Today’s News & Commentary—May 10, 2017

A history professor at Yale offered her perspective on the Yale grad student hunger strike in the New York Times yesterday. She explained that Yale has refused to bargain with the eight departments that voted to unionize and is stalling until the President appoints new, conservative NLRB members. Meanwhile, grad students are coping with “meager wages,” student debt, and the grim reality that tenure-track jobs have significantly declined (down 10% since just last year). Before initiating the hunger strike, the Yale grad students tried sending letters, circulating petitions, and holding rallies to bring the administration to the bargaining table, but none of those tactics were successful. Now some of the students have for 14 days without consuming anything but water. Perhaps the grad students at the University of Chicago will fare better than their northeastern counterparts.

Credit Suisse has announced that it will expand its North Carolina operations with 1,200 jobs following the partial repeal of the state’s controversial HB 2 “Bathroom Bill.” A top official for the bank stated that the company was considering moving the jobs elsewhere until the partial repeal was announced because it previously seemed North Carolina “would not provide the inclusivity its employees need[ed].” While North Carolina legislators have reason to be excited about the announcement, critics point out that the partial repeal of the bill “still prevents local protections from discrimination over sexual orientation and gender identity.” Read more on the “compromise repeal” here.

WeWork, the world’s largest “co-working company,” is facing growing number of complaints about worker mischaracterization and unfair pay. In just two years, the number of employees at WeWork increased from 350 to 2200, and the company is now being forced to deal with its growing pains. Bloomberg reports that “[f]or some of these workers, the glamour of a job at WeWork, a company now valued at $18 billion, at first obscured the question of whether they were being unfairly denied pay.” However, workers are now coming forward, alleging that WeWork designated workers as “managers” to avoid paying them overtime, even though they spent much of their time on menial tasks. Meanwhile, the NLRB is reviewing the company’s arbitration policies, and the New York Attorney General is investigating its non-compete agreements.

And finally, the AFL-CIO has released its annual CEO Pay Ratio Report, which found that in 2016, CEOs of S & P 500 Companies on average earned 347 times the salaries of non-supervisory workers. That ratio is up from 335:1 in 2015. The report, and its subsequent calls to action, focus on two main issues in this arena: the failure of large companies to pay taxes on their offshore profits and corporate lobbying against pay transparency enforcement measures by the SEC.

Today’s News & Commentary — April 12, 2017

Yesterday, the Texas Senate voted preliminarily to approve a bill that would exempt state officials who object to gay marriage on religious grounds from being required to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples. The bill would also exempt judges who object from performing marriage ceremonies for the couples. All the Democratic state senators, with the exception of Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, voted against the bill. They questioned why such a bill is necessary when clerks and judges can already recuse themselves if they appoint a deputy or another employee to take over their responsibilities. They also pointed out that the legislation would impermissibly allow government employees to discriminate against same-sex couples, whose right to marry has been interpreted to be protected under the 14th Amendment. In response, the Republican sponsor of the bill accepted an amendment “saying no couple can be burdened by a county clerk’s refusal to certify their marriage license.” The final vote takes place today, after which it will be sent to the House. U.S. News predicts that, if approved, “it will almost certainly be challenged as unconstitutional by federal lawsuits.”

The $75 billion dollar video game industry considers hiring workers a last resort, according to the Wall Street Journal. Psyonix Inc., the company that just released the long-awaited “Rocket League,” has just 81 employees, despite the staggering 29 million players it has accumulated in the last two years. Chief Executive Dave Hagewood says, “The smaller we can be, the better.” Like Hollywood studios, video game companies tend to hire temporary workers to help create a game, but have “few long-term obligations after its release.” However, the key difference between Hollywood and the gaming industry is that unions in Hollywood provide a safety net for workers, whereas gamers are largely non-unionized. Casey O’Donnell, a game-studies professor at Michigan State University, says the gaming industry “is a decade ahead” of where other sectors are headed.

The District Court for the District of Columbia recently certified three classes of African-American employees and applicants alleging that the criminal background check policy of Washington D.C.’s Metro Transit Authority (WMATA) has a disparate impact on African-Americans — despite the fact that 75% of WMATA employees are African-American, compared with 52% of D.C. residents. The plaintiffs allege that the background check policy was “inconsistently applied” and affected African-American applicants more than those of other races. Seyfarth Shaw summarizes the potential implications of the case, stating that “the Little ruling puts employers on notice that even if their workforce is predominately made up by one protected class, their criminal background policies can still be challenged as having a disparate impact on that class for purposes of class certification.”

Today’s News and Commentary — March 29, 2017

Earlier this week, the Second Circuit held that an openly gay employee may pursue a claim of sex discrimination under Title VII. However, he must proceed on the basis of sex stereotyping, and not sexual orientation. LGBT rights advocates hope the Second Circuit will soon hold that Title VII also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and they see the concurrence in this case by Chief Judge Katzmann and Judge Brodie as promising. No federal circuit has yet ruled that discrimination “on the basis of sex” under Title VII applies to sexual orientation, but the EEOC has held that it does since its 2015 opinion in Baldwin v. Foxx. (The EEOC filed an amicus brief on behalf of the gay employee in the Second Circuit case.) In the concurring opinion, Chief Judge Katzmann wrote that the court should address the issue in the future, “when the appropriate occasion presents itself.” Advocates have called it a “big step forward” for Katzmann to at least “find compelling” the EEOC’s arguments for Title VII coverage. The employee is reportedly “considering” asking the full Second Circuit review.

The New York Times announced yesterday that robots are winning the race for American jobs. Examining a new paper by economists at M.I.T. and Boston University, the Times reports that in the study of the manufacturing industry, for every robot per one thousand workers, “up to six workers lost their jobs and wages fell by as much as three-fourths of a percent.” While earlier, more conceptual papers predicted that robots would enhance the labor market and create better jobs for humans, this study used real-world data and reached a far more pessimistic result. The authors found that blue-collar men without college degrees were particularly vulnerable. The report comes just as Uber announced it would resume testing its self-driving cars in San Fransisco after grounding the fleet on Saturday in response to an accident.

Uber also released its first diversity report on Tuesday, showing the same general underrepresentation of women and non-Asian minorities as other tech industries. Uber has long been under pressure to release such a report, and its workers played a critical role in convincing the company to publish it. The report is also perceived as an attempt for the company to make amends to investors and the public after a former engineer wrote publicly in February about her experiences with sex discrimination at the company. According to the report, only 36% of Uber’s workforce in compromised of women. Also not looking good for Uber: the fact that it openly refers to its Jewish and Latino employees as “Jewbers” and “Los Ubers.”

A state bill to prohibit minimum wage increases by localities in Iowa has passed in the Iowa House and Senate, with the Governor expected to sign it soon. Supporters of the bill cite “certainty, predictability and uniformity by assuring the same minimum wage statewide,” while opponents argue that it neglects low-income workers in the state. Several counties in Iowa had already raised the minimum wage, meaning that some workers’ raises will now be rescinded. Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, issued a statement declaring that the bill’s passage “marks the first time anywhere in the U.S. that state lawmakers have actually taken away raises from workers who already received them.”

Today’s News & Commentary — March 15, 2017

Labor and employment issues are in the spotlight this week as advocates continue the battle over the President’s pending nominees. Politico reports that “Democrats have settled on their line of attack against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee: He’s anti-worker!” Critics of Judge Gorsuch have focused on his ruling against a professor who lost her job after taking time off to recover from cancer and his dissent arguing that a truck driver who was fired for leaving his load to seek shelter after 2 1/2 hours without heat on a sub-freezing night was not protected by the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. Meanwhile, the conservative group America Rising Squared released a TV ad in favor of Alex Acosta, the President’s nominee for Secretary of Labor. The highlights include: a spotlight on the Acosta’s time at Harvard Law School, his history of fighting “radical Islamic terrorists,” and a ringing endorsement from Sen. Ted Cruz.

The New York State Board of Regents is getting rid of a teacher literary test found to have a disparate impact on prospective black and Hispanic teachers. The test, called the Academic Literary Skills Test (ALST), is one of four that prospective teachers must currently pass in New York. In 2015, a federal judge held that the ALST was not discriminatory, despite a 2014 study found that only 46 percent of Hispanic candidates and 41 percent of black candidates passed on the first try, compared with 64 percent of white candidates. The test also costs $131. Eliminating the test underscores New York’s commitment to increasing the number of non-white teachers, who currently make up less than 20% of the country’s public school teachers.

Politico  provides an excellent preview of the ways the rest of the world is “prepar[ing] to move on without [the] U.S. on trade” in the aftermath of the failed TPP. In sum, “other countries are ready to rush into the vacuum the U.S. is leaving behind.” New deals are already being negotiated by new blocs of countries – with China most notable among them. While the TPP was controversial among labor groups, the U.S. now stands to lose billions of dollars per year in export sales if it is edged out of new free trading blocs. Read more on labor standards under the TPP here.

Finally, Theresa May indicated this week that the U.K. will undergo a sharp break from the E.U. Millions of workers will be affected, and Science explained yesterday how scientists and researchers in particular are bracing for the shock. Between 2007 and 2013, scientists brought in over 7 billion Euros in EU funding, second only to Germany. However, it is now possible that U.K. researchers will no longer be able to apply for E.U. grants, nor recruit students and other researchers easily from other parts of Europe. And of course E.U. scientists who are not citizens of the U.K. are unsure if they will be able to remain in the country. To mitigate some of the effects, the U.K. government has pledged to increase its funding of  R&D by 23% over the next four years, and launching efforts to partner with non-E.U. countries on joint innovations. However, the situation is very much still “in limbo,” and some scientists fear they will be forced to spend the next 5-10 years focused on “damage limitation.”

Weekend News and Commentary — March 11-12, 2017

In response to the February Jobs Report, the President retweeted a post Drudge Report, pronouncing the economy “GREAT AGAIN: +235,000.”  Through this claim, the President attempted to take credit for the results of trends established under President Obama. The New York Times Editorial Board writes that the gains made for middle and low-income workers in the past two years are largely attributable to significant minimum wage increases in 15 states and D.C. – increases which Republicans generally oppose. Similarly, the DOL overtime rule, promulgated under President Obama, would have further boosted wages for middle-income workers, but President Trump promised to roll it back. The President’s new economic optimism also marks a “head-spinning shift” from his inaugural vision of an economy that had left his supporters languishing in “carnage.” While the overall economy is strong, wide swaths of the American workforce are being left out of the growth,  and it remains to be seen whether the President will pursue policies to help those alienated workers who helped elect him.

On Friday, the State Department announced that Afghans who worked with U.S. forces can no longer apply for special visas to come to the United States. The visas are expected to run out by June 1, 2017, and no further interviews will be scheduled. Last fall, the Obama administration requested 4,000 additional visas, and Congress responded by issuing just 1,500. A bipartisan effort, spearheaded by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Sen. John McCain, is underway to advocate for more visas for the Afghan allies and their family members, but comes at a time of general reluctance by the U.S. government to open its borders to those fleeing war and political violence.

With rising rates of employment, some places are finally experiencing worker shortages, which help boost wages and give employees more bargaining power. But the future is not so rosy for restaurants in areas like Palo Alto, where owners report competing as much for staff as for customers. The cost of living is so high in the Bay Area that not even restaurant owners, much less their dishwashers, can afford to live in the cities whose residents they feed. The worker shortage has indeed led to higher wages and increased benefits for restaurant workers, with business owners now focused on being “great employers.” However, the restaurant owners also report that their margins are so slim that “they fear a breaking point is on the horizon.”

Finally, OnLabor recommends some weekend reading on “Housekeepers Versus Harvard: Feminism for the Age of Trump.” The article from The Nation chronicles the three year labor struggles of the mostly-female housekeeping staff at a hotel building owned by Harvard in Boston.

Puzder to Withdraw from Nomination for Secretary of Labor

The President’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, is expected to withdraw from consideration before his confirmation hearing tomorrow.  With four firm Republican votes against him, with as many as twelve possible, top Republican Senators urged the White House to withdraw Puzder’s nomination. Puzder’s spokesperson has not yet released a statement. Read more from Reuters here.

Today’s News & Commentary — February 15, 2017

Today the House is scheduled to vote on rules for state-sponsored retirement savings plans aiming to fill the gap for workers who do not have employer-sponsored plans. Seven states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington) are already in the process of implementing such plans, and have been aided by Labor Department rules governing automatic-enrollment and payroll deductions. However, Republicans are now trying to block those rules. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pension, issued a statement saying that “[o]ur nation faces difficult retirement challenges, but more government isn’t the solution.” Also up for a vote today: the unionization of 3,000 Boeing workers in Charleston. Read coverage of that vote here and here.

Earlier this week, protestors from all over Wisconsin marched to the Milwaukee County Courthouse for “A Day without Latinos.” Several thousand protestors gathered in opposition to Trump’s immigration policies and the recent series of ICE raids. Specifically, they sought to challenge Milkwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s decision to enroll his deputies in an ICE program that would allow them to perform immigration law enforcement functions in the county. According to an organizer from Voces de la Frontera, more than 150 businesses owned by Latinos and non-Latinos voluntarily closed for the day in support of the protest. During the march, Sheriff Clarke posted a statement in response, stating in part that “[t]here must be a zero tolerance for allowing people to illegally enter this country and establish permanent residency.”

Finally, could Ivanka Trump give the Democrats the bump they need for paid maternity leave? On Monday, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) unveiled a new bill called the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act and said that she is hopeful the President’s daughter will help advocate for its passage, in part based on her support for the issue during the Republican National Convention. Rep. Maloney said that she sent a copy of the legislation to Ms. Trump and is waiting to hear back. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) and would provide six weeks of paid leave to all federal employees following the arrival of a child.