Today’s News & Commentary — February 24, 2017

President Trump’s second pick for labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, has already won some union support from the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Laborers’ International Union of North America.  IAFF President Harold Schaitberger, describing past experiences working with Acosta, described the nominee as “fair, reasonable, and accessible.”  Despite not having endorsed Acosta yet, AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka has called Acosta worthy of “serious consideration,” unlike Trump’s first labor nominee Andy Puzder.

As reported yesterday, President Trump met with two dozen chief executives of major U.S. manufacturing companies to discuss reshoring factory jobs.  Missing from the meeting was labor union representation.  Responding to a question on why unions were not invited to the roundtable, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated that the meeting “was specifically for people who were hiring people and the impediments they’re having to creating additional jobs,” and reaffirmed that the president “still values [labor union leaders’] opinion.”

New York Times Magazine published today a long-form article by Barbara Ehrenreich on the necessity of new ways of organizing in the face of new forms of employment.  Among other common policy proposals in reaction to the stagnation of working class wages, Ehrenreich criticizes retraining programs for thinking of workers as “endless malleable and ready to recreate themselves to accommodate every change in the job market .”

Today’s News & Commentary — February 23, 2017

Today, President Trump met with two dozen chief executives of major U.S. companies and reiterated campaign promises to bring millions of jobs back to the United States. USA Today reports that yesterday in advance of the meeting, Business Roundtable, a trade group that represents large U.S. companies, sent a letter to the Trump Administration listing ideas for regulatory relief, and voicing concern for “unintended consequences” resulting from recent Administration policies. Before meeting with Mr. Trump, the CEOs broke into working groups and discussed topics including taxes, infrastructure, and regulation.

According to POLITICO, Governor Chris Christie turned down President Trump’s offer to be his nominee for Secretary of Labor. Reportedly, Governor Christie declined the offer last Tuesday, between when Mr. Trump’s first nominee, Andrew Puzder, lost Senate support, withdrew his nomination, and was replaced by former U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta.

Today in Chicago, the largest state employee union voted in favor of authorizing a strike over a longstanding contract dispute with Governor Rauner. The Chicago Tribune reports that talks between AFSCME and the governor’s team stalled more than a year ago. The union hopes the vote, which passed with 81 percent of eligible members, will spur the governor’s negotiators back to the bargaining table. Continue reading

New Harvard Law Review Piece on Grad Student Unions

There’s a new piece of student writing in the most recent Harvard Law Review that offers a different take on the Board’s Columbia University decision regarding graduate student union rights.  The piece focuses on the Board’s use of empirical evidence in the decision, applauds it in part, but criticizes the Board for what the piece calls “cherry picking.”  Worth reading.

Today’s News & Commentary — February 22, 2017

The influx of refugees into upstate New York has helped revitalize previously-suffering communities.  As the New York Times reports, “[t]he impact has been both low-budget and high-tech”: refugees have provided local businesses with inexpensive, willing labor; foreign-born students have enrolled — paying tuition and fees — at upstate schools; and street-level entrepreneurs have opened new shops.  Somewhat ironically, the cities’ struggles made them popular locations to settle refugees.  Because people left, housing prices dropped, and refugees came in and were willing “to put in the sweat equity that a lot of people weren’t anymore.”  That, in turn, “put properties back on the tax rolls.”

The Wall Street Journal also weighs in on the benefits that refugees bring to the economy. In addition to providing a key source of labor, many refugees “bring a resilience and level of expertise that makes them well-suited for learning on the job.”  According to a study from the Migration Policy Institute, roughly 28% of the refugees over the age of 25 who settle in the U.S. arrive with at least a bachelor’s degree.  The Wall Street Journal notes that skills from abroad may not always translate, and some employers have found that refugees need help with translation services, resume writing, American-style management techniques, and tips for navigating their new lives.  Despite potential training challenges, however, refugees can provide companies with  “a strong competitive advantage,” enabling them to better understand, for example, the needs of clients in key markets across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Chief Judge Patricia Elaine Campbell-Smith of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims recently held that the government had violated the FLSA by failing to examine whether it was required to pay employees who continued to work during the partial government shutdown in 2013.  That those workers were later paid for their time was irrelevant. The Washington Post explains that the decision entitles workers to minimum wage pay for the hours they worked between October 1 and October 5, 2013.  Judge Campbell-Smith ordered the government and the plaintiffs to calculate amounts due and report back by April 7.

The New York Times editorial board posits that blaming robots for job loss, “while not as dangerous as protectionism and xenophobia, is also a distraction from real problems and real solutions.”  The Times points out that if automation were rapidly accelerating, labor productivity and capital investment would be increasing as well.  But the data shows the opposite: in the 2000s, labor productivity and capital investment decelerated.  The problem lies instead with “politicians, who have failed for decades to support policies that let workers share the wealth from technology-led growth.”

Today’s News & Commentary — February 21, 2017

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Iowa Council 61, an Iowa union local, filed suit against the state on Monday, reports the Washington Post. The union alleges that a new law which prohibits public sector unions from negotiating issues such as health insurance and supplemental pay is unconstitutional.

Austria has approved new rules to encourage companies to give hiring priority to domestic workers for new jobs, according to the New York Times. The new rules will halve non-wage labor costs for three years for companies which create new jobs and hire people in Austria changing jobs or registered as unemployed. Graduates of an Austrian educational institution and other highly-skilled foreign workers may also qualify for the reduction. The plan may run into opposition from Brussels, as it seems to run against the European Union’s principle of free movement of people.

The Chicago Bears and the NFL Players’ Association are gearing up for an unlikely battle in the Illinois Legislature, reports the Associated Press. The two are on opposite sides of the question of how long injured professional athletes should be allowed to earn workers compensation benefits. Currently, injured players can earn benefits until the age of 67, like all other workers; the Bears want payments to end at the age of 35 or five years after the player suffered injury.

Abortion Restrictions as Forced Labor in the Age of Trump

The new administration has made no secret of its intent to dismantle remaining protections for reproductive rights.  Despite the fact that 79 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances, President Trump and Vice President Pence have both made statements indicating their desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, and Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is likely to be hostile to reproductive rights.  The administration has also made moves to defund Planned Parenthood via the global gag rule, entrench the Hyde amendment, and repeal the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act.  A drastic anti-choice bill was introduced in Congress that would ban abortion after six weeks, a point at which many people do not even know they are pregnant.

These attempts to constrict reproductive choice are not only an affront to the basic principles of liberty and privacy that underlie this country’s abortion jurisprudence, but also a threat to the labor rights of anyone capable of becoming pregnant.  Should the new administration’s assault on reproductive rights come to fruition, many of those capable of becoming pregnant will be coerced into pregnancy and parenthood—a kind of labor they did not choose.  These burdens will be placed most severely on low-income women and women of color who cannot afford to access reproductive services.  Cuts to funding and services will further negatively impact trans men, who already face ignorance and discrimination when trying to access reproductive healthcare.

Continue reading

Today’s News & Commentary — February 20, 2017

A former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler Rigetti, penned a brave blog post yesterday detailing her repeated sexist treatment while working for the ride-hailing company. She writes about being harassed; how she and other women engineers were discriminated against; and how Uber’s management and human resources were not just unresponsive, but actively fought back against her. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal report how, later yesterday, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced that the company would be launching an investigation into the allegations.

In the Washington Post, Jared Bernstein reminds us why the Department of Labor is so important in today’s times. Specifically, Bernstein talks about the “fissured workplace,” the term coined by David Weil to describe an increasing distance between employers and workers due to franchising, subcontracting, and outsourcing. This reality led the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division—which was run by Weil during the Obama Administration—to be more proactive about monitoring FLSA violations. Furthermore, such a “fissuring” places renewed importance on divisions within the department like OSHA.

Acquisitions and sales are adding to worker tensions overseas. McDonald’s may sell its Hong Kong and China operations to a large franchisee, which the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions warns may affect worker pay. Currently most workers earn just above the current minimum wage in Hong Kong—roughly $4.20 per hour. In the UK, General Motors may sell their Vauxhall business to the French car company PSA, according to Reuters. The purchase is being influenced by “overcapacity at existing sites, Britain’s move to leave the European Union and pension liabilities,” prompting talks with trade unions.