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.

Lawsuit Alleging Antitrust Violations Filed Against Puzder’s Company

Yesterday, shift leaders at Carl’s Jr. filed a complaint on behalf of themselves and those similarly situated alleging various antitrust violations by Carl’s Jr. Restaurants and CKE, of which Andrew Puzder is CEO. The complaint was filed in California Superior Court.

The complaint is based on a “no hire” policy extending to all CKE franchises, under which franchisees must agree not to hire or seek to hire anyone who works as a shift leader or any higher position at a CKE restaurant or has worked at a CKE restaurant in the prior two years. The policy might not be a problem if all the workers were employed by CKE, but “CKE and Puzder have gone out their way” to stress that the franchises are not part of a single entity that hires and fires workers (thereby avoiding some federal and state labor protections). According to the complaint, the effect of the “no hire” policy has been to “suppress the wages of the restaurant-based managers” and “worsen[ ] working conditions” by diminishing competition between the restaurants.

The complaint was filed just as Puzder’s confirmation hearing was rescheduled for the fourth time to Feb. 16. A spokesman for Puzder said that the delays were “prompted by Puzder’s need to divest financial holdings that the Office of Government Ethics judged a conflict of interest.” If confirmed, Puzder would have to sell his stake in the fast-food companies, which are valued at 10-50 million dollars.

Today’s News & Commentary — February 1, 2017

Last night, the President nominated 10th Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court. As Hannah reported yesterday, Judge Gorsuch shares a similar legal philosophy to that of the late Justice Scalia and is known for advocating for an end the doctrine of Chevron deference to administrative agencies. Gorsuch’s labor record is sparse, as he has only written four NLRB opinions. In those opinions (three majority; one dissent), Gorsuch deferred to the NLRB three out of four times, with the result of only one union-friendly outcome. He also wrote for the majority in 14 published opinions on employment discrimination, of which 9 were favorable to the employer, 3 were favorable to the employee, and 2 were mixed results (partially affirming and partially reversing the district court, resulting in favorable and unfavorable effects for the employer and employee). The New York Times Editorial Board reports that Gorsuch “spells big trouble for public sector labor unions.”

The Washington Post announced yesterday that it had obtained a draft executive order that, if enacted, would substantially overhaul the current system for administering immigrant and nonimmigrant visas. The draft order is entitled “Executive Order on Protecting American Jobs and Workers by Strengthening the Integrity of Foreign Worker Visa Programs” and states that its goal is to protect American workers—”our forgotten working people.” The draft order directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to review all regulations that permit immigrants to work in the U.S. and to collaborate with the Secretaries of State and Labor to “restore the integrity of employment-based nonimmigrant worker programs.” The Post reports that, if enacted, the order would “immediately restrict[ ] the flow of immigrants and temporary laborers into the U.S. workforce.” The draft order is partially premised on the unsubstantiated idea that immigrants are more likely to rely on public benefits than those born in the U.S. In fact, studies from Harvard and the Cato Institute show that the opposite is true.

The hearing for Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder has been postponed for the fourth time since he was nominated on December 8. The hearing was most recently scheduled to take place on February 7, 2017, and no new date has been confirmed yet. An aide for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions told the press that the Committee is still waiting to receive Mr. Puzder’s paperwork from the Office of Government Ethics. Experts have called the repeated delays “unusual” and suggested that the delays indicate problems for the nominee in the vetting process.

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Today’s News & Commentary — January 18, 2017

The confirmation hearing for Andrew Puzder, the President-Elect’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, has been scheduled for February 2. The hearing was initially set to happen yesterday, but was delayed due to a conflict with the hearing for Betsy DeVos, which did go forward last night. In the meantime, Puzder may be having second thoughts about the position, though he tweeted on Monday that he looks forward to the hearing. Read more about the nominee here.

With President Obama’s Overtime Rule frozen in federal court and likely doomed by the incoming administration, Democrats are planning to introduce similar measures at the state level, beginning with Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Creating a state-by-state patchwork of benefits will be an uphill battle for Democrats, who control state legislatures and the governorship in just six states. But Michigan’s Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich says that it’s at least “worth a fight.”

Why are unemployed men in America not flocking to fast-growing jobs in health care? It turns out the job descriptions for these positions may be “too feminine” for them, reports the New York Times. A study by Textio, which analyzed 50 million job postings, revealed that, of the top 14 fastest-growing jobs from 2014 to 2024, 10 of them use language that displays a “feminine bias.” These postings, mostly for various types of health aide positions, use words such as “sympathetic, care, fosters, empathy and families.” The study suggests employers would do well to combat the bias, because gender-neutral job postings lead to positions being filled 14 days faster and attract more diverse candidates.