In June, Professor Stephanie Luce, Chair of SLU’s Department of Labor Studies, spoke with veteran New York Newsday columnist Sheryl McCarthy on the CUNY TV series “One to One.” The conversation centered on the annual “State of the Unions” report published by Luce and Professor Ruth Milkman, as well as larger trends affecting labor unions.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that New York City employees of Amazon.comInc. should unionize and that their organizing wouldn’t prompt the company to pull out of a deal to build a new campus in Queens and bring 25,000 high-paying jobs to the location.
“I think their stance on unionization reflects a different time,” Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, said of Amazon at an unrelated press conference. “Now that people are more and more concerned about decent wages and benefits, I think Amazon’s gonna have to reconsider that.”
They mayor set forth a vision of Amazon as a company that will be responsive to labor organizing and pressures for livable wages and decent working conditions. Keen observers of Amazon’s track record, however, might not be quite so optimistic. Honan goes on to quote SLU’s Stephanie Luce:
Stephanie Luce, a professor of labor studies at the City University of New York, said the company’s union battles around the world are well-documented, even in cities and countries with stronger union ties than New York City.
“It’s a real stretch to think that they can have enough leverage to make them fold,” she said. “It would be naive to believe that any city really has enough clout to make Amazon cave to demands, especially after they’re here.”
With Janus placing public sector unions on the chopping block while West Virginia teachers stage a wildcat strike for their rights, what’s the right way to feel about the future of labor? Is the picture as bleak as we’ve been made to think, or might there be glimmers of hope portending a brighter future ahead?
Stephanie Luce: You give quite a few inspirational stories, but most of the people you write about are living in pretty difficult conditions — whether it’s Walmart and fast-food workers in the United States, garment workers in Cambodia, or farmers in India. Some of the people you write about have been beaten, jailed — labor activists have been harassed, fired, kidnapped, and murdered. How are they winning?
About 70 percent of public-sector workers in the city and the state are union members, compared with just 19 percent of private-sector workers in the city and 13 percent in the rest of the state. Still, both of those rates are much higher than those of the nation, where less than 7 percent of private-sector workers — or about one in 15 — belong to unions.
All told, there are about 901,000 unionized workers living in New York City, slightly less than half the state’s total of 1.99 million. Only California has more — about 2.5 million in 2015, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. But that total amounted to only about one in six workers in California, compared with slightly less than one in four in New York State.
The Fight for 15 movement claimed its biggest victories to date last week, with both New York and California passing major minimum-wage increases.
California’s rate, currently one of the highest in the country at $10 dollars per hour, will rise incrementally and reach $15 dollars by 2022. In New York, the wage floor will go up according to business size and location: larger New York City employers (ten or more employees) must pay at least $15 by the end of 2018, while smaller employers in the city (fewer than ten employees) will have until the end of 2019 to meet that mark.
Westchester County and suburban Long Island wages will hit $15 by 2022. And upstate New York employers will have to pay employees at least $12.50 by the end of 2020, after which the state will determine how to get to $15.
It’s disappointing that the $15 requirement won’t cover all of New York state for some time, and that upstate New York workers won’t see a $15 minimum for several years at least. Unlike California, New York also still allows tipped workers to be paid a lower wage. But considering the trajectory of the US minimum wage over the past four decades, these are enormous wins. Simply put, the US has never seen an increase this large. Continue reading And a Union: Minimum-Wage Victories & the Fight for Worker Power→
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