The Bottom LineThe Bottom Line

Economics In Brief: Strike While The Iron Is Hot

Plus, Washington State will consider a trust fund for Medicaid babies.

(Photo by Acton Crawford / Unsplash)

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Congress Intervenes To Force Rail Workers To Accept Contract

For months, freight railway worker unions have been locked in a tense conflict with companies over pay and grueling working conditions, including demanding and punitive attendance policies.

In September, the threat of a costly national rail strike that could disrupt the U.S. economy and its supply chains was mitigated as the parties reached a tentative compromise brokered by the White House. But four unions – representing more than half of unionized rail workers – have since rejected the deal, which offered higher wages, one paid personal day and zero sick leave.

The Biden administration had initially been calling for rail unions and management to resolve the disagreement without Congressional intervention. Faced with stalemate over the matter of paid sick leave, Biden appealed for a bill imposing the deal by Dec. 9.

Here’s the latest: On Wednesday, the House voted to force rail worker unions to agree to a labor deal. It also passed a measure that would provide workers with seven paid days of sick leave annually. On Thursday, the Senate passed the same legislation to avert a strike – but it rejected the legislation that would provide workers seven days of sick leave. Biden, who promised to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen,” has said he will pass the measure imposing the tentative labor agreement when it reaches his desk.

For more background on conditions for rail workers, check out WorkDay Magazine’s August article: “Ask a Railroad Worker: How Did Railroad Jobs Get So Bad?”

The Culture Workers Are Unionizing

“Call this a black-turtleneck-worker uprising rather than a white-collar one,” Alissa Quart, author of “Squeezed,” writes in The New Republic. The movement includes the recent success of workers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the close to 50,0000 grad students, TAs and other academic workers at University of California campuses who joined together in the year’s largest strike and recently reached a tentative agreement; unionized workers who are striking at the book publisher HarperCollins, gaining support from literary agents; teaching staff and adjunct faculty at the New School and Parsons School of Design who are walking out; museum workers across the country who are forming unions; and more. Just today, over 1,000 unionized New York Times workers announced that they will walk out if the Times doesn’t “agree to a complete and fair contract” by Dec. 8.

“These uprisings reveal just how much brain work has become gig work,” Quart explains, pointing to data from the New Faculty Majority showing that about 75% of college faculty work outside tenure-track positions.

Washington State Considers Trust Fund For Medicaid Babies

The Seattle Times reports that the Washington Legislature will consider a proposal next year that aims to use baby bonds to break the cycle of poverty.

Through the proposed Washington Future Fund, the state would become one of the first to create a trust fund program for babies born into low-income families under the state’s Medicaid program, Apple Health. If approved, then starting in 2024, $4,000 or more would be set aside for each eligible child to access as adults to use toward homeownership, education or pursuing a small business.

The Two-Tiered System Of Life Insurance

Co-reported by our own senior economic justice correspondent Oscar Perry Abello, this Philadelphia Inquirer story looks into pervasive racial disparities in the life insurance industry. “Today, African Americans are more likely than their white counterparts to look to life insurance to cover their final expenses, yet white families have significantly larger policies than their Black counterparts, even when income levels are the same,” he reports with Lynette Hazelton.

“The Trust Gap” Facing Black-Owned Businesses

In 2017, we covered a report on wealth and Black business ownership from the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, which found that while Black individuals are more likely than most Americans to start a business, Black businesses fail at significantly higher rates.

The AEO’s new report seeks to address “the trust gap,” which the group has identified as a major impediment to Black businesses’ success. Per their findings, about 22% of Black business owners say that they don’t trust institutions providing business education and training, 37% say they don’t trust institutions that finance businesses, and 78% say they have decided against approaching lenders or investors even when their businesses were in need of capital.

This article is part of The Bottom Line, a series exploring scalable solutions for problems related to affordability, inclusive economic growth and access to capital. Click here to subscribe to our Bottom Line newsletter.

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Aysha Khan is the managing editor at Next City.

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Tags: trainsunionslabormuseumsblack-owned businesshigher educationstrikes

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