Today’s News & Commentary — July 4, 2016

Donald Trump’s campaign has set its sights on workers throughout the rustbelt, finding that his message resonates with workers in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin who are frustrated with the depressed wages and job prospects in the post-industrial cities of the region.  The New York Times reports that while workers in these areas used to show strong support for Democrats, the region is becoming more conservative as union membership declines and workers find appeal in Trump’s promise to bring jobs back to the United States.  Trump spoke to a group of workers at a scrap-metal plant in Pennsylvania last week, decrying fair trade agreements which he believes allowed many jobs to be shipped offshore.

The Second Circuit recently held that employers have the right to terminate employees who refuse to cooperate in internal investigations, reports JD Supra.  In Gilman v. Marsh & McLennan, the court, in affirming the Southern District of New York’s decision to dismiss the terminated employee’s case, held that “refusal to obey a direct, unequivocal, reasonable order of the employer” was cause for termination, and that it was reasonable to order an employee to cooperate in such investigations.  In ruling for the employer, the court  rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that because the employer was working with the Attorney General on the investigation, forcing them to cooperate may violate their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, finding instead that the employer would have had good reason to investigate even absent involvement of the Attorney General.

For the first time since 1990, OSHA penalties for workplace safety violations increased 78.1% this past Friday.  The increase closely tracks the inflation rate since the last adjustment and comes as a part of the Inflation Adjustment Act, part of the Bipartisan Budget Act passed in November of 2015.  States will also be required to adopt the increases.

In international news, Bloomberg reported that the Congress of South African Trade Unions, or Cosatu, the largest labor group in South Africa, is warning its members to carefully balance wage increases with job security, concerned that demands for steep wage increases for its 1.9 million members may jeopardize jobs.  Some member unions, however, may find it difficult to get support for more modest wage increases given controversy over executive pay and inequality.  Cosatu’s concerns stem from a stagnant South African economy, which this year is expected to grow at the slowest rate since 2009.  Cosatu member unions will be involved in a variety of pay negotiations this year, including those for teachers, miners, and health care workers.