A Union Opportunity
The campaign Fight for $15 has had major successes this year in efforts to raise wages for fast-food workers, thanks to its embrace of unorthodox organizing tactics. That is partly because older strategies for improving working conditions have not worked in the fast-food industry. That may be about to change.
The modern workplace has become “fissured,” say labor historians. Innovative business models, like outsourcing supervision, help maximize profits but tend to worsen working conditions and wages. Noting that almost three million U.S. workers are now employed through temporary agencies, on Aug. 27 the National Labor Relations Board revised a definition of the term joint employer that has hamstrung organizing efforts since the Reagan era. The ruling means that companies cannot obscure their obligations to employees through franchise agreements or by subcontracting staffing to third parties. Unions struggling to organize workers will now be able to bargain with the parent company that is ultimately calling the shots.
Kendall Fells, organizing director of the Fight for $15, celebrated the ruling by pointing out the obvious: “McDonald’s is the boss.... The company controls everything from the speed of the drive-thru to the way workers fold customers’ bags. It’s common sense that McDonald’s should be held accountable for the rights of workers at its franchised stores.”
What comes next is up to the national unions currently competing to organize fast-food and low-wage retail workers. They should seize this opportunity to coordinate their efforts and avoid disheartening labor turf squabbles. For their part consumers should be attentive to those national chains that cooperate with the N.L.R.B.’s intent and direct their dollars accordingly.
Another Border Crisis
To the sea of images of migrants making their way across borders we can add one more: families carrying mattresses, luggage, even what appeared to be an air conditioner, across a river separating Venezuela from Colombia (New York Times, Aug. 27). In recent weeks, roughly 1,000 Colombians living in Venezuela were forcibly deported by the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Many more—an estimated 15,000—fled in fear as the government began its crackdown.
The image tells the story: Here are families who had started new lives in Venezuela. When the government targeted their homes for demolition, they decided to pick up and leave. President Maduro closed the border with Colombia in late August when three soldiers were wounded in a skirmish that he blamed on the Colombian paramilitary. Soon Colombian immigrants were targeted in a deportation campaign that has been roundly denounced as scapegoating. Mr. Maduro has been the subject of intense criticism as the Venezuelan economy suffers from extreme food shortages. Once again, he is pointing the finger of blame at outside forces to bolster his own political standing. Meanwhile, in a bit of bewildering political theater, he has pledged to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees.
Bishops from Venezuela and Colombia met in early September to discuss the growing animosity between the two countries. Pope Francis called the meeting a “sign of hope,” but unfortunately the bishops in Venezuela do not seem to have much influence in Caracas. As the country looks to elections in the fall, world leaders should not be afraid to reprimand Mr. Maduro for his increasingly desperate and dangerous antics.
Many environmental activists accused President Obama of hypocrisy during his recent trip to Alaska, which focused on climate change, because of his administration’s approval of offshore drilling permits in the Alaskan Arctic just weeks before. Approving a permit for any new production of fossil fuel sources, they charge, amounts to accelerating global warming.
In an article in Nature last January, Christophe McGlade and Paul Ekins suggested that in order to meet the broadly agreed-upon goal of holding global temperature increase to two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average, “a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80 percent of current coal reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050.” If we must make a commitment to leaving some fossil fuels in the ground, then issuing new drilling permits does not make any sense. The trouble, however, is that constraining the development of new supplies is neither a sufficient nor a fully coherent response to the problem.
It might help the argument to note that burning all the available Arctic reserves would damage the climate more than any of President Obama’s other initiatives would help it. But our attention and energy would be better spent on comprehensive responses to climate change, like pricing or taxing carbon emissions or developing competitive renewable energy. And we urgently need a political discussion about how to achieve real solutions, not just set environmental tripwires that we dare not cross.