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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Protests against the war in Gaza on college campuses now stretch from coast to coast. Students at UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan set up Gaza solidarity encampments on Monday, and tensions are high at Yale, Columbia and NYU. Students at all three universities have been arrested in recent days. NPR's Jasmine Garsd has been reporting at Columbia. Jasmine, what message are protesters sending?

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: The message has been really clear. The students want divestment. Yesterday, I was able to speak to one organizer who's part of the encampment at Columbia University. Her name is Soida (ph). She requested that her last name be withheld due to concerns for retaliation. And here's what she had to say.

SOIDA: Essentially, this is our tuition dollars that are going to the death and displacement through both fast and slow violence in Gaza through the genocide right now and the slower displacement throughout occupied Palestine.

GARSD: And by divestment, what they mean is that they want the university to disclose and end investments in weapons technology and in Israel.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so how have universities responded to the protests and the encampments?

GARSD: Well, at Columbia there have been over a hundred arrests, at Yale, there's been a few dozen. Last night at NYU, several protesters were taken into custody. And some of those students have been suspended, kicked out of university housing. Yesterday, while I was at Columbia University, I got a chance to speak to Professor Joseph Howley. He was out there supporting the encampment. He was very critical of the fact that NYPD was allowed on campus.

JOSEPH HOWLEY: You cannot law and order your way out of community challenges. You can't discipline and punish your way out of prejudice.

GARSD: He's echoing what a lot of faculty at Columbia have condemned, which is an environment in which they say free speech is not being protected.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, and at the same time, Jasmine, we've been hearing about concerns about antisemitism at these protests. As you've mentioned, you've spent the day at Columbia. Have you heard about any threats of violence toward Jewish students on campus?

GARSD: So at Colombia yesterday, there was a small contingent of pro-Israel protesters outside the campus. One of them was an alumna. Her name is Elise Mordos (ph), and she told me she feels attacked and she wants the school administration out.

ELISE MORDOS: Material changes need to take place. The entire administration needs to go. Faculty members need to go. The students need to understand that they can't get away with what they've been getting away with, and it starts with leadership.

GARSD: And antisemitism is something we've heard the president of Columbia, Minouche Shafik, address and condemn at a congressional hearing last week. Republican lawmakers have said it's just words, it's not matched by actions.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Any Jewish students who support the Gaza encampment?

GARSD: Yes, absolutely. The organization Jewish Voices for Peace says over a dozen of the students suspended for protesting for Gaza are Jewish. Protesters I spoke to said being critical of Israel doesn't automatically make you antisemitic. Now, what's clear from spending time at these protests is that there isn't one unified, monolithic Jewish voice. It's, in fact, very diverse.

MARTÍNEZ: Jasmine, the protests do not appear to be subsiding, but the last day of classes are on Monday, then final exams on May 3. I mean, what's go to happen at Columbia?

GARSD: Well, after making all classes virtual yesterday, Columbia is asking professors to offer hybrid classes this week. Graduation is on the horizon. Students I spoke to said they're going to continue to protest and camp out until their demands are met.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Jasmine Garsd in New York City. Thank you.

GARSD: Thank you.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

British lawmakers have approved a plan to outsource the U.K.'s refugee system to Rwanda in Central Africa.

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PRIME MINISTER RISHI SUNAK: The ayes have it, the ayes have it. Unlock.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Here.

MARTÍNEZ: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's government is paying Rwanda to process and resettle asylum-seekers that the U.K. doesn't want. Supporters call it a creative solution to fix a broken asylum system, critics say it's a violation of human rights.

MARTIN: NPR's Lauren Frayer is at our bureau in London and is with us now to tell us more about this. Good morning, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So Parliament passed the law early this morning. What exactly will it do?

FRAYER: So this law will disqualify anyone from even asking for asylum in the U.K. if they enter the country illegally, no matter what type of persecution they're fleeing. Instead, they'll be deported to Rwanda where authorities there will evaluate their cases. The U.K. government has paid the Rwandan government hundreds of millions of dollars to take these people. And this applies to Syrians, Afghans, anyone else who crosses the English Channel from France to England without a visa. There have been legal battles over this for two years. The bill was struck down by U.K. and European courts. Sunak's party rewrote it several times, and they finally got it through Parliament after midnight last night.

MARTIN: But is that going to be enough to put these legal questions to rest?

FRAYER: Doubtful. I mean, I talked to a human rights lawyer yesterday who's poised to start filing lawsuits as soon as these deportation notices go out. Sunak, though, sees this as a powerful deterrent to stop people from entering the U.K. illegally, in many cases risking their lives to do so. I mean, just this morning, there are reports that at least five migrants have died crossing the English Channel from France, including a child. And Sunak says the key to stopping smugglers who take them is to get these Rwanda flights off the ground ASAP - in 10 to 12 weeks, he says. And he wants those, incidentally, to coincide with his party's campaign for reelection this fall. Here's what he said at a news conference yesterday.

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SUNAK: These flights will go come what may. No foreign court will stop us from getting flights off.

FRAYER: And he's referring to the European Court of Human Rights. Sunak has vowed to pull out of its jurisdiction, so pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights, if necessary. It was on the basis of that treaty that flights had been halted in the past. And two summers ago, there was actually a planeload of asylum-seekers on the runway ready to be deported to Rwanda when they were pulled off one by one with 11th-hour reprieves because of human rights concerns.

MARTIN: Lauren, say more about what those concerns are.

FRAYER: Well, there are questions about Rwanda's own treatment of minorities there and its ability to absorb what could be tens of thousands of deportees from the U.K.

MARTIN: How do Britons feel about this policy? You mentioned that Sunak is looking ahead to an election? Is this popular?

FRAYER: It's a gamble, Michel. I mean, anti-immigrant sentiment has actually dropped here since Brexit. I asked a pollster, Sunder Katwala, what Britons think of this Rwanda plan.

SUNDER KATWALA: On the principle, people are split down the middle, really. And on the question of whether it's going to happen, whether it's going to work and whether it'd be value for money, there's a majority that are very skeptical of this already.

FRAYER: So Sunak is forecast to lose the next election this fall. The opposition Labour Party says it will scrap this plan if and when it wins power. So, you know, with legal challenges, there could be, really, only a handful of people deported to Rwanda. And critics are asking, will that have been worth hundreds of millions in taxpayers' money, let alone damage to the U.K.'s reputation in terms of human rights?

MARTIN: That is NPR's Lauren Frayer in London. Lauren, thank you.

FRAYER: You're welcome, Michel.

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MARTIN: Starbucks goes to the U.S. Supreme Court today.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, the case stems from the coffeehouse chain's long-running standoff with employees who've been trying to unionize. And the justices will weigh a big question. How much power should the government have to protect workers during a labor investigation? Given the court's conservative tilt, the ruling could further tip the scales in unionization disputes from workers to employers.

MARTIN: NPR's Alina Selyukh is here to explain. Good morning.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Hello, hello.

MARTIN: So tell us more about this case. How did it start?

SELYUKH: Yeah, so this case is about what happens when workers accuse their employer of breaking labor laws and federal authorities ask a court to intervene while they investigate. And that's what happened with Starbucks. For the past 2 1/2 years, workers at hundreds of coffee shops have pushed to unionize, and Starbucks have fought these campaigns. And this Supreme Court case started with a pretty dramatic situation with a group of workers in Tennessee called the Memphis 7.

MARTIN: OK, the Memphis 7, what happened?

SELYUKH: Starbucks fired them. It was a group of seven baristas and shift supervisors. They'd launched a union campaign at their store. This was two years ago. And Starbucks fired them, saying they broke many company rules, including when they let a TV crew into a closed store. The workers said it was retaliation for their union work, which is protected by law, so federal labor authorities got involved.

And this is the crux of it. That legal process takes a very long time, sometimes years. So while labor officials investigated, they asked a federal district court to sort of reset everything in the meantime. That included reinstating the fired workers, re-hiring the Memphis 7. The court agreed but Starbucks appealed, and it kept appealing all the way now to the Supreme Court.

MARTIN: So it sounds like this case is about the government's power to get involved on workers' behalf before the investigation is done and everything is sorted out.

SELYUKH: Yes, and Starbucks argues that puts a big burden on employers who say they are not breaking any laws. And even more specifically, actually, the question before the Supreme Court is about how easy it should be for labor officials to get a court to intervene. And this matters because that's one of the few tools the National Labor Relations Board has to enforce labor law.

The agency does not have many ways of making a company stop doing whatever it's doing that officials believe is illegal while the investigations and hearings drag on, so occasionally, the board asks for an injunction from a federal district court. And this is where Starbucks argues some of those courts give the labor officials too much leeway, letting the government meet a lower legal bar than they should, and Starbucks wants the Supreme Court to fix that.

MARTIN: Well, I think we've seen this court rule a number of times against labor unions and in favor of business interests. Do we have a sense of what would happen, what the impact would be if Starbucks prevails in this case?

SELYUKH: Well, I think it would send a message that some judges are maybe too quick to grant these injunctions during federal labor investigations. That's what Starbucks is seeking. Unions worry that it could also make unionizing harder and pro-union workers talk about the potential chilling effect of the top court siding with the employer. We heard this from Starbucks worker Florentino Escobar, who's one of the Memphis 7.

FLORENTINO ESCOBAR: My biggest fear is just the Supreme Court making it to where it's going to be much harder for labor unions, whether it's Starbucks or any other corporation, to follow in our footsteps.

SELYUKH: Follow in the footsteps meaning voting to unionize. Fundamentally, labor laws over recent decades have made it more difficult for unions to organize and to bring labor complaints. But now, companies argue labor officials under President Biden have gotten more aggressive trying to help unions along. And a ruling here could tilt the power dynamic between federal labor watchdogs and companies resisting unionization.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Alina Selyukh. Alina, thank you.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.