Sub: The View from the Teaching Underclass

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By Joshua Freeman

Shortly after graduating college, when I thought we would seize state power in a couple months, or maybe a couple of years, I took a job as a substitute school teacher in Worcester, Massachusetts. Assigned to a junior high school — this was before the new-fangled middle school became the norm — I immediately found myself immersed in chaos, which somehow I was supposed to control. Kids raucously went about their business, whatever it might have been, paying no attention to anything I did or said. Bathroom passes and just about everything else flew off my desk, and I could not figure out how to stop the boys hiding in the coat closet from lighting matches without abandoning the rest of the class to total chaos — while all I really wanted to do was to get into the coat closet myself and light up a cigarette.

I lasted four days, or maybe it was three. My next job, in a factory making plastic Halloween pumpkins, seemed like a piece of cake in comparison. Continue reading Sub: The View from the Teaching Underclass

Murphy Report in NYTimes: Retail Workers and Unions

This week, the NYTimes ran a story by Rachel L. Swarns showing the stark differences in labor conditions for unionized vs non-unionized retail workers.  In an article that will come as no surprise to those who have been following labor struggles among retail workers, Swarns writes about the relatively stable labor conditions for workers at Macy’s in New York City’s Harold Square, explaining:

…these union workers savor something that is all too rare in the retail industry right now: guaranteed minimum hours — for part-time and full-time employees — and predictable schedules.

Unfortunately, as an upcoming report by Murphy Professor Stephanie Luce and the Retail Action Project shows, these benefits are accruing to only a fraction of the retail industry as a whole. Swarns writes that the researchers, “surveyed 236 retail workers in Manhattan and Brooklyn and found that only 40 percent had set minimum hours per week.”

For more on the state of unions and retail workers, and a look at some of the changes the retail industry is undergoing, read the full story.

Photo via NYTimes

Paid Family Leave Should Be Required

This article was originally posted on Times Union.

By Ed Ott and Nancy Rankin

As we head back to work after the Labor Day weekend, it’s a good time to reflect on how things are going for New York’s 9 million working people.

We’ve made some progress this year: the lowest-paid workers got the first installment of their raise, as the state minimum wage went to $8 an hour. Not nearly enough, and tipped workers are still owed their promised increase, but a start. The labor movement succeeded in achieving greater child care funding in the state budget. And over 1.2 million workers in New York City who did not have a single paid sick day before this year are now able to take sick leave without losing their wages or their jobs.

All of these will be good for New Yorkers and good for New York. When workers earn a decent living with sensible policies — like child care and sick days — they can take care of their families, pay their taxes and help grow our businesses.

But lawmakers left Albany before completing one important initiative: paid family leave. Continue reading Paid Family Leave Should Be Required

Community Organizing with WE ACT

Last fall, the Murphy Institute launched a B.A. in Urban and Community Studies. The program focuses on public policy, the delivery of services, and improving the quality of life for communities and working-class populations. Students in the program use methods and perspectives from sociology, economics, political science, history, and anthropology to analyze the conditions of cities, neighborhoods, and communities within a globalizing economy and culture. Our students have opportunities for experiential and applied learning, including fieldwork and workplace-based projects in New York City — our classroom.

Etinosa Emokpae is one of our students and had a chance this summer to intern at a community-based organization in Harlem that engages residents to address environmental justice/public health issues and find solutions. In this piece, she shares some of her impressions.

I’d like to recount my amazing experience in the Urban Studies Fieldwork seminar, which was co-taught by Professors James Steele and Eve Baron. The seminar allows students to intern at a public agency or community organization that fits their interests. Continue reading Community Organizing with WE ACT

The Labor Question

By Joshua Freeman

In a Labor Day op-ed article in the NY Daily News, I argued that even as unions have suffered a series of setbacks and continue to slip in the percentage of workers they represent, labor issues are more prominent now than at any time in the recent past. What we are seeing might be called the re-emergence of “the labor question.” (New York is somewhat exceptional because, as the Murphy Institute’s Ruth Milkman and Stephanie Luce show in a forthcoming study reported in The New York Times, union membership in the city has been rising significantly of late.)

“The labor question” was once a common term, widely used in the early 20th century. On the simplest level, it asked how orderly relations could be maintained between employers and employees, preventing the outbursts of labor strife that had become common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Continue reading The Labor Question

NYTimes: Union Rates Rebounding Over 18-Month Period

On Labor Day this year, Murphy faculty members Ruth Milkman and Stephanie Luce were quoted in a New York Times article entitled Study Suggests a Rebound for Union Jobs in New York. The article describes the pair’s research findings around trends in union membership in New York City, referencing their recent “State of the Unions” report — which notes a “pretty healthy uptick” in the number of union workers in New York City. 

Read the full report here.

A conversation about workers, communities and social justice

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