Grad Students Are Employees, Too


Mike Steele | Flickr

Unions win admission to Columbia. The National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that graduate students and teaching assistants have the right to unionize at private universities (The New York Times). The Columbia grad students who won the case say it’s less about wages than issues of power and independence and their ability to protect themselves in the “corporatized, hierarchical” world that their university has become. The university says the grad students should be viewed primarily as students; the NLRB disagreed, ruling that if they get paid and supervised like other employees, then, like other employees, they should be able to join a union, too. The students join employees of some digital media outfits in the “unions aren’t as dead as you thought” parade. The NLRB’s move is a sharp reminder to companies and institutions of all stripes: share power and decision-making with stakeholders, or don’t be surprised when they organize. Related: If graduate assistants are employees, why aren’t college athletes? (Pacific Standard)

EpiPen train wreck shows how broken healthcare pricing is. EpiPens are easy-to-use quick-injection devices that save the lives of children and other people who are prone to sudden allergic reactions that block their breathing. The medicine in them — epinephrine — costs about $1. But one company, Mylan, has a monopoly, and it has aggressively marketed EpiPens (Gizmodo) while raising their price roughly six-fold in the past few years (Forbes). An EpiPen two-pack (the only kind available) now costs about $600. People need to keep lots of them around, and they expire every year. So, just another pharma price-gouging tale, right? Here’s the twist: Mylan gives patients discount coupons that cover their copayments, so in theory the customer shouldn’t care about the price— only insurance companies are on the hook. But we’ve spent the last decade pushing people into high-deductible insurance plans,on the theory that, if patients have some skin in the cost game, they will help introduce market discipline. That’s exactly what’s happening: Those sticker-shocked insurees are either raising a stink or forgoing the purchase entirely. Congress is up in arms, too, which surely isn’t what Mylan wanted. (Its CEO is the child of a West Virginia senator.) Moral: A company that views the health marketplace as an arena for maximum profit extraction and puts lives at risk will end up a pariah.

Universal basic income has friends on the left. “Just give people money” is an attractive proposition for people across the political spectrum. The progressive-left vision of the basic income concept is to “decouple money from work” (The Nation). That means, among other things, abandoning the notion that work is punishment — which goes all the way back to Genesis and the Eden myth. It also means dismantling the “punish the idle” school of “poor relief” and welfare, which has insisted that any anti-poverty scheme be made less attractive than the worst available job. The authors don’t give much thought to the dignity of work and the power of self-determination that a good job can bring; they imagine a world where we use the time a basic income frees up to build communities and care for one another. Of course, you can also imagine the flowering of a creative renaissance (Singularity Hub). Or, certainly, it’s possible that we’ll realize that we miss our old day jobs. But wouldn’t it be fun to find out?

Is this “restaurant recession” for real? Recently talk of a “restaurant recession” began to trickle across the internet, fueled by some market-research data points. If such a trend were underway, it would be just the kind of distant-early-warning recession signal that economists look for. But the picture turns out to be more complex and murky (The Washington Post). Maybe people are cutting their dining-out budget. But maybe groceries just look like a better deal right now. Or maybe we’re collecting our statistics from big chains that are failing to attract new waves of younger customers. When you spend your lunch dollar at a new joint like Sweetgreen, you’re not spending it where you used to. A slowdown at the big publicly-traded chains that the market-research people track could easily mean that some innovator is speeding up.

Also in NewCo Shift: You Will Probably Only Read This Headline. If you watch schoolkids, writes John Battelle, you won’t be surprised to find that old-fashioned linear writing may be losing its cultural primacy. For a taste of where business — and all other — communication may be heading, spend some time with the team behind Prezi, the storytelling tool that leaps where PowerPoint plods.

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