Weekend News & Commentary — May 7-8, 2016

The Treasury Department has rejected a plan to cut benefits for drivers and retirees who belong to the Teamsters’ pension fund.  Workers and retirees welcomed the decision, but the New York Times raises the concern that the decision “could thwart the intentions of other large, financially struggling pension funds.”  The Teamsters pension fund is headed towards bankruptcy, and its restructuring “was seen as an important test case of what pension trustees can do when they discover they have promised more in benefits than their funds can hope to deliver.”  Kenneth Feinberg, the special master appointed to review the plan, said that numerous flaws foreclosed approval of the plan, but that there was nothing to stop consideration of a new proposal.

According to a Labor Department report released Friday, 160,000 new jobs were created in April.  Analysts had predicted the creation of 200,000 jobs, and the Wall Street Journal notes that this was the weakest gain since September.  Although the unemployment rate remained at 5%, the percentage of Americans participating in the labor force “dipped after earlier signs of stabilization.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that SEIU Healthcare Illinois has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the state for eliminating overtime rules for home healthcare workers.  On May 1, Governor Rauner eliminated time-and-a-half pay for home healthcare employees working overtime, a move that the union has dubbed a violation of federal policy and a “bait and switch” that harms thousands of elderly and disabled persons.  SEIU’s complaint charges the Rauner administration with taking “this action unilaterally and without bargaining in good faith with the union over the decision and its impact upon the affected employees.”

In international news, workers in Greece began a three-day strike to protest a new round austerity measures, including an overhaul of the pension system and a rise in social security contributions.  According to BBC Newsthe strike has hit three major sectors: shipping, public transport, and civil service departments.  The measures are being proposed in return for more bailout money, and a spokesman for Greece’s largest union said that the government is “trying to prove to the Eurogroup that they are good students but they are destroying Greece’s social security system.”  The New York Times has video footage of the protests available here.