Columbia grad students win battle to unionize

Some time ago, an article titled Timeline of Tug of War for Graduate Student Unions was posted. This past Friday, the rope was pulled a littler harder in the students direction. Graduate students at Columbia University voted 1,602 to 623 in favor of the move to form a union. This union applies to graduate students who work as teachers or research assistants. Their right to be considered employees has been federally protected since late August, and this development now gives their bark a bit more bite. The United Automobile Workers will be representing close to 4,000 of Columbia’s students. This is in response to a petition signed by the private university’s students last summer and ends the back-and-forth history of graduate student unions. Columbia University has been spearheading this fight since August of this year, when their petition helped overturn a 2004 decision by the National Labor Relations Board stating that graduate students could not be granted the power to unionize. “The ruling held that the assistants could not be considered employees because they “are primarily students and have a primarily educational, not economic, relationship with their university.”, in an article posted on nytimes.com the week after the ruling was officially overturned. The United Automobile Workers will also be representing close to 1,3000 of N.Y.U. graduate students, who accepted their students vote to unionize in 2013. N.Y.U. students move to join the U.A.W comes just three days after Columbia students won their vote. Aside from these two private schools, the U.A.W. represents roughly 30,000 public university research assistants and teachers throughout certain states. The caveat is that it is public, not private, institutions that can choose to let their student workers unionize. Graduate students who work for their private university are now privilege to all the rights afforded by a union! There is no word yet as to when the contract negotiations will start, but the fact that they are starting is what private institutions have been pushing toward for 12 years. Congratulations, Columbia!

Please see the links below for more information.

Columbia Graduate Students Vote Overwhelmingly to Unionize

N.Y.U. Graduate Assistants to Join Auto Workers’ Union

Grad Students Win Right to Unionize in an Ivy League Case

TWU Local 100 sparks changes after recent MTA death

This past November, one MTA track worker was killed after being hit by a subway train and another was seriously injured. Subway train service was up and running while the two men, Jeffrey Fleming and the late Louis Gray Jr., were putting up yellow warning lights-the lights that were supposed to help avoid this same tragic situation. In a deal established earlier this month between the MTA and the TWU Local 100 union, the MTA has agreed to halt all subway activity whenever workers are setting up warning lights prior to construction projects in areas that are deemed particularly dangerous. Another condition to the deal is outlined in an article on TheChiefLeader.com-“According to the agreement signed by the MTA and the union, there has to be a look-out whose only task is to maintain visual and audible communications with the flagging crew, which must be at least 50 feet away from the look-out.” The new legal regulations were signed December 2nd to protect flaggers and track workers from putting their lives at risk.  “This is a big win for the safety of New York City transit workers,” Local 100 President John Samuelsen said. “Past efforts to get the company to even slow the trains down were extremely difficult. Now, the trains must not only slow down but completely suspend service and this is unprecedented.”, as quoted from TWULocal100.com. The website also states that the National Transportation Safety Board not only approved of the regulations, but that there was a “24 hour safety stand down” on Wednesday, the 7th, to inform the workers of the new regulations. All non-emergency track work was stopped while the stand-down took place.

Independent contractors-similarities between celebrities and the average worker

The topic of workers’ compensation for athletes is an interesting one. When you consider that some athletes are technically independent contractors, workers’ compensation shifts from interesting to equal parts hazy and dangerous. With the 2016 football season well underway and the recent excitement over several anticipated UFC fights, one might question what happens if their favorite fighter or linebacker gets seriously injured after stepping into their respective battleground.

Take for example that football players in the NFL are employees but for certain teams, their cheerleaders are independent contractors. In this situation, the cheerleaders are not covered under the same workers’ compensation policies as the football players. Wrestlers for the entertainment company WWE and fighters for mixed martial arts promotional company UFC are both classified as independent contractors as well. If they get hurt, they are not subject to the benefits provided by workers’ compensation-medical care, compensation for recovery time, etc. This is done through their own medical insurance and they can not file a claim against their company for workers’ compensation or, in a worse case scenario, social security disability.

In respect to the fighting networks, this seems especially controversial. The fact that they are independent contractors takes a lot of responsibility and liability off the shoulders of the entity signing them.  In January of this year, WWE wrestler Nikki Bella underwent critical surgery on several vertebrae in her neck. The surgery was needed after a long history of repeating one specific move in the ring. She was in recovery for over 6 months, and it looked extremely likely that this would have been a career-ending injury. Swap out the celebrity and entertainment factors, and it’s what most normal independent contractors are concerned with when they go to work-house painters, Uber drivers, some electricians and plumbers, freelancers, and the like. Nikki Bella’s neck surgery could have been the average persons carpal tunnel, auditory issues, respiratory problems, or otherwise. However, actions are being taken to start protecting these kinds of workers. A bill was passed recently to protect freelancers living in New York City from wage theft.

The question of medical care for injuries is not the only thing that can be worrisome for this type of worker. They are under no obligation to be afforded the same rights as an employee would be, period. In an article on CNN Money, a group of fighters from UFC have attempted to sue the company for overreaching their authority over the individuals they contract, and treating them the way they would if the fighters were employees. In a lucky development for the fighters, UFC recently lost their appeal to have the anti-trust lawsuit thrown out. This same article states that UFC fighters and certain teams’ cheerleaders have a history of trying to unionize-albeit unsuccessfully.

Please see the article below for more information.

UFC fighters get in the ring, but they’re not employees

Former NFL players sue the league demanding workers’ compensation for brain injuries

DC 37 teams up with CCNY to offer classes for workers

The City College of New York’s dean of the Division of Interdisciplinary Studies and the Recruitment Coordinator at the Center for Worker Education have recently partnered with District Council 37 to provide credit-weighted classes to the Union’s workers. The College is offering courses in computer skills through the DC 37 Educational Fund. The fund was founded in 1971 and since then has worked with several colleges to provide classes for union members. They are also partnered with Industrial and Labor Relations School of Cornell and CUNY’S Murphy Institute, offering a 16 credit program in Public Sector Labor Relations, as well as offering their members classes at the College of New Rochelle, which has a DC-37 Campus and is the only labor-based college in the US. The Educational Fund also offers business courses in Accounting, several foreign language courses, and more. The CCNY’s Center for Worker Education and DC 37 are providing courses in basic computer programs that are widely used in professional settings, such as those in Microsoft Office. According to the CCNY website, the CWE and DC 37’s plan is to have these courses held past the fall into the winter and spring semesters. Get your textbooks ready, DC 37 members! Classes begin just after the new year. More information can be found on their website, as well as the application form for the program. Although this isn’t the first time the union has partnered with a college, this is the first time they have partnered with CCNY.

DC 37 is the City’s largest public employee union, representing over 40 unions and well over tens of thousands of workers.

Bill to raise age limit for Firefighters

Last week, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley backed a bill that would to raise the maximum age for an applicant from 28 to 30, with a 5 year window. “Ms. Crowley’s bill also mandates a 35-year-old cut-off for when a successful applicant can actually join the FDNY.”, via an article posted this week on The Chief-Leader. Crowley is currently the Chair of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice. During a lengthy hearing on October 19th, the bill received no shortage of both praise and grave concern. Vincent Variale, President of Local 3621, FDNY EMS Lieutenants and Captains union, notes that a history of high EMS-to-Firefighter turnover rates makes it difficult for the EMS to retain its workforce. It is theorized that raising the age limit for firefighters would only exacerbate this trend.

A nuanced question of safety trickled through the discussion as well- less FDNY EMT’s on hand means less FDNY ambulances: “These shortages force the use of unreliable, for-profit, private ambulance companies instead of FDNY ambulances to provide service in the 911 system.”, Vincent Variale told The Chief-Leader in the article linked at the bottom of this page. This same article notes the fact that after the EMS and FDNY came together 21 years ago, EMS members were able to take a promotional exam to become firefighters.

Isreal Miranda, President of DC 37 Local 2507, shared Variale’s concerns. “With one year on the job and at least [a score of] 75 on the written exam a person will get the preference over a person with a 100 [score] who was on the open public competitive test.” Miranda stated. A method for gaining more firefighters was proposed, but no solutions to stave off the attrition rate for the FDNY EMS was put on the table. Although the council chair stated in the article from the Chief Leader that there was an area for compromise, it states no remedies.

All this being said, the bill wasn’t meant to be a detriment to the FDNY EMS. The age limit made with the idea that it will “…help the city achieve its goal of increasing the representation of both women and people of color in the firefighting ranks.” as quoted in an article on The Chief-Leader, linked below. Sarinya Srisakul, President of United Women Firefighters, supports raising the age maximum. Srisakul pointed out that over half of major cities don’t have an age limit, and the cities that do have an age cap of 35 yrs old. She went as far as to say that the age cap could be seen as discriminatory if no data proved it was necessary. Also present at the hearing were millennials who are currently too old to apply to be firefighters when it was something they wanted for various reasons extremely close to heart. Raising the age cap would give these individuals the opportunity to achieve a dream. “Shizam Dalbarry moved to the U.S.from Trinidad when he was nine, and now has five years on the job as an EMT. He long dreamed of becoming a Firefighter, but said he ultimately gravitated to EMS because it included a good representation of people of color.” expressed The Chief-Leader. Some of these people weren’t even in the FDNY EMS, so they don’t have the opportunity to take a promotional exam-let alone being too old to apply for the position. The bill would change that. FDNY Deputy Commissioner for Government Affairs stated that this would also give rank opportunities to people who don’t come from families or neighborhoods that have a trend of this career path.

The bill was made not to take opportunities away from the FDNY EMS, but to give opportunities to the public. However, it is feared that raising the age cap ultimately will funnel more EMS members out to the Firefighter ranks.

For sources and more information, click the article below.

Bill to Raise Age Limit For Firefighters Spurs EMS Unions’ Concerns

Is there a connection between safety and union vs. non union jobs?

Is there a relation between the recent spike in construction accidents and whether or not these are union or non-union projects? New York City officials want to know. A working theory is that this is because of a difference in union vs. non-union safety regulations. Damning statistics show that not only that more projects in the city are coming from non-union companies, but also that work related accidents in the construction field have gone up in the past two years. This has been highlighted after the recent spike in housing construction in the city. This is coupled with a rise in things like work-stop orders and recorded injuries. Officials are asking that sites and accidents start being recorded as union or non-union to create a way of monitoring the theorized source of these accidents. “The number of construction site incidents increased over the past two years, with 433 accidents and 471 injuries on work sites last year, according to Department of Building figures cited by the New York Daily News. That’s around double what it was in 2014. The city also counted 12 construction site fatalities last year, up from eight in 2014.”, as quoted from an article on The Real Deal, a New York Real Estate website.

Please see the articles posted below for more information.

NYC official urges city to classify construction site accidents as union or nonunion
WSJ: NYC construction unions ‘losing their grip’ on private market
EXCLUSIVE: NYC urged to release info on construction accidents to show whether union jobs are safer
Council committee wants city to record data on accidents at union, nonunion sites

Remembering Our Firefighters

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the 23rd Street Fire. A fire which, according to an article on the New York Times website, had killed more firefighters than any other city disaster until 9/11. This anniversary comes in the aftermath of a City still-mourning the late FDNY Battalion Chief Michael Fahy lost is life in the line of fire last month while on duty. He would be the 1,145th firefighter to die as a result of his work. Just this past week, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a service for the late Battalion Chief at the Firemen’s Memorial. Each of these events and many others have been commemorated by monuments, solemn moments of silence, and days of remembrance.

The comradery that comes with such disasters runs thick among these brave individuals who put their lives on the line so others don’t have to. Not just among members of organizations such as the FDNY, but throughout the great City they serve as well. New York City itself seems to serve as a memorial for its fallen service members. It’s more than safe to call this a culture among those who belong to these organizations, or are close to someone in them. Memorial walks, 5k’s, fundraisers, parks, statues, and more are common to see. With a City that has seen so much, how could this not be the case? It warrants both pride and devastation for these brave individuals. To read more about the events mentioned above, please see the articles linked.

FDNY dedicates memorial to Battalion Chief Michael Fahy, killed in Bronx drug house blast: ‘We never forget’

50 Years Later, Recalling a Manhattan Blaze That Killed 12 Firefighters

Part two; Protecting our Correction Officers

Some time ago, I wrote a post titled From Illinois to New York, Solutions for Understaffed Jails. The articles referenced in the post outlined the grave environment that jails have transformed into for inmates and correction officers. An unsafe work environment for Corrections Officers ultimately leads to poor conditions for inmates. Inmates have quick and easy access to all kinds of contraband, putting the lives of CO’s in danger. The story on such work environments has developed.

As of last year, according to COBA statistics, just about half of the stabbings & slashings at Rikers Island Department of Correction involved 18 to 21 year olds-64 out of a total of 125 for the year. This is also the same age group that has seen an end to Solitary Confinement on Rikers Island. The COBA Union and the President of COBA have been imploring the Department and the City to see what is happening to their Corrections Officers, calling the end to solitary confinement “open season on CO’s”. “We have since filed an improper practice petition against the City and the Department of Correction for violating our collective bargaining agreement when the Department unilaterally eliminated punitive segregation for 18-21 year old inmates.”, a quote in a newsletter this month from the COBA President, Elias Husamudeen. Another statistic-since January of this year, which isn’t even over, 620 NYC Correction Officers have been assaulted by inmates under 21. Husamudeen has urged for the removal of violent inmates with a repetitive history of assaulting COs to mental health facilities or another jurisdiction, one where solitary confinement is in place. The COBA President has also noted that, on the upside, a number of these repeat offenders have been rearrested. This process of rearresting repeat assailants is accompanied by other highly preventative measures, all in the name of protecting New York’s Boldest. He states that Corrections Officers need policy makers to act as quickly with CO’s as they do with police officers when it comes to punishing assailants. Their safety and protection against assaults is hindered by mandated triple-shifts, due to programs that require a staff size that is unavailable at Rikers.

The road to reform for our Correction Officers is long and winding, but must be traveled. All who protect us deserve the same from the system at hand.

East Coasts first Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit calls New York home!

In an effort synchronized between the FDNY, Weill Cornell Medicine, NewYork-Presbyterian and Cornell Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital is the first and only hospital on the east coast to have a Mobile Treatment Stroke Unit.

“The New York City 911 System via the FDNY will deploy the unit into communities surrounding NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center at East 68th Street and NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center at West 168th Street when a patient is experiencing stroke symptoms.”, states an article linked below posted by NewYork-Presbyterian.

This new unit, abbreviated MSTU, and the medical professionals on it are working in tandem with FDNY EMS members, EMTs, and firefighters. Aiding in this level of immediate medical treatment for such devastating injuries is crucial to preventing long term damage and possible death. Vitals and information are sent from the unit to the hospital before the patient even arrives. On board there are crucial medications, a CT scanner that sends information from the unit to the hospital as it is recorded, and other immensely important supplies for aiding in the care of stroke patients.

MTSU started serving patients last week, beginning on October 3rd.  The method for monitoring successfully recovering patients is already planned out. Information will be gathered to compare and contrast fully recovered patients on the MTSU versus standard Emergency Medical Services. “Researchers will share information with similar units throughout the United States for a larger analysis on best treatment practices for emergency stroke care.”, as quoted from NewYork-Presbyterian.

Roughly 800,000 people a year suffer from strokes or severely damaging stroke related symptoms, such as artery blockage. New York City is proud to be part of taking one of the most recent innovative steps in immediate preventive care. Please see the article from NewYork-Presbyterian below for more information.

NewYork-Presbyterian Collaborates with the FDNY to Launch First Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit on the East Coast

NPR, ProPublica call for federal oversight of Workers’ Compensation

Last fall, NPR and ProPublica did a series of articles and podcasts on the changes in Workers’ Compensation legislation in 33 states. All of them resulted in the same thesis- federal oversight of the Workers’ Compensation system is imperative after their studies had shown a pattern of harmful changes to the system in certain states. This also suggested taking another look at an idea proposed by the Nixon administration commission in 1972- establishing a set of federal minimum benefits and standards, with Congress being given the power to step in if states didn’t adhere to the rules.

This series resulted in 10 lawmakers sending a letter to the Department of Labor, which then prompted a 44 page report on Workers’ Compensation in various states. The report found that 33 states have managed to either give employers greater discretion over things involving medical coverage, made workers’ compensation qualifications just short of unobtainable, or have cut workers’ compensation benefits altogether. Some states have allowed their employers to create their own workers’ compensation policies. This means employers have control over the benefits employees receive, how long they receive them, and what injuries they can even begin to get benefits and treatment for. This means a highly unregulated system that’s basically in the benefit of the employer, not the employee. This results in injured workers in certain states having to find compensation for proper treatment elsewhere, like Medicare and Social Security Disability. There is also a strong argument that this broken system puts injured workers on a “path to poverty”, as the articles describe it. When these fall short of what workers compensation would cover, taxes essentially end up covering the difference. A study from 2007 referenced by NPR states that government programs spend roughly $30 billion yearly on work injuries not covered by workers’ compensation. In an article published by ProPublica last year, Oklahoma’s’ top court determined that companies cannot set up their own regulations for injured workers. This was after a bill for employer-regulated workers’ comp was struck down. This currently leaves Texas as the only state to not only allow employees to actually opt out of workers’ comp insurance, but also allow their employers to not purchase it for their employees altogether. As per a law established in 1913 called The Texas Option, the state “allows” their workers to find “alternative” means of coverage. The series published by ProPublica and NPR states that these same companies are covered by Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA for short. However, this bill explicitly does not cover workers’ compensation benefits.

The report prompted by NPR and ProPublica contained a large section framing this in historical context. Detailed examples of both republican and democratic administrations supporting the idea of having national benefit standards had been dated back to 1939.

For more information and links to the articles referenced, see the article below.

Lawmakers Seek Federal ‘Oversight’ Of Workers’ Comp As States Limit Benefits