Today’s News & Commentary — December 23, 2016

Buzzfeed reports that a vineyard owned by President-elect Donald Trump’s son recently submitted requests for six H-2 foreign worker visas, creating yet another potential conflict of interest for the incoming administration. The Labor Department, which will be overseen by Trump’s appointees, is responsible for approving or denying the request. Businesses affiliated with Trump have applied for over 200 H-2 visas since the launch of his presidential campaign.

In related news, the United Nations Special Rapporteur in Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children raised concern about the H-2 program in a recent report, writing “Workers holding these temporary visas are tied to a specific employer who can exercise extensive control over them. Employers often confiscate passports, withhold  wages, terminate contracts arbitrarily and threaten employees with job loss and deportation. Some live in deplorable housing conditions, commute long distance and enjoy low benefits…[C]oncerned workers may fear that if they report abuses, they will be deported or denied future visa applications.”  There have not been complaints of abuses of H-2 workers at Trump’s companies.

A Google employee is taking the company to court, claiming that the confidentiality contracts employees are required to sign are overly broad. The NLRB recently struck down similar contracts at T-Mobile USA and other companies, and different Google employee has an NLRB case pending on the issue. The plaintiff in this case claims that Google contracts extend so far as to forbid employees from discussing concerns or wages with one another. He also claims that Google has a program called “Stopleaks”, requiring employees to report one another if they hear someone reveal confidential information. Failing to report leaks, or participating in conversations that violate the agreement can lead to punitive action including being fired or sued.

The move to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour just hit a roadblock in Ohio. Governor Kasich signed a bill that blocks municipalities from raising their minimum wage above the state minimum wage -currently $8.15/hr in Ohio- or implementing other worker benefit programs, such as paid leave. The Huffington Post reports that Ohio is now the twentieth state in the country to pass a law forbidding municipalities from enforcing a local minimum wage. Shockwaves will be felt in Cleveland, where voters are supposed to vote on the $15 hourly wage in a special election in May.