Weekend News & Commentary — March 26-27, 2016

North Carolina has passed a bill that bars transgender people from using public restrooms that do not match the gender on their birth certificates and prohibits cities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances that protect LGBT individuals.  In addition, the bill includes a provision banning localities from instituting minimum wage requirements that are higher than those of the state.  According to the New York Times, the bill “is only the latest manifestation of the long-standing Southern antipathy toward minimum wages and other labor protections.”

In other minimum wage news, the Los Angeles Times reports that labor unions and state lawmakers have reached a tentative deal to gradually raise California minimum wage to $15 an hour.  The agreement would begin on January 1, 2017, by increasing statewide minimum wage from $10 an hour to $10.50 an hour, followed by a 50-cent increase in 2018 and then a $1 increase each year until 2022.  Also included in the proposal is the addition of up to three new paid sick days for home healthcare workers.  The agreement, if passed, will likely avoid an expensive political campaign in the fall and possibly place California “at the forefront of a national movement.”

New research shows that the shift away from traditional employment has taken place mostly “offline” — that is, not through apps like Uber and Lyft, but rather in industries including health care, education, manufacturing, and public administration. Citing research by professors Alan Kruger and Lawrence Katz, the Wall Street Journal reports that since 2005, “the number of workers in alternative arrangements has climbed by more than half, rising to nearly 16% of the workforce.”  The gig economy, on the other hand, employs only about 600,000 people, which amounts to less than 0.5% of the workforce.

In an interview with NPR, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez confirmed that the Labor Department is investigating “opt-out programs” that allow employers to opt out of traditional state-regulated workers’ compensation plans.  According to Perez, “What opt-out programs really are all about is enabling employers to reduce benefits.”  These programs “create really a pathway to poverty for people who get injured on the job.”