Weekend News & Commentary — June 4-5, 2016

In one of the first tests of public appetite for universal basic incomes, Swiss voters rejected the proposed welfare reform by steep margins this weekend.  Projecting from initial returns, a local polling group estimated that nearly 80% of voters opposed the measure.  Switzerland would have been one of the largest political units to deploy what many economists have argued would be a liberating and dignifying alternative to current welfare programs, though voters appear to have sided with critics who challenged the budget impact of the plan and suggested it would lower workforce participation.

Rachel Abrams of the New York Times writes that more than a year following Walmart’s pledge to increase wages to a baseline of $10 an hour, progress has been uneven.  The average part-time worker’s wage has risen more than a dollar since February of 2016, but workers report decreased merit raises and a new, extended training program that pays only $9 an hour that some commentators suggest represents an attempt to slow the roll out of the promised higher wages.

More reporting on the strikes in France resulting from labor reforms introduced by the government, with new doubts as to whether the actions will disrupt the 2016 UEFA European Championship that starts in less than a week.  Public opinion polls show weakening support for the striking workers, who in recent days have engaged in a series of power cuts to areas supporting President Hollande.  On Friday, inter-city rail services were reduced more than 40%, and concerns have grown that an unrelated strike by Air France pilots planned to begin shortly after the soccer tournament will further disrupt transportation in the country.

Labor officials in Maine are struggling to help employers meet demand for seasonal workers during the summer tourism season, A.J. Higgins reports for Maine Public Broadcasting.  A confluence of factors, including reduced access to foreign workers, appears to have shrunk the labor pool this year.  Planned interventions include improving transportation to the state’s more rural interior and reaching out to retirees.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in a Third Circuit case that upheld Trump Entertainment’s slashing of health insurance and benefits for more than 1,000 unionized casino workers in Atlantic City.  The decision ends nearly two years of legal proceedings that followed a bankruptcy judge’s blessing of the move by Trump Entertainment as part of reorganization proceedings at Trump Taj Mahal.  Workers from UNITE-HERE Local 54, the casino-worker union, had argued that the bankruptcy judge lacked the power to approve the cuts.  The union announced that it plans to continue to picket the casino.

Finally, the Wall Street Journal criticizes lawsuits filed by unions in Idaho and Wisconsin arguing that so-called “right to work” laws violate the federal Takings Clause by forcing unions to spend funds representing non-members who do not pay dues.  The Journal’s editorial page suggests the case law on the matter is settled, but worries that eight years of appointments by President Obama put those precedents in new doubt.