ICYM: A roundup of worker news

May 4

 Angered by Columbia University’s refusal to bargain, teaching and research assistants have walked off the job in a weeklong strike with multiple picket lines. The teachers and researchers are members of the United Auto Workers, GWC-UAW Local 2110, and they are determined to bring the prestigious, but anti-union, university to the bargaining table. According to a UAW news release, teaching assistant Olga Brudastova said: “We won a union election with 72% of the vote sixteen months ago – and the law is clear. Columbia must bargain with us. As long as they refuse to respect our legal rights, we will take action to take our power back.”


Elections matter. After years of anti-union governor Chris Christie, New Jersey voters rejected the Republican candidate and elected Democrat Phil Murphy. On May 2, Murphy signed a bill into law requiring most employers to provide paid sick leave—an hour hour of leave per 30 hours worked. It’s not huge: workers are limited to a total of 40 hours per year, but it can be used many health-related personal or family matters. According to USA Today, New Jersey now joins nine other states in mandating sick leave.


While it’s international conflicts gather all the media attention, Iran is also the scene of an embattled, but fighting, labor movement. On May Day—the international labor day—five independent trade unions, together with a retirees association, called for demonstrations, according to the US-funded Radio Farda. And hundreds gathered in Teheran and a predominantly Kurdish city, despite a government ban on demonstrations. Iranian workers have been horribly squeezed. In just one example, the strikers said that, “We are in a situation that the minimum wage at most of the industrial and manufacturing complexes across Iran is four times below the poverty line.”


The California Supreme Court recently ruled that companies like Uber and Lyft cannot consistently classify their full and part-time workers as independent contractors—and must provide them with minimum wages, breaks and other benefits. For decades employers have sought to avoid costs and worker protections by using the independent contractor designation—even if the workers routinely worked only for them and under their direction. According to the Los Angeles Times, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote: “When a worker has not independently decided to engage in an independently established business but instead is simply designated an independent contractor ... there is a substantial risk that the hiring business is attempting to evade the demands of an applicable wage order through misclassification.”


Disney World may bill itself as The Happiest Place on Earth, but many of its thousands of employees think otherwise. Through their unions, they’re asking the Disney Corporation for pay raises and benefits that would make them, well, happier. According to a local Orlando TV station, in August the Service Trade Council—the coalition of union workers—asked for a $15 minimum starting wage, but Disney refused and union members voted down the Disney counterproposal. Now, Disney is offering $15 an hour, but not until 2021—something that the council president, Ed Chambers, says is not good enough. And so the negotiations continue.


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