On the Picket Line

House passes Raise the Wage Act, but struggle is in the streets

The House of Representatives passed the Raise the Wage Act on July 18, which would gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, automatically update it every year after that and phase out the “subminimum wage” for tipped workers. The bill is expected to boost pay for 27 million workers, lifting 1.3 million households out of poverty. While the Congressional Budget Office says it might trigger job losses, most academic research reports there will be little or no loss. (Vox, July 18)

One day after the bill passed, activists decided to bring the bill to the “House of the People,” demanding passage outside McDonald’s from coast to coast. While the vote showed street protests are being heard, Frances Holmes, a leader of Minnesota’s Show-Me-$15 movement, asserted, “We will keep fighting until we get a living wage where we can provide for our families with our work.” (Labor Tribune, July 29)

Unions struggle against ICE using hotels as jails

Unions and advocate groups have righteously pressured major hotel chains not to house im/migrant workers arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Hotels are meant to welcome people from all over the world, not jail them,” said D. Taylor, president of hotel workers union UNITE HERE. (Associated Press, July 21)

Unions have an important role in the fight for the rights of the im/migrant community — thousands of them belong to hotel unions. They’ve successfully pressured management at many big chains like Marriott and Hilton to state they don’t want to be used as ICE detention centers.

This movement is growing across industries, with airlines refusing to fly children whom ICE separated from parents. Advocates hit Motel 6 in November with a class action lawsuit after it shared lists of guests with “Latino-Sounding Names” with ICE. (Colorlines, July 22)

Although it’s a victory that CEOs of major chains oppose ICE’s lucrative contracts, 88 percent of chains are independent franchises which make their own deals. So beware where you stay on summer vacation. Who would want to patronize a hotel that’s also a jail?!

AFSCME stands up to anti-union Janus decision

Did the 2018 Supreme Court decision, Janus v. AFSCME, bankrolled by conservative billionaires and think tanks, succeed in killing public sector unions? The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest U.S. public sector union, only saw a 6 percent loss in 2018 — down from 1,411,877 members, including agency fee payers and retirees, in 2017 to 1,329,594 in 2018.

The Janus ruling prohibits public sector unions from collecting agency fees — also known as “fair share” dues — from workers who don’t sign up for full union membership despite their still benefiting from it. AFSCME’s winning strategy was to focus on retaining rank-and-file members, which outpaced member opt-outs 8 to 1. However, if organizing budgets have to be cut in the future, that could reduce membership. 

Despite well-funded, aggressive, right-wing campaigns to cut membership, statistics show a victory for AFSCME. Although conservatives in six states sued to make unions pay back agency fees collected before the decision, which could have defunded unions, those efforts failed. In February, an appeals court rejected a challenge to “exclusive representation” — claiming union representation infringes on free speech rights — brought by the Freedom Foundation and the National Right to Work Foundation.

Even as right-wing groups seek to smear public sector unions, approval ratings of labor unions are the highest they have been in 15 years — 62 percent in favor to 30 percent opposed — according to an Aug. 30, 2018, Gallup poll. Scholars attribute that to the recent wave of historic teacher strikes. (In These Times, March 27) Solidarity forever!


Oregon passes pro-union law for public sector workers

Oregon’s pro-labor law HB 2016 was signed the last week of June. It provides strong guarantees of government employees’ right to organize and bargain collectively. The bill, due to take effect Jan. 1, 2020, reinforces the First Amendment’s guarantee that workers have the right to organize and take collective action.

Passage of this law is critical since Oregon is a key battleground state where right-wing groups like the Freedom Foundation, which is funded by the Bradley Foundation and the Koch network, have declared war on public sector unions.

Stipulations in HB 2016 make it an unfair labor practice for employers to discourage employees from joining a union or to encourage employees to revoke union dues authorization. For other pro-worker mandates, see the July 1 article by the Center for Media and Democracy posted on prwatch.org.

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