There seems to be more bad news than good news on the labor front as we celebrate Labor Day 2014. While the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers are from 2013, they demonstrate that union membership remained steady at 11.3 percent—the same as 2012. However, union membership has decreased since 1983 (the first year these numbers were available) by about 9 percent. Given that the BLS report also confirms that union members earned about $200 more a week than nonunion laborers, this is a significant loss for workers.
Perhaps the worst news this year is out of Wisconsin where the State Supreme Court upheld Act 10, which significantly limits collective bargaining rights for state workers. This is sure to deplete union membership even more as collective bargaining is one of most attractive and powerful tools that unions offer workers.
The Jewish community has also suffered a serious self-inflicted labor defeat. The Perelman Jewish Day School (PJDS) which is affiliated with Solomon Schechter Schools of the Conservative Movement, unilaterally ceased to recognize the union that had represented its teachers since 1976. PJDS is one of only a handful of Day Schools that had union representation. On August 22, the National Labor Relations Board wrote that it does not have jurisdiction over the case. This means that the school’s decision will stand. While this complies, seemingly, with labor law it is obviously out of step with halakhah or Jewish Law. In 2008, the Committee on Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement passed a decision (authored by Rabbi Jill Jacobs) that says, in part: “Jewish employers should allow their employees to make their own independent decisions about whether to unionize, and may not interfere in any way with organizing drives by firing or otherwise punishing involved workers, by refusing workers the option for ‘card check’ elections, or by otherwise threatening workers who wish to unionize.” Rabbi Jacobs’ decision follows a long line of halakhic decisions rendered by Orthodox authorities in both the United States and Israel over the past century which authorize and support the right of workers to organize.
The dismissal of the PJDS teachers’ right to organize raises the specter of a growing divide in the Jewish community between the very affluent who can afford to pay the rising tuitions that day schools charge and those in the Jewish community who cannot do so. Many of the latter are those who work for the community as educators.
This is however a holiday, so I will go out on a positive note.
The campaign to raise the minimum wage to a living wage is picking up speed. Seattle, WA raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour. Other cities, including Los Angeles are floating plans to raise the minimum wage to more than $13 an hour.
Finally, in a wonderful turnabout, after years of what seemed like Sisyphian organizing amongst carwasheros, the California legislature passed AB 1387 which amended the California Labor Code. The effect of this amendment is that all car washes have to, upon registering with the state, put up a $150,000 bond “to insure that workers who are not paid in accordance with law can be compensated if their employer disappears or is otherwise unable to pay wages or benefits owed the employees.” Previously the bond required had been $15,000. More importantly, there is an exception to this requirement for any car wash which is covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Not surprisingly, prior to the amendment there were only a handful of union car washes while now there are more than 20, and the list is growing. (A list is here.)
Mayor Garcetti is going to be announcing the new minimum wage law at a Labor Day Rally. Details are here.