Weekend News & Commentary — May 13-14, 2017

Motherhood largely drives the gender pay gap, reports the New York Times. The gap widens most during a woman’s late 20s to mid-30s, when many women have children. Mothers carry a disproportionate share of a family’s labor at home and more likely to give up job opportunities for their husband’s job. Sari Kerr, an economist at Wellesley College, notes that couples often decide that the person who earns less, usually a women, should take on more of the household and childcare burden. But because employers often assume that this will be the case, it is a reason women earn less in the first place.

The state pension system of Puerto Rico, which owes workers $49 billion in benefits, is scheduled to run out of money as soon as July, according to BloombergThe impending shortfall pits workers against the Commonwealth’s creditors, primarily hedge funds who own one third of its bonds. Puerto Rico’s federal oversight board anticipates a 10 percent cut in pension benefits, but some workers expect an even larger reduction.

The New York Times offers an in depth look at China’s plan to remake the global economy. Through the initiate, called “One Belt, One Road,” China plans to invest $1 trillion in massive infrastructure projects around the world. China will be exporting not just its goods but also its labor, staffing foreign projects with domestic workers. The country hopes to expand its diplomatic influence at a time when the United States is expected to turn inward and focus on “America first.”

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Today’s News & Commentary — May 2, 2017

The nonprofit group United to Protect Democracy is suing the Trump administration over alleged intimidation of civil civil servants. In a blog post, one of the lawyers asserted that their goal was to protect “the civil service from purges, intimidation, or politicization.” The group seeks documents from the Department of Energy related to an attempt by the Trump transition team to get the names of civil servants and other contractors who worked on Obama administration climate change programs. A suit against the Department of Health and Human Services is similar, seeking documents related to the Trump administrations targeting of employees who worked on or expressed views on the Affordable Care Act or abortion rights.

The New York Times offers analysis on the “winners and losers” of the Congressional spending deal that will fund the government until Oct. 1. Among the winners are retired mine workers, who will receive federal backing for their struggling health care plans. The agreement represents a concession by Democrats generally, but a big win for  Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-WV) and others from coal states.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a Female engineer at Facebook has collected data that suggests code written by women is rejected 35% more often than their male counterparts. The finding affirms a long-held suspicion among female engineers that their work received more scrutiny than men’s. A Facebook spokesperson described the findings as, “incomplete and inaccurate—performed by a former Facebook engineer with an incomplete data set.”

French labor unions are split on whether to endorse Emmanuel Macron or Marine Le Pen in the upcoming presidential election, according to the New York Times. Unions have historically opposed Le Pen’s far right National Front, but are also skeptical of the job market overhauls that Macron defended as economy minister and intends to expand.

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.