Today’s News & Commentary — May 24, 2017

President Trump released his budget yesterday, and it proposed sharp reductions in spending for entitlement programs.  The budget also included a cut of 19.8 percent in funding for the Department of Labor.  Despite decreases in funding to the Department, the budget includes a proposal for a paid family leave program, which would allow states to grant six weeks of paid maternity and paternity leave.  The program would be funded through changes to unemployment insurance.  Although the New York Times reports that President Trump’s budget “stands absolutely no chance of being enacted by Congress,” the article notes that congressional Republicans might “seize the moment to impose some austerity of their own without going nearly as far as [Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget] or Mr. Trump would like.”

Yesterday, Uber announced that it made a mistake calculating its drivers’ commissions in New York.  The company based payments to drivers on fares after taxes were taken out instead of basing drivers’ pay on fares before taxes were deducted.  Last year, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance filed a suit alleging that the company had been taking taxes out of workers’ pay even though the drivers’ contracts with Uber only allow the company to take its 25 percent cut out of payments to drivers.  The New York Times suggests that the mistake impacted tens of thousands of drivers and these inappropriate deductions could amount to more than $200 million.  Read more here.

Politico reported that Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta will not delay the partial implementation date of the fiduciary rule scheduled for June 9th.  In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Acosta stated that the Department has “found no principled legal basis to change the June 9 date while [it] seek[s] public input.  Respect for the rule of law leads [the Department] to the conclusion that this date cannot be postponed.”  However, the Department of Labor has pledged to review the rule despite the initial implementation date going forward as planned.  Politico predicts that given the length  of the rulemaking process the rule’s second implementation date will also remain in place.

The Wall Street Journal published an article reporting on the Fight for $15’s success in achieving its goal of a $15  minimum wage despite its inability to achieve its other goal, unionization of the workers involved in the campaign.  California, New York, and numerous cities are all on the path to a $15 minimum wage.  The article explores the SEIU’s strategy in funding the Fight for $15.  The union has put more than $16 million into regional organizing and public relations, even though the campaign has not translated into increased union membership and dues.  Despite the questions raised by the Wall Street Journal, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry says that the Fight for $15 is an important part of the union’s agenda, stating that the Fight for $15 “makes ‘the labor movement understand that you can make a bold demand.’”

Today’s News & Commentary — May 22, 2017

Over the weekend, over 35,000 AT&T workers in 36 states and DC went on strike in protest of AT&T’s failure to provide a satisfactory labor agreement.  Major picket lines formed in New York City, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.  Workers have alleged that AT&T has cut sick leave and disability benefits, and outsourced many jobs.  Workers return back to work today.

Newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron will meet tomorrow with union leaders to discuss labor reform.  President Macron made liberalizing labor and employment regulations a large part of his election platform, including promising to swiftly use executive decrees to unilaterally change labor laws.  Among his proposed changes include making labor negotiations occur on a company-wide rather than industry-wide level.  French Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe, appointed by Macron last week, has stated that his government would “go fast” to implement the changes Macron proposes.

The New York Times has published an article on the mixed relationship between Pittsburgh city officials and Uber that’s developed ever since Pittsburgh opened its gates to Uber to make its streets the first testing center for driverless cars.  Mayor Bill Peduto was criticized in the Democratic primary by competitors for being insufficiently demanding of Uber, not getting any commitments from the company to benefit the city in writing.  Peduto previously had celebrated his good relationship with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick; the two personally communicated via text.  But the relationship has gotten strained, with Mayor Peduto alleging that Uber has backtracked on a promise to make its driverless cars free to the Pittsburgh public.  For its part, Uber claims that it has created 675 jobs in the greater Pittsburgh area.

In another article on labor-adjacent issues published yesterday, the New York Times reports on the labor shortage in Utah, where unemployment rates are among the lowest in the country.  Companies are having trouble fulfilling customer demand with the labor shortage, despite offering relatively high wages.  The labor shortage has also stunted Utah’s efforts to mimic Silicon Valley in being a hub for technology.  Many companies have hired out-of-state workers and persuaded them to relocate to Utah to make up for the deficit.

Weekend News & Commentary — May 20-21, 2017

Updating our coverage yesterday, more than 35,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) are striking this weekend after the union and AT&T failed to agree to a new long-term contact by the union’s Friday afternoon deadline.  The walkout forced stores across the country to close, though AT&T insisted that most of its locations were still open.

Laurie Stalnaker with the Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties has an op-ed in the Press-Enterprise discussing the recent efforts of the AFL-CIO to protect undocumented immigrants, and issuing a call for additional solidarity among workers across the political spectrum.

Dueling rallies in Italy on Saturday exposed sharp political divisions on worker and migrant issues as the country turns toward parliamentary elections due to occur at the beginning of 2018.  In Umbria, thousands of supporters of the populist 5-Star Movement marched in support of a guaranteed minimum income for Italian citizens, while in Milan, similar numbers demonstrated against racism and intolerance.  The government’s response to the tens of thousands of people crossing the Mediterranean fleeing violence or searching for economic opportunities has boosted 5-Stars’ national profile as it seeks to appeal to poorer Italian voters by melding nationalistic, anti-immigrant messages with an anti-poverty and income inequality platform.

The Canadian government has banned officials from seeking information from social media accounts of applicants for disability benefits, unemployment benefits, and other social programs after reports surfaced that employees were using publicly available information to check details provided in applications.  Senior officials stated that they feared such searches might violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Privacy Act.

 

Today’s News & Commentary — May 19, 2017

Unless AT&T officials come to a labor agreement with AT&T workers by 3PM EST today, thousands of workers across 36 states and DC will walk off the job in a three-day strike.  This would be the first strike ever for AT&T Mobility workers.  The labor dispute covers 40,000 workers across the country.  One particular sticking point in the dispute is AT&T’s offshoring of jobs to foreign contractors.  AT&T workers are represented by Communications Workers of America (CWA), which also represents Verizon workers, nearly 40,000 of whom went on strike one year ago.

An anonymous senior budget official leaked that President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal would require states to provide six weeks of paid leave to both mothers and fathers.  The federal government would not subsidize the program; instead, states would be entirely responsible for identifying and implementing the required cuts and taxes to cover its costs.  The payments would come through pre-existing unemployment insurance programs.

Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta spoke at a meeting of G20 Labor and Employment ministers concerning “women succeeding in a 21st century economy.”  Speaking on employment policies that could help women succeed in their workplaces, Secretary Acosta touted providing more apprenticeships outside of the construction trades, where apprenticeships were traditionally and still are quite common.  In particular, Acosta advocated for more apprenticeships in the tech sector to address the perceived skills gap and labor shortage within tech-related fields.

Today’s News & Commentary — May 17, 2017

At the New York Times, Gary Rivlin discusses the question of free college, and suggests that the first two years of college should be free for anyone attending a public school (i.e. community college or the first two years of a four-year state school).  The idea comes from Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab, who first laid out her theory in a 2014 paper co-written with Professor Nancy Kendall.  In it, Goldrick-Rab and Kendall proposed the following: “If you complete a high-school degree, you can obtain a 13th and 14th year of education for free in exchange for a modest amount of work while attending school.” The authors pinpointed large sums of federal money, including billions of dollars in Pell grants that have ended up going to for-profit colleges, that could be used to fund their plan.  The proposal is not without its critics, and as Rivlin puts it, “Two years of free college is not a panacea.” However, it “would give more people hope, at least, in an economy that now pretty much requires skills well beyond the ones taught in high school.”

WNYC reports that Rodney Frelinghuysen, the most powerful congressman in New Jersey, wrote a fundraising letter to a board member of a local bank in which he warned the board member about the political activities of one of the bank’s employees. The letter asked Frelinghuysen’s supporters to donate to his next election because he is under attack, and included a handwritten asterisk positing that “One of the ringleaders [of the groups attacking Frelinghuysen] works in your bank!”  Attached to the letter was also a news article quoting the employee, Saily Avelenda, who was later confronted by her boss with both the letter and the article.  According to Avelenda, “I had to write a statement to my CEO, and at my level as an assistant general counsel and a senior vice president, at this employer it was not something that I expected.”  Coverage is also available at the Washington PostNPRand Slate.

Moreover, as a result of Frelinghuysen’s actions, the Campaign for Accountability has filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics.  According to The Hill, the Campaign for Accountability “noted that that the House Ethics Committee has warned lawmakers that communicating with private businesses could be construed as ‘pressure to take action in order to please the Member.’ ”

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Today’s News & Commentary — May 16, 2017

Noncompete agreements — once limited to senior executives — are now a widespread practice, locking in almost one fifth of American workers.  This includes low-wage workers at fast-food chains and factories.  A recent report from The New York Times revealed how such agreements can harm workers, preventing them from finding new jobs or embroiling them in costly legal battles.  This morning, the Editorial Board called for an end to “such morally dubious practices.”  It pointed to California  — where state law makes noncompete agreements generally unenforceable — as one potential blueprint for reform.

Waymo has scored a big win in its lawsuit against Uber.  Yesterday, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction, barring one of Uber’s star engineers — who is accused of stealing trade secrets — from working on its self-driving car program for the duration of the litigation.  Wired has more.

Ford is cutting jobs, Reuters reports.  The auto manufacturer plans to shrink its salaried workforce in North America and Asia by as much as 10%, in a move that could attract the ire of the Trump administration.  President Trump has promised to expand jobs in the auto industry — earlier this year, he took credit for Ford’s decision not to shift its manufacturing plants to Mexico — but this most recent announcement (which will likely affect thousands of American workers) is a serious setback.

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Today’s News & Commentary — May 15, 2017

The New York Times describes in a feature how the Iranian economy has created serious unpredictability for individuals seeking jobs. The only stable jobs are in government, yet older individuals who currently have these jobs have stuck around; when they refrain from retiring, younger Iranians are caught in “a vicious cycle of hidden poverty.” The struggle to find consistent employment for a younger lower and middle class—many of whom have professional and advanced degrees—lies in contrast with the influx of money into Iran in recent years.

A feature in the Atlantic describes how men who have lost manufacturing jobs are becoming nurses or surgical technicians instead. The article explains how many of these have historically belonged to women, due to their lower pay and the perception that “jobs that require caring for and tending to others” are for women. Yet the stereotype is breaking down, as an increasing number of men—former plumbers and electricians—train to be registered nurses and radiation technicians.

The Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments today in an appeal of an injunction on President Trump’s second travel ban. The case, Hawaii v. Trump, is brought by the state on behalf of its residents, some of whom are immigrants who have work visas. The series of cases that arose after the President’s travel bans were signed have drawn participation from companies that rely on immigrants, who make up a significant part of their workforces.