Today’s News and Commentary — December 5, 2016

Democratic lawmakers in California are seeking to pass measures to protect undocumented immigrants, including the provision of legal assistance during deportation proceedings and in criminal court as well as limiting local cooperation with federal immigration authorities.  The bills, which will be voted on next month and, according to the New York Times, are likely to pass, are aimed at resisting some of the campaign promises and rhetoric of President-elect Trump, who has said that he plans to deport two to three million undocumented immigrants upon taking office.  Jessica Karp Bansal, the litigation director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, has said that “The state is taking concrete steps to protect its residents, including by making sure its resources and personnel are not being used to deport its residents. These are broad first steps to address the threats that are already out there.”

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents about 2,600 workers at jet-engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, has approved a five year contract with the manufacturer, avoiding a potential labor dispute, reports the Wall Street Journal.  The contract will provide a 2.5% wage increase as well as a pension increase for some workers, but changes the pension plan for workers hired after January 1. Pratt & Whitney’s parent company, United Technologies Corp., has recently made national headlines for their agreement with President-elect Trump to keep jobs at their Carrier plant in Indiana.

Since the federal rule increasing the number of workers who would be eligible for overtime was recently blocked by a Texas judge, the Washington Post reports that many employees and employers face uncertainty with regard to future wages and hours.  The rule, which doubled the salary cap for employees eligible for overtime, was set to take effect December 1st, but was halted after the judge held that the move exceeded the Department of Labor’s authority.  Although the Labor Department is appealing the ruling, some groups are concerned that the case will be dropped by a new Labor Department under President-elect Donald Trump.

Despite a decrease in unemployment seen in last week’s jobs report, Business Insider notes that the news is not all positive, with the labor force participation rate decreasing from 62.8 to 62.7% this November.  This decrease follows a general trend of Americans leaving the workforce that has continued since the 2008 financial crisis, but stands in contrast to recent months where the participation rate has stayed constant or increased.  According to the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, about half of the drop since the Great Recession can be accounted for by demographic factors including the large amount of baby boomers leaving the workplace, while the other half can be accounted for by workers becoming discouraged and exiting the job force.

It’s Time for a Real Right to Work

In 1912, when the labor leader Eugene V. Debs ran for President for the fourth time as the Socialist Party candidate, in his acceptance speech he spoke of a day when “the right to work shall be as inviolate as the right to breathe the breath of life.”  But, in the 1940s, the term “right-to-work” was hijacked by right-wing business interests, and used to describe laws that do not actually give anyone the right to work.

The failure of the labor movement to take ownership of the term “right to work,” and to adopt an alternate term for laws that exist solely for the purpose of undermining collective bargaining is both a symptom and a cause of labor’s decline.  There is an obvious parallel between the terms “right to life” and “right to work.”  But, when those who want to outlaw abortion started talking about the “right to life,” defenders of reproductive freedom immediately realized that using that terminology would inevitably lead to defeat since it’s very hard to be against a right to life.  But, where is the labor movement’s equivalent to the phrase “pro-choice?”

In his 1944 State of the Union address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed a second bill of rights that included the “right to a useful and remunerative job.”  After FDR’s speech, there was an effort to pass a full employment law that would have made it the official policy of the United States to assure sufficient employment to enable all Americans to exercise the “right to useful, remunerative, regular and full-time employment.”  Needless to say, that never became law.  A watered down version of the bill was enacted in 1946, and in 1978, the Humphrey-Hawkins Act declared as a national goal “the fulfillment of the right to full opportunities for useful paid employment at fair rates of compensation of all individuals able, willing, and seeking to work.”  The Humphrey-Hawkins Act expired in 2000.

Continue reading

Weekend News & Commentary — December 3-4, 2016

Yesterday afternoon, the largest public-employee union in California announced a deal with the state government to avert a Monday strike.  Though terms of the contract have yet to be released, leaders of Service Employees International Union Local 1000 called the agreement a win for the group’s 95,000 members.

Following up on our earlier coverage of President-elect Trump’s deal with Carrier to keep 1,000 factory jobs in Indiana, Politico reports that criticism has begun to emerge on the right from none other than Sarah Palin.  The former Alaska governor and rumored Trump Cabinet pick called the agreement, which will apparently grant the company substantial tax relief, “crony capitalism” bearing the “hallmark[s] of corruption.”

In further manufacturing news, the New York Times looks into how heated rhetoric from Trump and others may negatively impact domestic production.  Noting the reliance of many American manufacturers on imported parts, the Times spoke with factory owners and academics afraid that a trade war — especially one involving the imposition of new tariffs on goods from China — could ultimately make U.S. goods less competitive.

Also at the Times, Patricia Cohen analyzes recent economic news and observes that President Obama will be handing off an economy far stronger than those generally present when the White House switches parties.  After 80 straight months of job growth in the private sector, unemployment is at its lowest level since the summer of 2007 — and, with 5.5 million open jobs, two major deficiencies in the current recovery (wage growth and labor force participation) seem poised to creep up.  More analysis on the contrast between current economic conditions and those in 2008 comes from Jared Bernstein, the former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden.

Continue reading

Today’s News & Commentary — December 2, 2016

The U.S. economy added 178,000 jobs in November, decreasing the unemployment rate from 4.9% to 4.6%, the lowest it has been since 2007. However, average hourly earnings decreased by 0.1%. The Department of Labor revised its September and October data to remove 2000 jobs. The solid performance paves the way for a long-rumored federal rate increase.

President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence successfully negotiated with Carrier, a heating and cooling manufacturer, to keep 1000 factory jobs in the United States. Carrier rose to media prominence earlier in 2016 when a video emerged of management announcing to factory floor workers that their jobs would be outsourced to Mexico. Details about the President-elect’s deal with Carrier emerged Thursday morning. United Technologies Corp., Carrier’s parent company, will receive $7 million in tax breaks over 10 years in exchange for not outsourcing the jobs. According to the Indiana Business Journal however, the bigger motivation for Carrier was the threat of losing federal contracts. Senator Bernie Sanders criticized Trump for acceding to Carrier by giving it tax breaks to prevent the outsourcing.

Michigan passed legislation yesterday to take regulatory powers over ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft away from local authorities and grant them instead to the Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Communities that have existing agreements with ride-sharing services can maintain their agreements for four years. The legislation would make Uber and Lyft subject to the same regulation as taxis. Uber officials supported the legislation, as it would enable its drivers to pick up and drop off customers at airports.

Gig News: Trump’s Secretary of Transportation Cheered by Uber & Lyft

Bloomberg reports that representatives of both Uber and Lyft have voiced support for President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of Elaine Chao for Secretary of Transportation:

“We have the utmost respect for Elaine Chao, an accomplished public servant and highly capable leader,” Adrian Durbin, a spokesman for Lyft, wrote in an e-mail.  “We congratulate her on the nomination and look forward to working with her on an array of transportation issues.”

Niki Christoff, head of federal affairs for Uber, said in an e-mail that “Chao’s knowledge of transportation issues is extensive and we look forward to working closely with her.”

Uber adviser Bradley Tusk called Chao a friendly appointment for the technology industry.  “In many ways, she may be the cabinet member with the most interesting and important tech policy issues out there,” he said, citing the department’s involvement in regulating autonomous vehicles to drones to the technology that decides how cars communicate with each other.

Chao, a former Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush, has previously made statements praising the gig economy and its labor model, which is predicated on classifying workers as independent contractors and not employees.  While the Secretary of Transportation does not apparently have a role with respect to worker classification, Chao represents a member of President-elect Trump’s Cabinet and former Secretary of Labor who will likely advocate on behalf of gig economy companies at the potential expense of gig economy workers.

Continue reading

Guest Post: Against Despair

Kate Andrias is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School.

This post is part of a series on Labor in the Trump Years.

As others have written, including on this blog, the Trump presidency could be devastating for unions—and for workers generally.  The administration is likely to oppose any increase to the minimum wage; facilitate roll backs of overtime protections; support the expansion of right-to-work, including as a matter of constitutional doctrine; and appoint leaders to the various labor agencies who lack a commitment to enforcing civil rights, worker safety, and wage and hour laws.  Also expected are appointees who seek to eviscerate collective bargaining and organizing rights under the NLRA.

Notwithstanding these and other serious threats, despair is the wrong reaction for several reasons.

First, the election underscored the importance of unions.  To the extent commentators, including some Democrats, had depicted unions as unnecessary relics, the error of that position should now be clear. Worker organizations are key institutions for equalizing power in the economy and in the democracy.  Their decline helps explain the current state of the American economy and politics.  As Jake Rosenfeld wrote here, “[u]nions remain the only set of mass-based organizations that connect working-class Americans to politics.”  Unions are also some of the few institutions in America through which working people can come together across boundaries of gender, race, and ethnicity, to advance their shared interests.  Finally, unions are self-funded membership organizations.  Historically, such civil society organizations have served as critical bulwarks against authoritarianism.

Continue reading

Today’s News & Commentary — December 1, 2016

Yesterday the Seventh Circuit heard oral argument in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College which poses the question of whether Title VII prohibits workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Earlier this summer, a panel of three Seventh Circuit judges upheld the lower court’s decision finding that that Hively failed to state a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, holding that precedent bans workplace discrimination by sex but not sexual orientation. The Seventh Circuit then granted Hively’s petition for a rehearing en banc. Although the EEOC’s 2015 opinion in Baldwin found that discrimination based on sexual orientation is necessarily a form of sex discrimination covered by Title VII, a federal circuit has yet to rule similarly. Read The Chicago Tribune’s excerpts from the oral argument here.

After surviving a challenge for a preliminary injunction, OSHA’s anti-retaliation rule takes effect today. Pursuant to this new Improved Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses Regulation, OSHA may now investigate complaints by employees who suffered retaliation for reporting an injury by virtue of an employer’s policies. According to The National Law Review, OSHA can now issue citations and penalties and require employers to take measures including reinstatement and compensation for terminated employees, payment of revoked incentives, and other appropriate remedies. The regulation also includes a tracking component by which employers are required to provide employees with data regarding injury reporting, and the content of anti-retaliatory provisions. Although the rule goes into effect, a permanent injunction may still be possible at a later date.

Yesterday, Major League Baseball reached a collective bargaining agreement with the players union. According to USA Today, the agreement, which still needs to be ratified by some players, does not contain any major changes from the current agreement. Minor changes include making free agency virtually unrestrictable and a $6 million cap on teams’ annual international spending.