHub will allow this reality to change in the near future. Researcher Alex J. Wood’s recent publication, “Good Gig, Bad Big: Autonomy and Algorithmic Control in the Global Gig Economy,” reveals just how severe the correlation is.

See José Luis Peñarredonda, Aug 24 2018

The NLRB received authorization from the Office of Personnel Management earlier this month to offer Voluntary Early Retirement Authority and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments to labor board employees. According to the agency, the move is an effort to “rebalance” the composition of staff members at their headquarters and regional offices and “realign staffing with office caseloads”. The reductions would also reportedly allow greater allocations for training and technology improvements. NLRB employees that are fifty and older with at least twenty-five years of service are eligible for early retirement and would get up to $25,000 upon leaving their post.

See Erich Wagner, Government Executive, Aug 24 2018

A nineteen-day nationwide prison strike launched on Tuesday has now caught on in at least one immigrant detention facility. Detainees at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington wrote a handwritten letter that was posted to the NWDC Resistance Facebook page announcing their decision to strike in solidarity with imprisoned persons across the country. The hunger strike is calling for minimum wages for working prisoners, improved conditions in prisons, and the possibility of parole for all prisoners. The initiative was spearheaded by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, who advocate that prison labor is unconstitutional and equivalent to slavery.

See Esther Wang, The Slot, Aug 24 2018