With President Obama poised to tap current chief of staff Jack Lew as his next treasury secretary, Republicans are already attacking Lew for supposed slights during budget talks. Some progressives may bring renewed scrutiny to his time at CitiGroup. But if history is any guide, there will be little talk about another line on Lew’s résumé: The key role he played in New York University’s campaign to rid itself of a graduate student workers’ union.
Lew, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, joined NYU as chief operating officer and executive vice president in 2004. At the time, NYU was the only private university in the United States whose graduate students had a union contract. By the time Lew left two years later, NYU graduate students had lost their collective bargaining rights. In between, picketers hoisted “Wanted” posters with his face on them.
In a tentative ruling released minutes ago, District Court Judge Christina Snyder signaled she intends to grant a request to add Walmart as a named defendant in a federal class action lawsuit over alleged wage theft at its California distribution centers. The ruling is a setback for the retail giant, which has maintained that it is not legally responsible for the alleged abuses by its contractors and subcontractors. Judge Snyder will hear arguments from attorneys for both sides today, and could issue a final ruling within hours.
Walmart did not respond to a Saturday request for comment on the case, and did not immediately respond to an inquiry regarding the decision. A spokesperson for Warehouse Workers United, the union-affiliated group supporting the plantiffs, said that attorneys were not immediately available to comment given the hearing underway. The tentative ruling follows strikes by subcontracted warehouse workers in California and Illinois, and increased scrutiny regarding Walmart contracting in the United States and abroad.
A new plan for audits of labor conditions at Walmart’s US distribution centers drew skeptical reactions from labor groups Thursday. According to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the plan on December 28, Walmart’s plan is “similar to” the labor monitoring system the company currently uses for its overseas suppliers in countries such as China and Bangladesh.
“Walmart’s global labor rights monitoring program is a public relations scam put in place to address public relations problems arising from their use of sweatshop labor,” Workers Rights Consortium Executive Director Scott Nova told The Nation. “In that sense, it makes perfect sense that now that they’re facing public relations problems anew around treatment of workers in their domestic distribution system, that they would choose to apply the same public relations scam to that problem that they’ve applied internationally.” The WRC is an international labor monitoring group whose board is composed of university administrators, labor advocates and students.
Just before Christmas, the National Labor Relations Board sided with employees on a question facing a growing number of workers: When can your Facebook posts get you fired? The NLRB’s 3-1 ruling establishes an important precedent: The New Deal-era law that protects your right to strike or picket also protects your right to tweet or comment.
On Election Day 2012, as voters around the country chose between two presidential candidates who both touted policies that would make it easier to fire teachers, voters in Bridgeport, Conn., rebuffed a referendum backed by Michelle Rhee, Michael Bloomberg and the local Democratic Party. By a seven-point margin, Bridgeport rejected city charter changes that would have ended school board elections. It’s the latest round in Bridgeport’s multi-year battle over a below-the-radar front in America’s reform wars: Who should pick school board members – mayors or voters?
Here are a dozen of my favorite pieces I wrote this year:
The Great Walmart Walkout, The Nation, January 7/14, 2013 issue
In Rare Strike, NYC Fast Food Workers Walk Out, Salon, November 29, 2012
On the Road With Working America, The Nation, October 29, 2012 issue
Teachers’ strike: Chicago’s just the beginning, Salon, September 17, 2012
Can You Be Fired for What You Post on Facebook?, Slate, July 3, 2012
Can Unions Bounce Back?, Salon, June 6, 2012
Wisconsin’s Resentment Factor, Salon, June 4, 2012
American Workers: Shackled to Labor Law, In These Times, May 2012 issue
Taxes For Union-Busting, Salon, April 25, 2012
March Madness Stiffs the Players, Salon, March 11, 2012
Why Should Anti-Choice and Anti-Gay Groups Have More Right to Boycott and Picket Than Unions?, In These Times, February 21, 2012
How to Fight Indiana’s “Right to Work” Law, Salon, February 3, 2012
I’ll be on vacation this coming week. Happy Holidays!
From the new issue of Working USA: The Journal of Labor & Society, here’s my review of Julius Getman’s Book Restoring the Power of Unions: It Takes a Movement.
The morning after Thanksgiving, as many Americans were sleeping or shopping, Walmart workers were striking. In Hanover, Maryland, a handful of strikers were joined by hundreds of supporters for an 8:30 am rally in the cold. Smiling, uniformed, ten-foot-tall cardboard cutouts of employees were emblazoned with the workers’ grievances: poverty wages, miserly benefits, dignity denied. The head of the labor group Jobs With Justice blasted Walmart for abusing workers and pushing public school privatization. Then the crowd marched, two-by-two and 400 strong, through a shopping-center parking lot. When they reached the outer edge of Walmart’s property, police were waiting to block them. “We’re just nervous,” said striker Barbara Elliot. “It’s new, what we’re doing, but we’re tired…We’re doing it for other generations, too.”
About 1,000 Walmart workers in Argentina staged brief strikes last Friday, a union official told The Nation this week.
Rubén Cortina, the president of the Americas division of the global union federation UNI, said workers struck in close to ten regions of Argentina, and “almost half of the stores had some type of strike during the day.” He said those strikes generally lasted between one and three hours, as workers walked off the job to hold demonstrations inside or outside their store during part of their scheduled shift, then returned to work.
Elizabeth, NJ—About sixty activists gathered early this morning outside the Port of Newark to protest the arrival of a ship they said carried Walmart goods from Bangladesh. Hoisting cardboard tombstones spelling out Walmart’s name, and garments emblazoned with the names of workers who died in the New York City Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the crowd declared the retail giant culpable for the deaths of 112 workers in a similar fire last month in Bangladesh. Chants included, “One, two three four, don’t let that boat come ashore! Five, six, seven, eight, don’t touch that shit, don’t move that freight!”
“The supply chain needs to change…” Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN) organizer Martiza Silva-Farrell told the crowd. “This is a start.”
I’m excited to share that my Walmart reporting for The Nation received a Sidney award from the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Here’s the information.