6 min read

[SUBSTACK ARCHIVE/MIGRATION] 5 Labor Stories I'm Watching Right Now

And a brief farewell to Substack.

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And now on to the main event!

5 Labor Stories I’m Watching Right Now

  1. Georgia dangles “economic incentives” carrot on an anti-union stick. In the last few days of this year’s legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly passed a bill that punishes businesses that choose to voluntarily recognize employee unions. The bill — which is now on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature — requires companies that accept state economic incentives to have a formal secret ballot union election for recognition instead of the simpler and less contentious process of a card check. Georgia’s soon-to-be-law is similar to one enacted in Tennessee last year. The Georgia legislation is partly in response to a renewed effort by the United Auto Workers to unionize automobile factories in the South after years of failed attempts. Meanwhile, Alabama and South Carolina have amended their state constitutions to require secret ballot union elections. It’s unclear if any of these bits of legislation will stand up to federal scrutiny. For all intents and purposes, those state governments will continue thumbing their noses at federal labor regulations any way they can until someone decides to file a lawsuit.

  2. Is Waffle House about to have its labor tipping point? Last week, Waffle House workers at a location in Conyers, GA walked off the job to protest the company’s meal credit deductions from their paychecks. Waffle House has been charging its workers at least $3.00 per shift for on-shift meals, which are an industry standard in food service jobs. Employees get charged even if the meals are not eaten. And these aren’t meals that are pre-made and set aside in the walk-in freezer that the line cook can just grab during their break and heat up in the microwave. The on-shift meal is one that has to be made and then consumed by the worker on their break. And the charge for the meal is greater than what many employees make in hourly wages before tips.1 Listen. I love Waffle House as much as the next Atlanta native/expat. I’m on the record in multiple group chats advocating for the Atlanta airport to have a Waffle House location in at least one of the terminals because sometimes your plane lands really late at night and you’re hungry enough to eat a horse AND NOTHING ELSE IS OPEN EVEN THOUGH IT SHOULD BE BECAUSE IT’S ONE OF THE BUSIEST AIRPORTS IN THE COUNTRY AND WE LIVE IN A SOCIETY. And I am absolutely guilty of laughing at jokes about how wild it can get at Waffle House after a certain time of night. But before it is the subject of wisecracks or a place we turn to for disaster preparedness plans or a possible fighting stage on Tekken 8, it’s a workplace staffed by people who deserve to be safe and paid well. And that process doesn’t start with this weird, roundabout form of wage theft. Food service jobs are hard enough as it is. Things only get more difficult when the restaurant you work in is a 24/7 operation known for customers (and sometimes staff) throwing chairs and fighting in the parking lot. The very least they could do is give their staff some free hashbrowns (capped and extra crispy with hot sauce, please)!

  3. CTU goes to Springfield.2 The Chicago Teachers Union is scheduled to start bargaining its next five-year contract this spring. In any other year, this information would likely be met with headlines about the union having a showdown/standoff/fight/[insert your preferred synonym for “confrontation” here] with the mayor. That’s not the case in 2024, because our current mayor, Brandon Johnson, used to be an organizer for the CTU. The teachers union made up a large part of the coalition that helped him get elected last spring, so it wouldn’t make sense for them to lock horns.3 Instead, the CTU is turning its attention toward the state capital in a quest for more funding for the city’s schools. Federal pandemic relief funds will be gone by this fall, leaving a gaping $391 million hole in the school system’s budget. The union’s turn toward the state legislature seems like a tacit acknowledgment that they know the city doesn’t have the money to fill in the gaps. Perhaps it will also mark the start of a new chapter in the relationship between the CTU and the mayor. Will he stand with his former employer (and by extension his electoral coalition)? Or will he take a more hands off approach given his tense relationship with the governor? Only time will tell.

  4. UAW’s Southern campaign goes international. Yesterday, UAW announced that they would be filing charges against Mercedes-Benz in Germany for the company’s anti-union campaign in Alabama. The union says that Mercedes-Benz’s tactics are in violation of a German law that went into effect last year. Among other things, the law requires that German-based companies with more than 1,000 employees prevent human rights violatins within their supply chains. One of the explicitly recognized human rights in that law is the right to form a union. If the German government finds in favor of UAW, it could cost Mercedes-Benz hundreds of millions of euros in fines and penalties. On the off chance that anyone reading this knows how to follow German bureaucratic and legal proceedings, let me know.

  5. CUNY4Palestine fights for professors’ reinstatement. Members of the campus organizing group CUNY4Palestine are protesting the firing of two adjunct professors for what they say is retaliation for pro-Palestine speech. (Disclosure: I was a student at CUNY’s journalism school from 2020-2022.) Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda (Hunter College) was informed in November that she would not be reappointed for the spring semester. That notice came about a month after she tweeted about the ongoing murders of journalists in Palestine. Danny Shaw (John Jay College) was likewise informed of his termination at the end of this semester after the university received complaints about his anti-Zionist posts on social media. CUNY has long been a hotbed of campus activism from students and professors alike. A group of self-proclaimed Zionist Jewish professors sued the Professional Staff Congress (the union representing faculty and professional staff at the university) two years ago. In their suit, they claimed that the union’s support of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement infringed on their 1st Amendment rights. A judge in the Southern District of New York disagreed, as did the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which released its decision in mid-March. While the latter group of professors may try to appeal their case one last time before the Supreme Court, it is unclear to me what recourse, if any, professors Hofmann-Kuroda and Shaw have as adjuncts who rely on being rehired every semester.

Thank you for reading this final Substack edition of Labor Pains. Whether you’re one of the 110 (!!!) people who signed up before I had even sent out my first newsletter last August or one of the 71 people who have subscribed since then, your support is extremely valuable to me. Thanks for reading, for sticking around, for spreading the word and for throwing some money my way. It warms my little Grinchy heart.

A gif image from Dr. Seuss's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" featuring a small heart that grows 3 times on an X-ray image. The heart becomes so large that it eventually breaks the frame, and at the end of the gif the Grinch is smiling.

See y’all on the other side,

Aria ✊🏽

  1. Federal tipped minimum wage has been $2.13/hour since 1991. One of the workers cited in the story linked above says they make as little as $2.90/hour. Either way, they’re losing more than 1 hour of base pay every on-shift meal. For food they have to cook for themselves. For food they may not even want to eat.

  2. That doesn’t have the same ring to it as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but I couldn’t think of anything more clever.

  3. That’s not to say that politicians never do anything that’s nonsensical or offensive to their core voters. That’s only to say that in this case that’s not what’s happening.