Today’s News & Commentary — January 13, 2016

President Obama gave his last State of the Union yesterday, and the full text of his speech is available at the Los Angeles Times, among other sources.  As the Wall Street Journal notes, Obama emphasized the struggles facing workers, and underscored the importance of putting in place “benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security” for workers.

The New York Times reports that the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has voted to endorse Hillary Clinton.  The union represents 1.3 million members, making it one of the nation’s largest labor unions, and its members are predominantly women and minorities.  Marc Perrone, the international president of the union, stated in an interview that because Clinton and Sanders had similar policies on most issues, “it then became a discussion of who had the best opportunity to win.”  Clinton already has the backing of other major labor unions, while Sanders has the support of progressive groups like MoveOn.org.

Politico has also weighed in on Friedrichs, noting that states with right-to-work laws have lower union membership rates, lower-paid workers, and higher rates of poverty.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average worker in a right-to-work state, controlling for demographic, socioeconomic, and macroeconomic factors, earns about 3% less than does his or her counterpart in a state that is not right-to-work.

At the Washington Post, Lydia DePillis discusses how worker-friendly laws have changed life for servers in San Francisco restaurants.  In particular, DePillis covers one of the first qualitative studies on the impact of higher minimum wage and other worker-friendly laws on the structure of low-wage jobs.  The study, conducted by Professor Bill Lester at UNC-Chapel Hill, compared the restaurant industry in San Francisco to the restaurant industry in North Carolina, which is of comparable size and has a similar customer base.  In recent years, San Francisco has enacted new worker-friendly policies: the city’s minimum wage is now $12.25, and the law requires employers to provide paid sick days and contribute to their employee’s health insurance.  In North Carolina, no such locally-enacted worker-friendly laws exist.  Although “it’s still probably too early to tell” the exact impact of higher minimum wages on employment, Professor Lester’s study found that the restaurant scene in San Francisco is much more “professionalized” than the one in North Carolina.

Oil prices have continued to fall, prompting BP to cut 4,000 jobs.  According to the New York Times BP also cut about 4,000 jobs last year, and Royal Dutch Shell, BP’s biggest European competitor, cut 7,500 jobs last year.  Since oil prices began dropping in 2014, the oil industry has eliminated an estimated 250,000 jobs. The New York Times also has a multimedia feature that explains the drop in oil prices.