Today’s News & Commentary — April 18, 2017

President Trump will sign an executive order today to make it harder for tech companies to recruit foreign workers, according to the New York Times. Trump often vowed to end the H-1B program on the campaign trail. Though this order falls well short of that goal, it represents a significant step towards following through on the president’s economic nationalist vision.

Alyssa Battistoni, writing in Dissent, argues that despite all its positives, the left should be wary of embracing universal basic income during the Trump administration. She writes, “[I]t’s hard to imagine any way a basic income program implemented in the Trump era would be anything but a vehicle for dismantling the remains of the welfare state while simultaneously reinforcing nationalism by excluding non-citizens from shared prosperity.” The piece was highlighted in the New York Times roundup of high quality partisan writing.

New York City plans to force Uber to allow customers to tip through its app, according to the Boston Globe,  and California may soon follow suit. Uber has long resisted allowing tips, even as competitors have permitted users to add gratuities to their fare. In Uber news unrelated to tipping, the Washington Post summarizes the company’s recent struggles in the wake of yet another executive leaving his post.

Bloomberg dove into some labor market numbers to analyze what made the German economy the best in the developed world for workers. Two theories emerged. First, the country’s strong labor unions have been willing to think long term with regard to wages. Second, Germany has seen a steady rise in exports that is at least in part attributable to the country benefiting at the expense of the weaker economies in the euro zone.

Today’s News & Commentary — April 4, 2017

Google’s self-driving car program, Waymo, finds itself in an intense legal battle with Uber. Seven weeks ago, Waymo sued the ride sharing company stealing trade secrets, according to the Wall Street JournalAt the center of the battle is Anthony Levandowski, a former executive with Waymo who Google accuses of developing a competing self driving car company during his time with the company that was eventually acquired by Uber. Mr. Levandowski faces two arbitration lawsuits personally, and Uber faces a claim in federal court.

The Department of Justice issued a warning on Tuesday that it would investigate and prosecute companies who abuse the H-1B visa program, according to the New York Times. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer addressed the issue this morning, saying the administration will crack down on companies that put qualified U.S. workers at a disadvantage by using the visa program to hire foreigners.

Facebook is now requiring outside law firms representing the company in legal matters meet certain diversity goals, according to the New York Times. A new company policy mandates that women and minorities account for 33 percent of law firm teams working for the company. Further, the firms must show that they “actively identify and create clear and measurable leadership opportunities for women and minorities.” Failure to comply would result in a 10 percent “diversity holdback” of fees. HP made a similar announcement in February, and spokespeople for MetLife say the company will adopt its own diversity mandate this month.

Epicenter, a Swedish company, has started offering microchip implants to workers to function as key cards, reports the Los Angeles Times. The CEO, who has an implant himself, touts the convenience of the new technology. For other workers, privacy issues must be discussed and resolved before they will buy in. One worry is that the kind of data that could be collected by such a microchip is much more personal than even what can be gleaned from a smartphone.

 

Today’s News & Commentary — March 21, 2017

Alex Acosta, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, is expected to face some skepticism during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, largely because his views on important policy issues are still unknown. If confirmed, he will face a long to-do list, including weighing in on issues such as the Obama administration’s fiduciary rule and overtime regulations. Bloomberg offers some analysis on what to expect out of Mr. Acosta’s DOL.

Two more Uber executives resigned yesterday, according to the Washington Post, continuing a rough stretch for the company. In the past three months, the company has lost senior leaders in departments that oversee marketing, engineering, artificial intelligence and product development. The company also took some heat after the New York Times reported on the secret technology it used to avoid local regulation.

The confirmation hearing for Judge Neil Gorsuch continues today. The New York Times offers streaming and live briefing. Senators will be allotted 30 minutes of questioning each.

The New York Times asks whether robots can replace lawyers. The answer? Yes, but not yet. The business section also offers some helpful advice on how to improve your productivity at work.

Today’s News & Commentary — March 7, 2017

House Republicans publicly released their long awaited health care plan. The Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal each offer details on the new plan. Vox and Forbes offer more in depth analysis. Two of the most significant provisions of the plan will replace the individual mandate with tax incentives, and replace means-tested insurance subsidies with one that scales according to age.

The Senate voted today to repeal the Obama administration’s rule requiring that federal contractors disclose labor violations, according to the Los Angeles Times. The rule required contractors to disclose violations of 14 labor laws, including those pertaining to workplace safety, wages and discrimination, and allowed federal contracting agencies to take violations into account when assigning bids.

Over the weekend, the New York Times reported on Uber’s Greyball project, which it uses to evade authorities around the world. Uber set up what essentially was a fake version of its app so that city authorities could not take a ride with the company. Uber identified city officials using location data, observing which of its users opened and closed its app near government buildings, and then tagged those users in a way that prevented them from using its service. Critics and city officials claim this was done to avoid local regulations; Uber claims it uses Greyball mainly to identify users who violate its terms of service agreement.

 

Today’s News & Commentary — February 21, 2017

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Iowa Council 61, an Iowa union local, filed suit against the state on Monday, reports the Washington Post. The union alleges that a new law which prohibits public sector unions from negotiating issues such as health insurance and supplemental pay is unconstitutional.

Austria has approved new rules to encourage companies to give hiring priority to domestic workers for new jobs, according to the New York Times. The new rules will halve non-wage labor costs for three years for companies which create new jobs and hire people in Austria changing jobs or registered as unemployed. Graduates of an Austrian educational institution and other highly-skilled foreign workers may also qualify for the reduction. The plan may run into opposition from Brussels, as it seems to run against the European Union’s principle of free movement of people.

The Chicago Bears and the NFL Players’ Association are gearing up for an unlikely battle in the Illinois Legislature, reports the Associated Press. The two are on opposite sides of the question of how long injured professional athletes should be allowed to earn workers compensation benefits. Currently, injured players can earn benefits until the age of 67, like all other workers; the Bears want payments to end at the age of 35 or five years after the player suffered injury.

Today’s News & Commentary — February 7, 2016

The Justice Department filed a brief in the 9th Circuit in support of its motion to stay the injunction barring enforcement of the order. An hourlong oral argument is scheduled for today. SEIU and the Washington State Labor Council filed two amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs.The SEIU’s brief focuses on the stories of six individuals personally affected by President Trump’s travel ban.

Gov. Scott Walker spoke with Vice President Mike Pence last week about potentially taking parts of Wisconsin’s union law and public workforce overhaul and implementing it on the national level, reports the Washington Post. Wisconsin’s 2011 law law barred collective bargaining over working conditions and required workers to pay more for health care and pension benefits. Backlash over the law led to an unsuccessful attempt to recall Gov. Walker in 2012. Congressional Republicans have also introduced a national right-to-work bill which has yet to be debated.

Andrew Puzder, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, faces further delay of his confirmation hearing after acknowledging yesterday that he employed an undocumented immigrant as a house cleaner. Mr. Puzder added that when he learned of her status, he terminated her employment, offered her assistance in getting legal status, and paid back taxes in full to the state of California and the I.R.S.  Continue reading

Today’s News & Commentary — January 24, 2017

President Trump met with the leaders of several construction and building trade labor unions on Monday, according to Reuters.  This came after the President signed an executive order withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.The New York Times offers some more detail on the meeting, which reportedly included the President offering reassurance of his commitment to major infrastructure spending.

On that note, Senate Democrats plan to introduce a $1 trillion infrastructure plan–and offer the President support if he backs it, according to the New York Times. Governors from across the country have expressed support for the plan, and also a desire for meaningful input and control over funding.

President Trump announced a broad hiring freeze for the federal government, restricting hiring for all new and existing positions except those those in the military, national security, and public safety. The move drew harsh criticism from federal labor union leaders. Max Stier argues in the Washington Post that the move will make the government less effective and potentially increase costs.

The SEIU has announced that Nicole Berner will become its general counsel beginning Feb. 1. Berner will take over for retiring General Counsel Judy Scott, who has held the role since 1997.