Today's News and Commentary – September 12
The New York Times and Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel report that a federal district court in Wisconsin has upheld the state’s controversial public-sector collective bargaining law, Act 10, from a free speech and equal protection challenge. Yesterday’s decision, Laborers Local 236, AFL-CIO v. Walker, No. 11-cv-462-wmc (W.D. Wis. Sept. 11, 2013), comes on the heels of a decision in the same court last year, which found that Act 10’s annual recertification requirement by a majority of employees in public-sector unions violated the Equal Protection Clause and that Act 10’s prohibition on automatic dues withholding for employees in public-sector unions violated the First Amendment. In January, however, the Seventh Circuit reversed that decision in Wisconsin Education Ass’n Council v. Walker, 705 F.3d 640 (7th Cir. 2013). Yesterday’s ruling considered two similar challenges — that Act 10’s restrictions on collective bargaining improperly burdens municipal employees’ right to associate and that Act 10 violates the Equal Protection Clause by treating individuals represented by a collective bargaining unit different than unrepresented individuals — but the court found the new challenges unpersuasive.
A day after Bill de Blasio appeared to win the Democratic primary in New York City’s mayor’s race by the 40-percent margin he needs to avoid a runoff, unions that had endorsed other candidates switched their endorsements to de Blasio, the New York Times reports. On Wednesday night, de Blasio won the endorsement of SEIU Local 32BJ and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. De Blasio appears more successful in his courtship of unions than was Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who recently tried to mend fences with the public employee unions that spent heavily against him in his May campaign. The L.A. Times reports that Garcetti joined Labor Secretary Tom Perez in speaking at the conclusion of the AFL-CIO convention in L.A.; Garcetti spoke of his commitment to unionization and living wages.
Speaking of wages, California is prepared to raise the minimum wage in the state to $10 an hour, the New York Times and L.A. Times report. The $10 minimum wage would eclipse Washington State’s $9.19-per-hour wage as the highest in the country. Governor Jerry Brown describes the increase as “overdue” to keep pace with rising costs. In Washington, D.C., by contrast, Mayor Vincent Gray has vetoed a bill that would force Wal-Mart and other large, nonunionized retailers to pay employees a “living wage” of $12.50 an hour, the Washington Post reports. Gray called the legislation a “job killer,” as Wal-Mart has said it would not build three of six planned stores in the District if the bill became law.
The weekly number of Americans seeking jobless benefits fell to 292,000 in the week ending Sept. 7 — their lowest level since 2006, USA Today reports. The Labor Department credits the fall to computer glitches in two states that resulted in some claims not being processed in time, as well as the shorter work week during the Labor Day holiday.
A new study has found that the wealth gap between the top 1% and bottom 99% in the United States is as wide as it has been in nearly 100 years, according to the L.A. Times. The study, conducted by economists at the University of California Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics, and Oxford University, found that families with incomes above $394,000 in 2012 captured just over two-thirds of the overall economic growth of real incomes per family since 1993.
In Bangladesh, workers attempting to organize unions in response to April’s deadly Rana Plaza collapse have faced threats, bribes, violence, and fierce opposition, reports the Wall Street Journal. Although the government has recently changed Bangladesh’s laws to expand rights for union organizers, intimidation has left only a handful of the nation’s 4,000 garment factories with functioning unions. The Journal reports that similar intimidation is what pushed employees into Rana Plaza even after cracks appeared in its structure in April; the building’s collapse killed more than 1,100 workers.
In a letter to the editor of the New York Times, Alan Gordon, the executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, writes in response to a former model’s op-ed that the difference between a protected actress and exploited model is representation by labor unions. Gordon urged modeling agencies to treat models as employees rather than independent contractors so that they can unionize. On the Times’s editorial page, Vikas Bajaj discusses Tennessee Senator Bob Corker’s hostile reception to Volkswagen’s announcement that it is working with the United Auto Workers in Chattanooga to establish what is known as a “works council” in Germany. Corker said the company would become a “laughingstock in the business world,” but Bajaj implies that Corker’s criticism is hypocritical because Republicans are usually “the ones telling everybody else in government not to meddle in the affairs of profit-making businesses.”