Weekend News & Commentary—April 8-9, 2017

The United States Department of Labor acknowledged Friday that an investigation of Google “found systemic compensation disparities against women” working for the company.  The allegations come amidst a Labor Department effort begun during the Obama Administration to use its ability to police companies bidding for government contracts to uncover wage and hiring discrimination based on race or gender.  Recently, that effort has focused on Silicon Valley, with lawsuits also being brought against Palantir and Oracle.

In the aftermath of President Trump’s first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, the New York Times covers the far-reaching impact of a Chinese decision last year to publicly question domestic subsidies given to buyers of solar panels.  With Chinese consumer demand dropping due to the uncertainty’s impact on financing plans, local manufacturers drastically reduced prices.  The result—large layoffs at solar manufacturers in the United States and Europe, and the centralization of much of the production capacity in China—demonstrates the difficulty of identifying common ground on trade policy.

Efforts in Chicago to start the largest union of charter school teachers in the country have turned contentious, with teachers at the Noble Network filing charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that their employer has begun surveilling union activity and been enforcing “an overly broad non-solicitation policy.”  The employer denied the conduct and blamed outside union organizers for trying “to disrupt our Noble family.”  If the union organizing drive is successful, it would impact 800 teachers and staff educating more than 12,000 students, providing a test for the notion common among charter proponents that union contracts impede the flexibility needed for student achievement. 

With the confirmation Friday of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the San Francisco Chronicle looks at some areas where his presence could immediately be felt.  After this week’s ruling by the Seventh Circuit that sex discrimination under Title VII includes sexual orientation discrimination created a circuit split on the issue, the paper suggests that the high court could hear the issue as soon as next term.  Challenges to public sector unions and the appropriate deference to Labor Department rules on tipping may also reach the Court in the coming year.

Though not discussed by the Chronicle, in a more obscure case that could also eventually be impacted by a newly strengthened conservative majority, a Massachusetts Superior Court judge ruled this week that Massachusetts’s somewhat unusual campaign finance law permitting contributions to candidates by unions but not by corporations is constitutional.  Federal law has long treated unions and corporations the same under campaign finance regulations, though the logic of that symmetry has been challenged.  The Massachusetts law, which the judge found sufficiently serves the government’s interest in preventing corruption and does not discriminate against corporations, addresses some of the problems of that equivalence.