Over the weekend, Jeremy Brecher wrote for Common Dreams about Minneapolis janitorial workers who engaged in a one-day walkout last Thursday. The janitorial workers are part of Service Employees International Union Local 26 and are employed by a range of different companies in the Minneapolis area. The cleaning workers’ contract expired in December, but the workers agreed to continue showing up to work while the union and the companies negotiated. Brecher’s article centers on one notable aspect of the workers’ strike: its focus on climate change. Local 26 is demanding that employers take action on climate change, specifically through the creation of “green training” programs for employees. Such programs would train workers in various eco-friendly practices geared towards maximizing energy efficiency in the buildings where they work (for example, workers might be trained to pay particular attention to unplugging electronics and ensuring energy isn’t being wasted). After Thursday’s walkout, the strikers returned to work the next day. The union and the employers will continue to negotiate in the hopes of reaching a contract.
Late last week, the University of California, Santa Cruz, followed through on its threat to fire striking graduate students. Graduate students at the university have been engaged in a wildcat strike since December in an effort to secure higher wages that would make it easier for the graduate students to find affordable housing near the university. As part of the strike, some teaching assistants had been withholding fall grades. Last Friday, 54 students were fired from their spring teaching jobs, and another 28 strikers who did not currently hold jobs were told they were no longer being considered for teaching positions with the university. United Auto Workers Local 2865 represents student workers throughout the University of California system, and—although the union has not authorized the Santa Cruz strike—expressed dismay at the university’s decision to fire the striking workers. Last week, the university also filed an unfair labor practice charge against UAW Local 2865, alleging that the union has failed to live up to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement by failing to rein in the wildcat strike. For its part, UAW Local 2865 filed its own unfair labor practice charge with the state of California, claiming that the university has refused to meet with the union to negotiate over the low wages that are at the heart of the strike.
Yesterday, Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiled a new proposal aimed at strengthening farmworker rights. The plan—released in the leadup to Super Tuesday—includes a wide variety of specific policy proposals that would boost protections for farmworkers, such as reinforcing heating and air quality standards and explicitly including farmworkers in the fight for a $15 minimum wage.
Over the weekend, Deanna had a nice roundup of articles speaking about the impact that coronavirus might have on workers. Adding one to that list: yesterday, David Michaels, former Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, wrote in The Atlantic about the steps that Trump’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) could take to help protect healthcare workers as the virus spreads. Michaels argues that, despite the fact that OSHA does not presently have regulations covering airborne diseases, the agency has the power to issue temporary emergency standards that could decrease the risk that healthcare workers are exposed to and spread COVID-19. OSHA was actually in the process of developing infectious-disease standards at the end of the Obama administration. These regulations were one of the many casualties of Donald Trump’s general push towards deregulation upon taking office.