With strike updates and the State Legislature back in session, this week brought some exciting local labor news. It also brought some … less exciting national news. Let’s get into it.
Starbucks ends vax mandate: Last week’s Supreme Court ruling struck down vaccine mandates for large employers, putting public health back in the hands of big business. After issuing a Jan 3 statement claiming the company would support the mandate to “create the safest work environment possible,” this week Starbucks changed course, saying, “We respect the court’s ruling and will comply.” This decision was apparently made without consulting any of their unionized “partners,” the New York Times reports. Starbucks is the first major U.S. employer to end mandatory vaccinations. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Carhartt, which has a clothing store in downtown Seattle, refused to change its policy. That prompted a social media backlash from conservatives.
They throwing out the Carhartt in the dead of winter?! Oh they MAD mad.
— Roy Wood Jr- Ex Jedi (@roywoodjr) January 18, 2022
Kent demands refund for strike: The Republic Services strike I reported on last week was successful, and workers have agreed to a new contract. Republic Services workers around here joined the fight and helped to push it across the finish line. The city of Kent appears to be a little salty about it. Kent Mayor Dana Ralph told KIRO she was pursuing a refund for the three days residents’ garbage wasn’t picked up. Literally, it was three days. And she’s got plenty of her own garbage to worry about anyway.
Concrete workers still striking: While sanitation workers returned to work, concrete workers remained on the picket line this week. On Wednesday, KING 5 reported some of the over 300 concrete workers striking for better benefits demonstrated in front of the Associated General Contractors headquarters in downtown Seattle on the two-month anniversary of the beginning of their strike. Teamsters Local 174 is claiming the AGC is spreading misinformation about the strike.
Are you a grocery worker who was denied hazard pay? The Seattle Office of Labor Standards wants to hear from you:
Grocery employees who believe they have been denied hazard pay after 12:01 AM February 3, 2021 are encouraged to contact OLS by calling (206) 256-5297 or contact us online by filling out this form here: https://t.co/XCgMSi6yax pic.twitter.com/nrlvZEgikY
— Seattle Office of Labor Standards (@OLS_SEA) January 14, 2022
Bremerton coach in Supreme Court for pray to play: The New York Times reported this week that the Supreme Court agreed to hear a local case with some serious First Amendment implications. While working as the head football coach at Bremerton High School, Joseph A. Kennedy “led the team in prayer in the locker room before each game, and some players began to join him for his postgame prayer, too, where his practice ultimately evolved to include full-blown religious speeches.” After the school district asked Kennedy to start praying separately, as he was a public employee, he declined and sued, according to KING 5. Gee, sounds like this guy is being persecuted!
No more piss bottles? On Tuesday, state Sen. Steve Conway (D-Tacoma) introduced a bill that would help warehouse workers employed by a certain Space Cowboy. The proposal would require warehouses who employ over 100 people or 1,000 total in the state to give workers a written description of their quota for a certain time period, and to protect them from adverse action if they don’t meet that quota. The bill would also prohibit companies from setting quotas so high that workers can’t stop to use the bathroom, eat meals, or take rest breaks, with potential fines up to $5,000 per violation. The news comes on the heels of a report from CNN about a lawsuit against Amazon filed by the family of one of the workers who died in a tornado at their warehouse in Illinois last month.
You can’t make this up: Amazon had the audacity to do this on Monday.
Helping out on the front line: Okay, enough about Amazon. Last month, in a poll of around 1,200 Washington health care workers, 84% said they’re burned out, and 49% said they’re likely to quit the industry in the next few years. But help might be on the way: A bill introduced last week to the State Legislature would aim to add more protections and improve working conditions for health care workers. This week, the New York Times ran a very affecting video on this issue.
Wage transparency on the way? More potential good news in Olympia. This week, State Senator Emily Randall from Bremerton introduced a bill to bring wage transparency to Washington job listings. Wage transparency, most famously passed in Colorado and recently in New York City, requires employers to clearly state salary and benefits information in job listings. As CNBC reports, it’s a good trend happening around the country.
Shocking union enrollment news: This is a not-good trend. This fall, amid protests over working conditions across the country, Gallop reported that 68% of Americans support unions, the highest figure since 1965. However, that hasn’t translated to union enrollment. Not even a little. Yesterday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported union enrollment was down 241,000 to 14 million, and only represented 10.3% of workers—a new low. For reference, the first year this statistic was tracked in 1983, that figure was nearly double, at 20.1%. For what it’s worth, Washington is doing pretty well, according to The Hill. Union enrollment here hit more than 17%. Meanwhile, Hawaii and New York both reported over 20%.
Microsoft takes on troubled Activision: As Rich mentioned in Slog AM this week, in a huge $69 billion deal, Microsoft agreed to buy video game developer Activision, a company known for hits such as Call of Duty, as well as a culture of “constant sexual harassment,” per Business Insider. Amid lawsuits, some executives were forced out, but CEO Bobby Kotick stayed. On Tuesday, The New York Times reported the CEO of Microsoft Gaming, Phil Spencer, appeared alongside Kotick in a video call to praise the deal, saying the two companies have “similar values and think about our cultures similarly.” Let’s hope not!
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Let’s give MLK the last word:
“All labor has dignity …it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.”- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
These quotes may not get as much attention from companies and orgs today: Dr. King on labor, wealth and justice #MLK #MLKDay2022 #MLKDay pic.twitter.com/cj97gJK79m
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) January 17, 2022