Today’s News & Commentary — May 25, 2016

Don’t blame Joe Camel for the nicotine poisoning of Indonesian Children. Human Rights Watch released a report that thousands of children working in Indonesia’s tobacco industry are exposed to nicotine and pesticides, usually without protective clothing, and suffer from nausea, headaches and dizziness. Child laborers rarely receive health education or go to health clinics when they become ill, and organizations do not know what the long-term effects will be. According to the New York Times, most Indonesian tobacco is sold on the open market, making it difficult to trace the supply chain back to one of the country’s 500,000 family-run tobacco farms.

Are unions and environmentalists friends or foes? Zoe Carpenter at the Nation contends the alliance is stronger than ever, despite conflicts on the surface. Last week, the New York Times published letters to AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka from the leaders of seven construction unions, who were “enraged” that philanthropist Tom Steyer was participating in the labor-led Super PAC to defeat Donald Trump. The unions view Steyer’s environmental activism—especially his campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline—as antithetical to the partnerships between the building trades and the American Petroleum Institute. Despite the internal labor battles, Carpenter sees the AFL-CIO’s intentions to partner with Steyer as a sign that labor and climate change activists are closing the historical gulf between them.

In California, labor and environmental activists have a more harmonious relationship—uniting against Governor Brown. The Los Angeles Times reports that a coalition opposes the governor’s plan to increase affordable housing projects because it allows developers to sidestep local regulations and state environmental standards. Affordable housing advocates want to bypass the environmental review process to avoid delays in construction at a time when the state faces a dearth of affordable housing. But the State Building and Construction Trades Council sees the state’s environmental rules as an important mechanism to protect both natural resources and well-paying jobs for workers.

As business groups have loudly opposed the Obama administration’s expanded labor policies, Republican members of Congress are quietly trying to roll them back. The International Business Times reports that legislators drafted language, buried deep in a defense appropriations bill, to exempt Pentagon subcontractors from a labor rule. Under the proposal, new regulations to crack down on private contractors who violate federal labor law would not apply to Defense Department subcontractors. This change fits in with a broader strategy to undo other labor protections, including the expansion of paid overtime eligibility and regulations on advising by retirement professionals.