Labor in the news

104 years ago today, on March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City — one of the deadliest industrial disasters in United States history– left 146 workers dead. Almost all of them were young immigrant women.

Triangle-Fire New York Herald

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory building interior after the fire. Photograph from the National Archives.

“Locked doors kept the workers from escaping; there was not enough water to put out the flames, and firemen’s ladders were too short to reach the upper stories. Many of the young women and men working there leapt out the windows and fell to their deaths onto the sidewalk outside. Others were crushed in the elevator shaft or when the fire escape collapsed,” reports the U.S. National Archives, which holds many records of this tragic event.

In the aftermath of the fire Congress passed sweeping reforms in labor laws and safety standards, providing a boost to labor unions. After the fire, Frances Perkins served as secretary for the Committee on Safety, which led the way to new labor laws. Perkins later became FDR’s Secretary of Labor — the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet.

“But 104 years later it has become clear that too many folks in this country have forgotten the painful lessons of that day,” writes Huffington Post blogger Keith Mestrich, President and CEO of Amalgamated Bank, the largest majority-owned union bank in the United States. “And as we gear up for next year’s presidential election, voters should know that some of the candidates running would rather folks forgot about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire altogether.”

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employee-manual-action-plan handsIn consultation with employee union members, the Dane County Board has passed ordinances that leave significant amounts of workplace power in the hands of workers, reports the Sunday State Journal. “County and union officials say the rules are meant to re-create, to the extent legally possible, the union rights taken away by the controversial state law [Act 10] that banned collective bargaining and payroll dues collections for most public employees,” according to reporter Steven Verburg.

The County Board adopted rules that significantly limit its authority in deciding disciplinary matters, as well as disputes over pay, benefits, and working conditions. The new ordinances permit employees to use “impartial arbitrators whose awards can be rejected by the County Board only in limited circumstances.” Madison has also passed ordinances that provide similar rights to employees.

You may read the complete article — As Act 10 kills union pacts, Dane County limits its power over workers — online. Please note that this article also appeared in the print edition of the Sunday, December 7, 2014 State Journal with a slightly different headline: “Public workers retain some input”

The case, said speakers at the press conference, seeks to divert attention from the real issues in public education in order to demonize teachers.  At the mic is fifth grade teacher Gaby Ibarra from ABC Unified School District. Behind her, from right, CFT president Joshua Pechthalt, CTA president Dean Vogel, parent Martha Sanchez, and college student Kenia Alcocer.

The case, said speakers at the press conference, seeks to divert attention from the real issues in public education in order to demonize teachers. At the mic is fifth grade teacher Gaby Ibarra from ABC Unified School District. Behind her, from right, CFT president Joshua Pechthalt, CTA president Dean Vogel, parent Martha Sanchez, and college student Kenia Alcocer.


On Wednesday, June 11, 2014, California Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu issued a decision in the case of Vergara v. State of California that struck down teacher tenure protection, seniority-based job protection and existing disciplinary policy.

The judge agreed with the plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge to several state statutes that provide job protections to teachers, particularly to teachers with greater seniority. The judge enjoined (prohibited) the enforcement of the statutes and then placed a stay on his ruling pending the expected appeal, meaning that the injunction is not currently in force.

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Big changes are in store for college football teams. On Wednesday, March 26, 2014 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Regional Director, Peter Sung Ohr, issued a ruling granting Northwestern football players the right to unionize and directed an election to take place.

NWU player Kain Colter presented his case to the NLRB in February. (USATSI)

According to a lengthy analysis of the decision and its effects provided by SB Nation: “The results of the election will determine whether the football team will be represented by the College Athletes Players Association. A Sports Illustrated legal expert said that they are nearly certain to get the number of votes needed to establish the union. From there, the union would be entitled to collectively bargain with Northwestern over the players’ benefits.”

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The West Pediment of the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. There is an interesting historical link between MATC and the U.S. Supreme Court Building: Architect Cass Gilbert, who designed the building in Washington, D.C., also designed the building on Wisconsin Avenue in Madison that was, for a time, home to MATC. That building was torn down to make room for a parking lot, leaving only the original arch standing

When the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Harris v. Quinn on January 21, 2014, there were frequent references to Wisconsin labor history — even though the case, which deals with mandatory union dues, involves public employees in Illinois.

Associate Justice Elena Kagan mentioned “the considerable heat and passion and tension” recently seen in Wisconsin and the 65 years of public sector labor law which had its origins in Wisconsin (which passed the first such legislation in 1959). You can download and read a complete transcript of the oral arguments — or skip to page 20, where Wisconsin is first mentioned.

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A roundup of recent news about labor unions and issues affecting public schools and education

September 9, 2013

The amount of news and so-called news available online can be overwhelming. To help you save time, we’ve once again waded through scores of recent online stories and selected a few that should be of interest to Local 243 members, including a story about how Madison Teachers Inc. is going strong despite Act 10; Capital […]

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