Over the past month from students to truck drivers, workers have been protesting unfair working conditions and contracts. Laws regarding workers’ rights are being called into question as workers express discontent and anger at unfair working conditions, exacerbated due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and consequent growing income inequality, not only in the US, but around the world.
In Colorado, a Latino truck driver received 110 years in prison for a crash that killed four people in 2019. The driver, Rogel Lazaro Aguilera Mederos, was convicted of vehicular homicide. Mederos testified that the brakes failed, causing the crash into the vehicles. In response to this conviction, which many have deemed unfair and unnecessary, truck drivers in Colorado enacted a boycott, with the hashtag #NoTrucksToColorado.
At Columbia University, graduate student workers have been on strike for over 8 weeks. The students total around 3,000 workers, consisting of the largest active strike in the US. Columbia University responded to the strike with threats to hire other workers to replace the striking workers if they (the students) continued striking past 10 December.
Ethan Jacobs, a a graduate student worker told The Guardian, “Our interpretation of this email is that it’s basically a threat. They are saying here’s the date, December 10. If you’re still exercising your right to engage in protected activity on or after December 10 there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get your job back. So we think that’s the intention of the threat, but we also think that what they’re doing is unlawful.”
The strikers are pushing for a wage floor of $45,000 annually for first-year doctoral students on one year appointments, and a minimum hourly wage of $26 for hourly workers. The hourly minimum wage currently is $15. During the past year, Columbia’s endowment has increased in value to $14.35 billion, with the end of the fiscal year resulting in a $150 million operating surplus.
Another strike movement occurred with Kellogg, which was recently resolved with the ratification of new contracts with union members, ending the 3-month strike. Kellogg, similar to Columbia University, threatened to replace striking workers at plants, which drew criticism from the Biden administration. The ratified deal furthered leading wages and benefits, with across-the-board increases and enhanced benefits.
Although the Kellogg’s strike ended with good news, other workers have been subject to harsh working conditions, and even death. In the case of Amazon, a tornado in Illinois collapsed an Amazon warehouse. Six workers died in the collapse. The collapse has now led to further scrutiny of Amazon’s workplace safety measures.
The Verge reports that it was Amazon’s choice “about whether the tornado risk was severe enough to shut down the factory – and the company chose to keep the warehouse running.”
The incident follows a pattern of unfair and dangerous working conditions in Amazon factories. In June in Washington, workers at an Amazon warehouse claimed that workstations lacked functioning fans, and temperatures inside the factory were close to 90 degrees. Workers further reported that they were pushed to work at a non-stop pace.
Overall, workers across the country are standing up for fair wages and fair working conditions. The Interreligious Network for Worker Solidarity furthers this approach by engaging across various faith-based traditions to embolden workers.
In order to support workers and workers’ rights, consider supporting the Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021 (also known as the PRO Act). The three main elements of the PRO Act are the following: (1) revises the definitions of employee, supervisor, and employer to broaden the scope of individuals covered by the fair labor standards; (2) permits labor organizations to encourage participation of union members in strikes initiated by employees represented by a different labor organization (i.e., secondary strikes); and (3) prohibits employers from bringing claims against unions that conduct such secondary strikes.