The Summer of Labor?

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Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • At least 2,000 people are feared dead in Libya and thousands more are missing after a storm along the country’s coast produced severe flooding, government officials say. A spokesperson for the Libyan National Army reported that dams above the coastal town of Derna collapsed, “sweeping whole neighborhoods with their residents into the sea.” Reliable numbers on the death toll have yet to emerge as the country reels from the damage—Derna was still inaccessible as of Monday evening. “Early reports indicate that dozens of villages and towns have been severely affected by the storm, with widespread flooding, damage to infrastructure, and loss of life,” said Georgette Gagnon—the United Nations resident coordinator in Libya.
  • The Food and Drug Administration on Monday greenlit updated COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer that target XBB.1.5, an Omicron subvariant that was the dominant strain in the United States earlier this summer. XBB.1.5 appears to have been overtaken by newer strains (EG.5 and BA.2.86) in recent weeks, but Moderna and Pfizer said the updated vaccines still produced a strong immune response when tested against the new variants. Once Dr. Mandy Cohen, director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), signs off on the boosters later this week, anyone over the age of four will be eligible to receive the updated shot two months after their most recent dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The updated vaccine schedule for children under the age of five depends on their previous vaccination status. New COVID-19 cases have been surging in recent weeks, but public health experts who spoke with TMD last week are not overly concerned about a rise in severe illness or death associated with the virus.
  • The Biden administration has reportedly issued a sanctions waiver in recent days authorizing South Korea to move $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil revenues to a bank in Qatar, moving forward with a deal made public last month that would secure the freedom of five wrongfully detained Americans being held in Iranian prisons. The U.S. will also release five detained Iranians as part of the deal. The Biden administration claims the transferred funds will only be used for humanitarian purposes, though several Iran experts dispute that characterization and Iranian officials have said there are no limits on their use of the funds.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reportedly arrived in Russia early this morning for a summit with President Vladimir Putin expected to take place this week. The trek is the first international trip Kim has taken since the beginning of the pandemic, and only his second meeting with Putin after their first summit in 2019. No specific agenda for the meeting has been released—North Korean state news said the two leaders would “meet and have a talk”—but U.S. officials expect the countries to discuss potential arms deals to aid Russia in the war in Ukraine. 

Hot Labor Summer?

SAG-AFTRA members maintain picket lines across New York City on August 8, 2023. (Photo by John Nacion/Getty Images)
SAG-AFTRA members maintain picket lines across New York City on August 8, 2023. (Photo by John Nacion/Getty Images)

With a number of high-profile strikes and almost-strikes taking place this summer, it looks like the labor movement in the United States is having a moment. Americans have spent the past decade telling pollsters about their increasing support for unions, and then they elected a president who claims he’s the most pro-union occupant of the White House in history. But the strikes and that professed enthusiasm belie the reality: The rate of union membership in the United States has steadily decreased over the last four decades, dropping by roughly half between 1983 and 2022 to 10.1 percent of workers. With United Auto Workers threatening to strike at the end of the week, how much power does today’s worker wield? 

The U.S. workforce has seen dramatic changes in recent decades—from the widespread disruptions caused by advances in information technology to the upheaval of the global pandemic, very few workers today occupy jobs performed as they had been just a few years ago. With more change coming after the arrival of artificial intelligence and a tight labor market that gives workers leverage, the prospect of more aggressive labor action is real. “We are certainly seeing more contentious labor relations and more of a push on the labor union side in the negotiations this summer,” Alexander Colvin, dean of Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, tells TMD. “Workers and their unions are looking to make up ground from the inflation of the last couple of years, and they have more bargaining power because of low unemployment and a strong economy,” Colvin adds. Plus, he notes, many high-profile unions have a slate of new, more aggressive leaders willing to take the fight to management in innovative ways. 

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