Weekend News & Commentary — February 18-19, 2017

After the embarrassing withdrawal of his last nominee, Andrew Puzder, President Trump’s new pick for Labor Secretary — Alexander Acosta, a “well-respected public servant” — might look like a safe choice.  As the President has pointed out, Acosta has a strong track record: he has already won Senate confirmation for three previous positions, as a senior official in the Justice Department, a federal prosecutor, and a member of the NLRB.  But this time Acosta could face obstacles.  As POLITICO notes, the new nominee has expressed a moderate position on immigration that could put him at odds with immigration hard-liners like Steve Bannon (Breitbart has already criticized Acosta for supporting amnesty for undocumented immigrants and “cheap foreign labor”).  Meanwhile, Acosta’s stance on important labor issues — such as overtime pay — remains unclear, causing concern to labor advocates.  The American Prospect has more.

On Friday, President Trump visited workers at a Boeing plant in South Carolina — only days after they voted against unionization — to reiterate his campaign-trail promises.  Trump pledged to put Americans “back to work” and raise wages (“We love our workers, and we are going to protect our workers,” he declared) but made no mention of the failed union bid, The Atlantic reports.  The President’s “loud silence” on unions is unsurprising — his relationship with organized labor has often been contentious —but union leaders can’t afford to ignore him back.  His support among union members is high, and some of his early moves — such as his rejection of the TPP trade deal and his plan to renegotiate NAFTA — have aligned him with certain unions.  Some union leaders have already reported having productive meetings with the President, and others could follow.  On the unfolding relationship between the President and organized labor, the New York Times has more.

And lastly, as concerns mount over the threat of automation to human jobs, Bill Gates has come up with a solution: tax the robots.  In an interview with Quartz, the Microsoft founder argues that governments should tax companies’ use of automated labor, raising funds to support other kinds of employment.  Meanwhile, Finland has opted for another solution.  The Finnish government is experimenting with a universal basic income, giving 2,000 individuals a guaranteed income for two years.  The Guardian has more.

Weekend News & Commentary — February 4-5, 2017

The weekend started with some good news, with an above-expectations jobs report released Friday.  January saw 227,000 new jobs and modest wage growth; average hourly wages were up 3 cents at $26.  President Trump has already claimed credit for the strong numbers, predicting that job growth will “continue, big league,” under his administration.
 
Meanwhile, federal workers who want to express dissent against that same administration are turning to incognito forms of communication to do so, POLITICO reports.  In order to avoid rules covering workplace communications, EPA employees — fearing that the President’s incoming appointees will undermine existing policies — are now using an encrypted messaging app to talk strategy.  Similarly, Labor Department employees are using their private email accounts to circulate a letter asking senators to oppose Andrew Puzder’s nomination for Labor Secretary.
 
Speaking of which, the nominee — still facing delays in his confirmation process — continues to attract criticism.  The New York Times investigates Puzder’s early career as a lawyer, when he represented business owners and battled labor regulators in the courtroom.  In one of his biggest cases, Puzder defended his boss (a famous mob lawyer and casino owner) against allegations of squandering $25 million from union workers’ pension funds.
 
Puzder’s opposition to raising the minimum wage has also drawn fire, as the “Fight for $15” and related movements continue to build momentum.  Without a doubt, the importance of a “living wage” has become a central tenet of workers’ activism.  But where does it come from?  JSTOR Daily takes a step back from the debate, pointing out that workers’ acceptance of wage labor — a system that was still decried in the nineteenth century as “wage slavery” — is of relatively recent vintage.  Meanwhile, some commentators are of the view that minimum-wage hikes won’t be enough, in an age of automation, to secure the livelihoods of workers.  Writing for Jacobin, Mark Paul, William Darity Jr., and Darrick Hamilton argue instead for a federal job guarantee that would ensure employment for all.

Weekend News & Commentary — January 21-22, 2017

Only a few days into the Trump presidency, and speculation is rife: what will the new President do next?  In his first few hours in office, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at dismantling the Affordable Care Act — and he is expected to take similar executive action “on a nearly daily basis” for the next month to undo his predecessor’s legacy, The New York Times reports.  Undocumented workers will be anxious to see what President Trump does with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  His options include a gradual wind-down of the program or even immediate repeal (POLITICO provides a rundown of the potential scenarios).  But the President’s tough talk on immigration could have costs.  NPR warns that a crackdown on immigrant workers could leave the United States with a farm labor shortage.

In his inaugural address, President Trump painted a bleak picture of the American economy, evoking a landscape of “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones.”  And while this view is not entirely consistent with reality — as The New York Times points out, the United States is now experiencing one of the longest periods of economic growth in its history — the American worker does face challenges ahead.  President Trump focused on the effects of foreign trade (“The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world,” he lamented), but the graver threat to American jobs might be the rise of automation — something that Andy Puzder, Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary, has publicly supported.  Before exiting office, former President Obama warned that technological advancements like the “driverless Uber” could threaten Americans jobs in the near future.  Recode has more.

Speaking of Puzder, Trump’s pick for Labor Secretary is under attack from women’s groups, POLITICO reports.  The National Women’s Law Center and other groups are pressuring lawmakers in the weeks leading up to Puzder’s confirmation hearing, highlighting the nominee’s less-than-stellar record on women’s issues (including his infamous Carl’s Jr. ads and his work as an anti-abortion lawyer in Missouri).  Mounting criticism has sparked rumors that Puzder might back out of the nomination.

Weekend News & Commentary — January 7-8, 2017

The last jobs report for 2016 came out Friday, marking 75 months of consecutive job growth under the Obama administration.  December saw 156,000 new jobs and wage growth of 2.9%; unemployment held steady at 4.7% (up slightly from 4.6% in November).  The report is consistent with the Fed’s outlook for continued gains in the labor market in 2017, according to The Wall Street Journal.

With the last numbers in, The New York Times looks back at President Obama’s jobs record.  Job growth has not been as robust as under previous administrations, but Obama will be passing an economy near full employment — “something only a few modern presidents have accomplished.”  Meanwhile, NPR sums up Obama’s jobs legacy in just eight charts: under Obama, wages have started to climb, part-time workers who wanted more hours are getting them, and jobs have shifted from manufacturing to other sectors.  Will President-elect Trump be able to build on — or even sustain — the progress made during the Obama era?  Business Insider weighs in.

In other news, it’s official: Kentucky will now become a right-to-work state.  A bill that allows workers to opt out of union dues was approved by Kentucky Republicans Saturday morning, and is expected to be signed into law immediately.  State lawmakers also voted to repeal the prevailing wage law, dealing a serious blow to labor, The Huffington Post reports.  Kentucky will be the 27th state to adopt right-to-work.

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Weekend News & Commentary — December 24-25, 2016

Undocumented workers have an equal right to workplace protections, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  In a decision issued earlier this week, the IACHR held that undocumented workers should be compensated for workplace injuries — notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s 2002 decision in Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. NLRB, which denied undocumented workers full remedies under federal labor law.  The ACLU, which represented petitioners in the case, has more.

Meanwhile, workers in California will now be relieved of all work duties during break times.  In a class action filed on behalf of ABM security guards, the California Supreme Court held this week that employers cannot require their employees to be “on call” or “on duty” during breaks.  Read more here.

In international news, Taiwan will now require employers to provide their workers with two days off each week, in an effort to improve work-life balance.  The mandatory five-day work week will start January 1st, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

Finally, as 2016 draws to a close, JD Supra offers a look back on some of the most noteworthy developments in employment law: the FLSA overtime rule (now on hold), new federal guidelines on recruiting and compensation, and New York’s upcoming minimum wage increase, among others.

Weekend News & Commentary — December 10-11, 2016

Trump’s Labor Secretary pick — Andy Puzder, a fast-food CEO opposed to raising the minimum wage — is still drawing criticism.  Politicians have chimed in; Senator Elizabeth Warren has called the appointment “a slap in the face for every hardworking American family.”  The Atlantic takes a closer look at the controversial choice.

One puzzling aspect of Trump’s pick, as noted in our previous coverage, is that Puzder has disagreed with the President-elect on immigration issues.  Puzder has argued for bringing in more low-wage immigrant workers, and in a Wall Street Journal editorial he penned earlier this year, Puzder claimed that “deporting 11 million people is unworkable.”  While some have viewed the Puzder pick as a hopeful sign of a more balanced immigration policy under the Trump administration, Puzder seems to have already changed his tune on immigration; in a statement released Saturday, he threw his support behind Trump’s immigration plan, claiming that it “will boost wages and ensure that open jobs are offered to American workers first.”

Meanwhile, unions are feeling nervous in the wake of Trump’s bitter Twitter war with Chuck Jones, leader of the union representing Carrier workers, earlier this week.  According to The Wall Street Journal, Trump’s Carrier intervention — and the resulting conflict — has union leaders worried that the new President will intervene more and more in the work of organized labor.

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Weekend News & Commentary — Nov. 26-27, 2016

In the wake of the recent election, unions — which spent over $100 million campaigning against Donald Trump — now have some tough questions to face.  Republicans are eager to build momentum on right-to-work legislation (a conservative Supreme Court pick will no doubt help), and President-elect Trump is expected to roll back much of the Obama administration’s labor-related reforms — including the Department of Labor’s overtime rule, which a federal court blocked earlier this week with a nationwide injunction (read more here).  Steven Greenhouse, writing for The New York Times, speculates that with a White House that is more hostile to labor, unions will have to focus on local battles (for example, state minimum-wage referendums) while workers experiment with new methods of organizing (taking their cue, perhaps, from the Fight for 15 movement).

Meanwhile, President-elect Trump has not forgotten his campaign promises to keep American jobs from moving overseas.  Over Thanksgiving he reached out to air conditioner manufacturer Carrier, which plans on shuttering two factories in Indiana and moving over 2,000 jobs to Mexico.  “I am working hard, even on Thanksgiving, trying to get Carrier . . . to stay in the U.S.,” Trump tweeted (“MAKING PROGRESS,” he added).  If negotiations succeed, it’ll be a big political win for the President-elect.  Read more here.

Local governments are stepping up efforts to give part-time workers more predictable, more remunerative schedules.  Seattle, New York City, and other cities are considering “fair scheduling” legislation that will provide workers with more notice of their schedules, The Wall Street Journal reports.

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