Today’s News & Commentary — February 22, 2017

The influx of refugees into upstate New York has helped revitalize previously-suffering communities.  As the New York Times reports, “[t]he impact has been both low-budget and high-tech”: refugees have provided local businesses with inexpensive, willing labor; foreign-born students have enrolled — paying tuition and fees — at upstate schools; and street-level entrepreneurs have opened new shops.  Somewhat ironically, the cities’ struggles made them popular locations to settle refugees.  Because people left, housing prices dropped, and refugees came in and were willing “to put in the sweat equity that a lot of people weren’t anymore.”  That, in turn, “put properties back on the tax rolls.”

The Wall Street Journal also weighs in on the benefits that refugees bring to the economy. In addition to providing a key source of labor, many refugees “bring a resilience and level of expertise that makes them well-suited for learning on the job.”  According to a study from the Migration Policy Institute, roughly 28% of the refugees over the age of 25 who settle in the U.S. arrive with at least a bachelor’s degree.  The Wall Street Journal notes that skills from abroad may not always translate, and some employers have found that refugees need help with translation services, resume writing, American-style management techniques, and tips for navigating their new lives.  Despite potential training challenges, however, refugees can provide companies with  “a strong competitive advantage,” enabling them to better understand, for example, the needs of clients in key markets across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Chief Judge Patricia Elaine Campbell-Smith of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims recently held that the government had violated the FLSA by failing to examine whether it was required to pay employees who continued to work during the partial government shutdown in 2013.  That those workers were later paid for their time was irrelevant. The Washington Post explains that the decision entitles workers to minimum wage pay for the hours they worked between October 1 and October 5, 2013.  Judge Campbell-Smith ordered the government and the plaintiffs to calculate amounts due and report back by April 7.

The New York Times editorial board posits that blaming robots for job loss, “while not as dangerous as protectionism and xenophobia, is also a distraction from real problems and real solutions.”  The Times points out that if automation were rapidly accelerating, labor productivity and capital investment would be increasing as well.  But the data shows the opposite: in the 2000s, labor productivity and capital investment decelerated.  The problem lies instead with “politicians, who have failed for decades to support policies that let workers share the wealth from technology-led growth.”

Today’s News & Commentary — February 8, 2016

Yesterday, Republican lawmakers “proposed sweeping changes to Iowa’s collective bargaining laws” in the form of House Study Bill 84 and Senate File 213.  As the Des Moines Register explains, the new bills would limit mandatory negotiations for most public-sector union workers (public safety workers such as firefighters and police officers are exempted) to base wages only; negotiations over issues like health insurance and overtime would be prohibited.  The bills would also require unions to go through a certification process before each new contract negotiation.  Additional coverage is available at the New Republic, which also provides a brief historical overview of collective bargaining law in Iowa.

The New York Times reports that New York is attempting to revive the once-thriving, now-troubled garment industry.  City officials have increased efforts to create a new garment industry in Sunset Park, including a $115-million renovation of the city-owned Brooklyn Army Terminal, which will expand manufacturing space by 500,000 feet.  They have also partnered with the Council of Fashion Designers of America in order to assist companies with modernizing their manufacturing processes and workplaces.

Can Andy Puzder survive?  That’s the question Politico asks, noting that Puzder has faced allegations of beating his wife, began his career working for “one of the most notorious mob lawyers in the country,” and just admitted that he employed an undocumented immigrant as his house cleaner and didn’t pay taxes on her employment.  Despite these scandals, however, Puzder is “somehow . . . still standing.”

In other news, the New York Times observes that the appeals panel that heard oral argument yesterday in State of Washington v. Donald Trump “appear[ed] skeptical of Trump’s travel ban.”  The Times also notes that nearly 130 companies, most of them from the tech industry, filed an amicus brief in support of Washington State.

 

The Supreme Court Vacancy and Labor: Neil Gorsuch

This post is part of an ongoing series on the labor decisions and positions of some of the likely potential picks to replace Justice Scalia on the Supreme Court.

Neil Gorsuch currently serves as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. He was appointed by President George W. Bush on May 10, 2006 and confirmed just over two months later. As SCOTUSblog and numerous other outlets have pointed out, Judge Gorsuch may be “the most natural successor” to Justice Scalia, “both in terms of his judicial style and his substantive approach.”

Last August, Judge Gorsuch “made real waves in the normally sleepy world of administrative law” by advocating the end of the doctrine of Chevron deference. See Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, 834 F.3d 1142, 1158 (10th Cir. 2016) (Gorsuch, J., concurring). Writing a separate concurrence to his own opinion, Judge Gorsuch opined, “We managed to live with the administrative state before Chevron. We could do it again. Put simply, it seems to me that in a world without Chevron very little would change – except perhaps the most important things.” Id.

The following provides an overview of Judge Gorsuch’s opinions in cases involving the NLRB and employment discrimination.

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Today’s News & Commentary — January 25, 2017

When we talk about disappearing jobs, we often think of men.  But as the New York Times notes, women are also part of the trend.  In the United States, the “share of prime-age women bringing home a paycheck rose at the end of World War II” and continued increasing during the 1970s and 1980s before it peaked in 1999 at 77 percent.  In the early 2000s, however, women’s participation in the labor force began decreasing — making the United States one of the only major countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development not to have a rising rate of female workforce participation.  During the recession, that rate plunged further, and it has failed to bounce back.  In 2015, only 73.7 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 54 were in the work force.

Although Trump met with several union leaders on Monday, the gathering was limited to representatives of the construction and building trades unions.  Public sector and service industry unions — some of the most powerful supporters of Democrats in recent elections — were not invited.  As Newsweek explains, the meeting may be “a sign of how Trump may seek to split organized labor as president.”  Still, the excluded unions, such as the SEIU, aren’t backing down.  SEIU President Mary Kay Henry told Newsweek that although Trump poses challenges to her union, the threats are “not existential,” and the SEIU is preparing to fight for the same blue-collar workers Trump managed to win over.

Taxpayers get stuck with the cost of supporting workers in the fast food industry. That’s the thesis of a recent Los Angeles Times article articulating why Andy Puzder as Secretary of Labor gives major cause for concern.  The National Employment Law Project (NELP) estimates that Puzder’s CKE Restaurants, which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s brands, collects a taxpayer-funded subsidy of about $247 million a year.  According to NELP, that’s what it takes to “offset poverty wages and keep [CKE’s] low-wage front-line workers and their families from economic disaster.”  The issue is particularly salient because Puzder opposes an increase in the minimum wage, but evidence exists that even modest minimum wage increases “help to cut the need of low-wage workers for assistance from Medicaid and other programs.”

Today’s News & Commentary — January 11, 2017

In case you missed it, the New York Times has full video and text coverage of President Obama’s farewell speech. In his speech, President Obama praised worker organization as part of “our nation’s call to citizenship,” called for “a new social compact” that, inter alia, “give[s] workers the power to unionize for better wages,” and warned that “[i]f every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”

Also at the New York TimesNoam Scheiber covers two new studies on raising the minimum wage.  The first study found, consistent with the growing body of work on minimum wage, that increasing wages does not contribute to a decline in hiring.  However, the study also showed that when employers were forced to pay more in wages, they hired more productive workers, so that the overall amount amount of money employers spent on each job did not change substantially.  If this pattern were to apply across the economy — and the study’s author, as well as other economists, note that there are many reasons it might not — a higher minimum wage could result in low-skilled workers losing their jobs to higher-skilled workers.  The second study suggested that some employers may go out of business in response to a rising minimum wage.  The study, which examined restaurants in the San Francisco area, found that many poorly rated restaurants went out of business after a minimum-wage increase took effect.  Highly rated restaurants, by contrast, appeared “to be largely unaffected,” and overall there was “no substantial rise in restaurant closings after a minimum-wage increase.”

Politico and CNBC report that Andy Puzder’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of Labor may be delayed until February.  Puzder was originally scheduled to testify before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on January 17, but the hearing will now be moved and may not take place until after Betsy DeVos’ hearing, which has also been delayed.

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Today’s News & Commentary — December 28, 2016

At the New York TimesLeslie Picker disputes Donald Trump’s claim that a “tax holiday”  would lead to an influx of cash that would, in turn, create new jobs.  As Picker explains, “American corporations have kept an accumulation of earnings abroad because they would be subject to paying more taxes when they bring it home.”  Current law requires companies to pay up to 35 percent of their earnings to the government, but Trump has said that he wants to offer a one-time rate of 10 percent to incentivize companies to bring their profits home.  However, it is far from clear whether such a move would create new jobs.  According to adviser’s of America’s top corporate executives, American companies are likely to use the money — estimated at $2 trillion — to acquire businesses, buy back their own stock, or pay off debt.  These actions would generate profits for the companies, but would not create new jobs.  Past experience bears that out: the last time Congress initiated a tax holiday, in 2004, the top 15 repatriating companies brought home $150 billion but reduced their work force by 20,931 jobs.

The Wall Street Journal weighs in on the strength of the U.S. dollar, which is currently at a 14-year high.  A strong dollar increases purchasing power, which could boost retail sales and drive economic growth.  However, what is “good for U.S. consumers and companies that purchase components abroad” spells a threat to U.S. manufacturers reliant on sales in overseas markets: it makes “their exports more expensive and their foreign earnings less valuable.”

United Airlines has reached a settlement with the Department of Labor over the working conditions for Newark Airport baggage handlers.  The New York Daily News reports that a lawsuit was filed after inspectors “found baggage handlers too often were forced to lift heavy bags or perform other functions while leaning over, twisting or reaching overhead.”  According to the Labor Department, United baggage handlers reported over 600 musculoskeletal injuries between 2011 and early 2015.  As part of the settlement, United will install conveyor belts on jet bridges so that handlers do not have to manually lift and lower gate-checked passenger luggage.  United will also hire an expert on repetitive stress injuries to evaluate injury risks.

Today’s News & Commentary — December 21, 2016

The D.C. Council voted yesterday to pass the Universal Paid Leave Act, one of the most generous paid parental leave laws in the nation.  As Politico and the Washington Post explain, the Act provides private-sectors workers with eight weeks of paid time off after the birth or adoption of a child, six weeks off to care for an ailing family member, and two weeks of personal sick time.  Despite worries that Mayor Bowser and the city’s business establishment would block the bill, it passed by a veto-proof margin of 9 to 4.  Coverage of the bill is also available at Forbes.

On Friday, Columbia University filed a challenge with the NLRB over the recent graduate student unionization vote.  The university has alleged that GWC-UAW organizers participated in various forms of coercion and intimidation.  The New York Times reports that students gathered on Monday to protest, accusing Columbia of trying to drag out the fight until Trump appoints new members to the NLRB.  In an emailed statement, Columbia “took a more bureaucratic approach,” stating the following: “Our objections were filed with the N.L.R.B. as part of its established procedure for determining whether the conduct of the election was appropriate.  We share the N.L.R.B.’s goal of ensuring a fair electoral process and protecting the rights of all students.”

According to ReutersTrump’s declared infrastructure plan would “collide” with the country’s skilled labor shortage.  The Transportation Department estimates that over two-thirds of U.S. roads are in “less than good condition,” and nearly 143,000 bridges need repair or improvement.  At the same time, there currently exists a shortage of construction workers: the National Association of Home Builders estimated earlier this year that around 200,000 construction jobs in the U.S. remained unfilled.  That number represents an 81 percent increase in the last two years.