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Labor group says ITC report supports need to bolster USMCA enforcement

  • April 19, 2019

Labor group says ITC report supports need to bolster USMCA enforcement

POLITICO PRO is reporting that the AFL-CIO, the largest labor group in the United States is seizing on a new study analyzing the economic impact of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to support its argument that the trade deal needs to include stronger enforcement measures.

In a statement today, Celeste Drake, a trade policy specialist with the AFL-CIO, pointed to language in the U.S. International Trade Commission study saying “that the new NAFTA would only strengthen labor standards and rights ‘if enforced.'”

Because of that, she continued, the “study supports the AFL-CIO’s demand that the deal is fixed, including by adding swift and certain enforcement tools, before Congress votes on it.”

The AFL-CIO holds significant sway with Democrats on Capitol Hill, whose votes, particularly in the House, will prove crucial to whether the pact is ratified. The AFL-CIO had previously come out strongly against the NAFTA replacement in its current form and has called for changes to the deal’s labor, enforcement, and intellectual property provisions, among other aspects.

Some congressional Democrats, who were already demanding changes to the USMCA, have put forward similar arguments in saying the new report does little to alleviate the concerns they have in those areas and others.

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), for one, said he “remains concerned that these portions of the renegotiated deal are not yet acceptable.”

Rutgers union hails ‘historic’ faculty contract, pivots to advocating for part-time lecturers

  • April 17, 2019

New Jersey: Rutgers union hails ‘historic’ faculty contract, pivots to advocating for part-time lecturers   

Via POLITICO PRO, riding high off “historic” gains in the tentative contract agreement reached with Rutgers University’s administration Tuesday night, members of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT’s full-time bargaining unit took a moment to bask in their self-declared victory Wednesday before shifting their focus to the continued fight for a fairer contract for part-time lecturers.

“At this moment, I want us to savor what a victory looks like,” faculty union President Deepa Kumar said during a news conference outside the union’s office.

Kumar cited the university’s agreement to close the gender and social or racial wage gap among faculty across the school’s three campuses, declaring that, “Today at Rutgers, we struck a deathblow against that form of injustice.”

The tentative four-year deal, which still needs to be ratified by the bargaining unit’s roughly 4,800 full-time faculty and graduate student workers, would result in equal pay for equal work for women and faculty across the three campuses. Faculty at the Newark and Camden campuses have been earning 10 percent and 20 percent less, respectively than their peers at Rutgers’ flagship campus in New Brunswick, according to the union.

Additionally, the union is claiming credit for a $20 million extension of a diversity hiring initiative university President Robert Barchi announced earlier this month — a priority the union had been pushing.

“It is important for students of color to have faculty that look like them, that create a supportive environment where … students of color can be supported and can move forward and can have ambitions about what they themselves can accomplish,” Kumar said.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the tentative agreement “a huge win for students.”

“Their fight will inspire higher education professionals across [the] country to fight and win their own battles to improve their lives — and the lives of others — in the streets and at the bargaining table,” she said in a statement.

Under the agreement, which is retroactive to July 1, 2018, teaching and graduate assistants would receive the biggest raises. As the lowest-paid members of the bargaining unit, these workers, who currently earn about $26,000 per year, would see their salaries increase 4 percent in year one, 6 percent in year two, 3 percent in year three and 2.5 percent in year four. By the fourth year, teaching and graduate assistants would see their pay increased to $30,162 per year, union officials said.

Meanwhile, faculty members would receive a 3 percent raise in each of the first three years, followed by a 2.5 percent raise in the fourth year, union and university officials said. This would be consistent with the raises offered to other university employees with settled contracts.

David Hughes, vice president of the faculty union, estimated the pay increases would cost the university $12 million more per year. Any equity pay increases to address gender or other wage gaps would be on top of that amount.

With an annual surplus of $40 million to $50 million, Hughes said, the university should be able to absorb the cost of the raises without raising student tuition.

A copy of the tentative agreement has not been shared publicly, but union officials said it offers greater job protection and security, including guaranteed protections against sexual harassment and gender and race discrimination, and mandatory lactation spaces for nursing mothers.

The principles of academic freedom would also be extended to apply to what employees say on social media. Last year, a tenured professor at Rutgers, James Livingston, said in a Facebook post that he “hate[s] white people,” The professor said the comment was intended as a satirical commentary on gentrification in Harlem. University administrators initially found Livingston guilty of violating the school’s discrimination and harassment policy, but later reversed the decision.

Graduate student workers and non-tenure track faculty also won greater job security, with the latter getting multi-year contracts of up to seven years. Also, non-tenure track faculty would now be afforded a grievance process, with binding arbitration, if the administration decides not to renew an individual’s appointment to work or decides not to promote the individual, union leaders said.

Despite hailing their successes with the latest tentative contract agreement, Rutgers AAUP-AFT members stressed their work is far from done.

The bargaining unit for part-time lecturers, or adjunct faculty, has yet to settle a contract with the administration, and members of the full-time bargaining unit pledged to stand with them in their pursuit for a fairer deal. According to Rutgers AAUP-AFT, that unit was expected to return to the bargaining table Wednesday.

The nearly 3,000 part-time lecturers employed by Rutgers earn just under $5,200 per course, but the bargaining team wants that increased to $7,250 per course. Part-time lecturers are also demanding that the university cover their health care.

The president of the part-time lecturers’ bargaining unit did not respond to a text message seeking comment, but according to Hughes, part-time lecturers teach 30 percent of the courses at Rutgers, with each course bringing in at least 200 percent in profits to the university through student tuition.

“It is super-exploitation with super profits, and this is something that our union is going to turn around,” Hughes said.

The union called on its members at all three campuses to hold “solidarity” rallies on Wednesday to show support for the part-time lecturers and other university employees who still don’t have contracts yet.

“We are continuing to negotiate in good faith and on a regular basis with the remaining unions,” university spokesperson Dory Devlin said in an email Wednesday.

The university has settled contracts with six of the 20-plus unions that represent Rutgers employees. The faculty union contract would be the seventh if members ratify it.

In addition to keeping up the pressure on the administration to settle a contract with the part-time lecturers that union members would consider fair, Rutgers AAUP-AFT leaders said they will continue to advocate for a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers, which include students, and for a tuition freeze that would benefit students and their families.

The union attempted to address these issues at the bargaining table, but the administration refused, union officials said.

Mexico readies labor law overhaul

  • April 10, 2019

Mexico readies labor law overhaul, a move that could please Democrats

Mexico is finally poised to pass a major labor reform law this month, which would remove a major roadblock House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said is preventing Congress from considering the new North American trade pact.

A top Mexican official assured U.S. lawmakers that Mexico plans to pass the legislation by the end of April. This move would check off one of Mexico’s commitments under the replacement deal for NAFTA, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, that President Donald Trump has championed.

“Let’s knock down USMCA if Mexico doesn’t pass that legislation, because yes, we are going to pass it,” Jesús Seade, Mexico’s undersecretary for North America, declared during a press conference last week.

Pressure has heated up in recent weeks for the Mexican Congress to pass the labor reform bill, as a growing number of Democrats on Capitol Hill have indicated that they are waiting for Mexico to make the necessary labor law changes before they consider the new deal. Democrats have long criticized the 25-year-old NAFTA for being toothless on workers’ rights in Mexico.

Mexico’s proposed labor changes would completely overhaul the country’s existing union structure, which has long been criticized for failing to protect workers. The majority of unions in Mexico are not independent and have been regarded as corrupt by U.S. union leaders.

The new law sets out to protect workers’ rights to collective bargaining. Secret votes would also be required at companies when a labor pool considers whether to unionize.

Addressing Mexican labor laws isn’t the only aspect of USMCA that Democrats have complained about. Several lawmakers are also worried that the deal’s labor and environment standards are not strongly enforceable. Some also have reservations over provisions they say could lock in high prescription drug prices.

Still, Mexico’s passage of the new law would be a major step toward the deal getting a vote before Congress.

Pelosi said last week consideration of USMCA would “take some time,” adding that lawmakers need to “see the evidence of what’s happening, not only that they pass the bill [in Mexico], but that they implement the policy.”

Several other lawmakers, such as Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), will be closely monitoring the law’s results as well.

Brown agrees with Pelosi “that both enactment and implementation of labor law reforms that comply with the standards outlined in the agreement are necessary before Congress should consider the new NAFTA,” one of his staffers told POLITICO this week.

The most recent draft has been well-received by U.S. labor leaders, who are considered a crucial group needed to get Democrats to support the deal.

“Upon first review, this new bill is an improvement and meets a key criteria of ensuring workers can vote on their collective bargaining agreements,” said Celeste Drake, trade policy specialist for the AFL-CIO.

A U.S. labor representative told POLITICO recently that the previous draft of the Mexican labor bill fell short of the requirements outlined in Annex 23 of the new USMCA language. Some of the concerns included that the text did not fully outline that Mexico must have an independent body in place to register union elections and help resolve labor disputes tied to unions, this representative said.

The country’s major union organization, Confederation of Mexican Workers, has long been accused of entering into collective bargaining agreements that were signed between companies and unions without workers’ consent.

The current labor proposal would create a mechanism for all collective bargaining agreements to be renegotiated within four years of the law’s passage.

Another issue was whether the previous draft bill ensured that labor courts in Mexico cannot “unfairly extend and delay hearings” to avoid having to weigh in on union representation issues.

Drake cautioned that AFL-CIO will continue to review the bill, “as well as the mechanisms and resources that Mexico puts in place to ensure these changes make the rights to organize and negotiate not just a promise but a reality.”

“Our standard is you hit the bar on everything in Annex 23 totally, or this process should stop dead in the water,” she told POLITICO recently.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his administration have repeatedly said that Mexico would deliver on its promise to overhaul its workers rights regulations. López Obrador, a left-leaning populist who took office in December, made workers’ rights and labor justice a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.

“There’s a coincidence of opinion with López Obrador and the Democrats in U.S. on this — in the sense of wanting to strengthen the protection of workers’ rights,” Kenneth Smith Ramos, chief NAFTA negotiator under former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, told POLITICO.

The labor law is important for USMCA, but “it’s also very important as a public policy piece for the López Obrador administration, so it will happen,” Smith Ramos added.

The Mexican government last week submitted a final draft of the legislation for Mexican lawmakers to review. The bill, which was first introduced in December, was “frozen for a while because of some technicalities,” Seade said.

A top Mexican lawmaker, Mario Delgado Carrillo, said Sunday that passing the law is a main priority for Mexico’s legislature, which is controlled by López Obrador’s party.

It remains to be seen how the Trump administration and lawmakers like Pelosi will view Mexico’s labor changes.

Seade said once the labor law passes, it will be important to find out how long Pelosi and other U.S. lawmakers want to monitor implementation before declaring the new law a success.

“Implementation is forever,” Seade said. “The law will be passed at the end of this month and the implementation starts immediately. There’s things that happen immediately, and there’s things that are scheduled to happen over time.”