Today’s News and Commentary — March 31, 2017

Department of Labor officials told the The Guardian that it is getting harder to conduct workplace investigations because undocumented workers are refusing to cooperate with investigators. According to the report, the current government’s policies have stoked such fear of deportation among undocumented workers that in some instances workers are “declining to accept back wages owed to them and running away from staff who show up at their workplaces.” As a result, it is becoming harder to learn about workplace violations, and to enforce proper standards. The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have a Memorandum of Understanding, still in place, stating that they will not interfere in Department of Labor investigations.

The Wall Street Journal reports on worker shortages facing the construction and farm industries as a result of “demographic trends coupled with a skills mismatch.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the number of unfilled construction jobs has almost doubled in the last five years with around 150,000 jobs currently unfilled. Farmers also report vast labor shortages that resulted in tens of millions of dollars of crops rotting in their fields before being cultivated. At the root of the problem, according to the article, is an aging workforce – an average construction equipment operator is 46 years old – reduced visas for guest workers, delays in visa processing, and a shrinking undocumented workforce.

And a new group on Capitol Hill, the Blue Bollar Caucus, is working to win back blue-collar voters in traditionally Democratic states. Labor leaders met with Caucus co-chairs, Rep. Marc Veasey of Texas and Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania, for a listening session this week.

In international news – a small city council in Canada is taking a novel approach to the problem of underpaid temporary workers, by voting to stop using temporary staffing agencies altogether. A recent report from the province of Ontario, where the City of Brantford is located, found that 75% of temp agencies inspected were violating provincial labor laws.