Today’s News & Commentary—August 30, 2021

State legislatures are playing an outsized role in American politics, the New York Times reports. While Republicans are out of power in Washington by a slim margin, they control 30 state legislatures, 26 of which will redraw congressional districts (compared to thirteen for Democrats). But these legislatures don’t have to wait for redistricting to drive partisanship and policy. Donald Kettl, a state governance expert at UT-Austin, explained that “the real point of the spear of Trumpism is appearing at the state and local level,” with “[s]tate legislatures not only . . . keeping the flame alive, but nurturing and growing it.” This includes disenfranchising voters, “base-energizing issues like transgender rights and classroom teaching on race,” and the biggest wave of abortion restrictions since Roe was decided. And, approximately four out of ten state legislative seats are uncontested, which means primary voters—more likely to be “hard-liners” —are calling the shots, incentivizing continuing to play to the base on these issues.

The Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE), filed a ULP complaint alleging that Governor Inslee’s administration failed to bargain in good faith over the vaccine mandate for state workers, the Seattle Times reports. On August 9th, Governor Inslee announced that all state employees, unless exempt for medical or religious reasons, must be fully vaccinated (two weeks from their second vaccine) by October 18th. WFSE contends that this was a change to a mandatory subject of bargaining and that it impacts the conditions of employment. In response to its demand to bargain earlier this month, WFSE representatives met with state bargaining representatives, who WFSE says rejected all of the union’s proposals and refused to provide requested information or suggest workable modifications. They are continuing to meet. WFSE President Mike Yestramski explained that the legal challenge is not anti-vaccine, noting that “[v]accines, masking and social distancing are the only way to beat this pandemic,” but is instead “about respecting our union’s right to bargain and ensuring that people in need of accommodations are treated fairly.”

Uber, Lyft, and other gig companies’ efforts to prevent workers from being classified as employees under Massachusetts law are being met with a strong organizing effort by rideshare drivers in the state. “I just don’t like being treated like crap . . . [t]hey can’t keep treating drivers and gig workers like this with no accountability for the people who are making them money” Felipe Martinez, who drives for Uber, told the Guardian. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit earlier this summer seeking a declaratory judgment that, under state wage and hour laws, Uber and Lyft drivers are employees. Gig companies have filed for a ballot measure that is closely modeled on California’s Proposition 22, which a State Superior Court judge found unconstitutional earlier this month. 58% of California voters supported Proposition 22, which companies said would keep prices low. However, the companies increased prices shortly after the measure was approved while cutting pay for drivers. Over 200,000 workers in Massachusetts would be impacted.

Finally, a multimedia story from the Washington Post captures how the pandemic has set back women’s workforce participation around the world through the personal narratives of women in Peru, Thailand, and France. Over 54 million women globally have exited the workforce during the pandemic’s first year, driven in part by the fact that women were disproportionately represented in service industry jobs that were hardest hit and because women are already more likely to hold jobs with little job security, regular hours, or benefits. This represented a decline of 4.2% in women’s employment compared to a 3% drop in men’s employment, setting the quest for gender employment parity back by another “generation,” the World Economic Forum’s Saadia Zahidi said. All the while, women’s unpaid labor increased, as they were hit with additional child and elder care responsibilities. Claudia Huapaya, a 46-year old woman in Lima whose convenience store closed, explained her struggle to support her family this way: “I do everything. I’m looking after the pet. I’m looking after the old woman’s home. I do the cleaning. I look after the baby. I cook to sell. I sell perfumes. If you tell me that tomorrow there is some trash outside, I’ll do it. This is the capacity that many women here have: to find a way to earn a living, however we can.”

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