Today’s News and Commentary — March 28, 2017

President Trump repealed a rule yesterday requiring federal contractors to disclose labor law violations.  Per The Hill, the “blacklisting rule” implemented by President Obama was intended “to prevent the government from contracting with businesses responsible for wage theft or workplace safety violations at any point within the last three years.”  Business groups supported the rule’s repeal, while other commentators noted the repeal could contradict Trump’s stated promises to working-class voters of improving job prospects and working conditions.

Another action by President Trump is frustrating efforts by employers to find seasonal workers.  NPR reports that “a cap will soon kick in on the number of short-term work visas provided under the H-2B program, which brings in low-skilled labor for nonagricultural jobs that U.S. employers say they can’t fill closer to home.”  The cap particularly disadvantages employers in the Northern United States, where the demand for seasonal workers begins later in the year.  A bipartisan group of senators has called for an audit of the HB-2 program to ensure the maximum number of visas are awarded, while progressives have noted problems with the program.  For his part, President Trump has espoused opposition to hiring foreign workers but has hired dozens of foreign workers under the HB-2 program at his hotels and resorts.

Universities continue to oppose efforts by graduate students to unionize.  Most recently, The Cornell Daily Sun notes a series of questionable anti-union communications by Dean Barabara Knuth of the Cornell Graduate School through an online forum.  In particular, “the Ask a Dean forum has been a breeding ground for conflict.  Administrators claim they are addressing legitimate concerns from students — who are always anonymous — while union organizers claim that it is the University’s method of circumventing the agreement reached between the two sides in May that prevents professors or administrators from trying to persuade graduates to vote ‘no.'”

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Weekend News & Commentary — March 25-26, 2017

House Republicans canceled a scheduled vote Friday on their Affordable Care Act (ACA) replacement.  With Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump unable to whip the votes for the American Health Care Act (AHCA) due to defections from both the caucus’s conservative and moderate wings, the bill was withdrawn and no timeframe given for a revised version.  Over the past week, a number of commentators and news organizations looked at the AHCA’s potential impact on workers and businesses, analyses that may influence the work of producing a new bill with broader support.

The Chamber of Commerce came out in favor, arguing among other things that a reduction in regulation of the health care industry would reduce costs for businesses who provide insurance to employees.  But, the response from small businesses was more mixed, with some suggesting that the law would undo the ACA’s successful slowing of health care cost increases without introducing new mechanisms for reducing premiums (other than reducing coverage).

A particularly contentious element of the AHCA was that it allowed states to enact work requirements for receiving Medicaid, and Vann Newkirk of The Atlantic takes an in-depth look at the poor long-term results of similar prior efforts, concluding that “the only real outcome of a Medicaid work requirement is that fewer people will have access to Medicaid, which may be the point.”  Other commentators had looked specifically at how work requirements might negatively affect new mothers.

In non-health care news, a one-day strike by 17,000 AT&T technicians and call center workers in California and Nevada earlier this week ended with the company agreeing to the union’s demand that members no longer be forced to do work for other divisions of the company.  Striking workers generally maintained television services, but had been asked to support landline phone operations.  The successful demonstration of union power came in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations between a number of Communications Workers of America locals and AT&T across the spectrum of the telecommunication giant’s operations.

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Today’s News & Commentary — March 22, 2017

According to the New York Times, Portland, Maine will try a new tactic to deal with panhandlers: hire them. After Portland’s previous efforts — which included outlawing begging and bulldozing a strip in the middle of a road that had proved popular with beggars — were struck down by the First Circuit as infringing on people’s First Amendment rights and proved ineffective, respectively, city officials adopted a new tactic.  In April, Portland will hire a few panhandlers a day, pay them the city’s minimum wage of $10.68 an hour, and assign them to clean parks and public spaces. Several other cities have already successfully adopted a similar approach, and Portland is following their lead.  A year and a half ago, for example, Albuquerque instituted a jobs program that pays $9 an hour.  The program has created 1,750 jobs and led to the removal of over 60 tons of litter.  The jobs program in Portland will function similarly to the one in Albuquerque.

Alexander Acosta appears before the Senate HELP Committee today.  Politico weighs in on the issues expected to arise: politicized hiring at the DOJ, voting rights, Acosta’s role in Jeffrey Epstein’s plea deal, and DOL regulations governing retirement advice and overtime eligibility.

CNBC and Business Insider report that Goldman Sachs will move jobs out of London and bulk up its European presence by “hundreds of people” as it executes its Brexit contingency plans.  Richard Gnodde, the CEO of Goldman Sachs International, explained that the plans will “be a combination of things. We’ll hire people inside of Europe itself and there will be some movement.”  Goldman plans to invest in infrastructure, systems, and technology, and the movement away from London will “not necessarily result in a net reduction of workers in the U.K.”

Today’s News & Commentary — March 20, 2017

While President Trump has launched a campaign against undocumented immigrants, his administration has not spoken out about the employers who hire them, notes the New York Times in an editorial today. Faulty enforcement and high evidentiary hurdles make holding employers accountable difficult. The Times faults the administration’s one-sided focus on demonizing immigrants while not providing a path to citizenship and putting money into (controversial) solutions to verify employment eligibility, like E-Verify.

Trump’s push to bring back coal jobs (“a delusion,” according to the New York Times in a separate editorial) is prompting Republican legislatures in coal country to reenact looser mine safety laws. Some lawmakers claim that the “federal government can do the inspections just as well as the states”—a seemingly out-of-character stance, until one looks at the current federal government, which has no interest in regulating coal companies and plans to cut the Department of Labor budget by 21%. Other legislatures are passing laws that cut down on annual safety checks (in exchange for a “‘safety analysis’ based on conversations with miners”) and proposing bills that lower standards.

A former law student of Neil Gorsuch claims that the Supreme Court nominee implied that women manipulate companies during interviews to gain maternity benefits, according to NPR. The former student wrote a letter detailing her class experience to Senate Judiciary Committee leaders, which was posted by the National Employment Lawyers Association and the National Women’s Law Center last night.

Labor secretary nominee Alex Acosta will be heard before the Senate HELP Committee this Wednesday, reports The Hill. Acosta, whose hearing was delayed once already, hasn’t faced the same level of criticism as former nominee Andy Puzder. Many are eager to learn more about the Labor tap, who has managed to avoid the spotlight and is a “blank page on policy,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Weekend News & Commentary — March 18-19, 2017

On the campaign trail, President Trump pledged that he would create 25 million jobs over the next decade.  Will he keep his promise?  The New York Times thinks not.  The Editorial Board takes aim at the President’s “wheezing jobs effort,” pointing to his recently released budget proposal — which would cut the Department of Labor’s budget by 21% and eliminate several important jobs programs — and his neglect of important job markets, such as the clean energy sector.

President Trump’s labor policies have also attracted the ire of unions and labor leaders.  The SEIU and Food Chain Workers Alliance have announced a general strike on May 1 (#May1Strike), coinciding with International Workers’ Day.  More than 300,000 food chain employees and 40,000 service workers are expected to turn out, The Hill reports, to protest the Trump administration and in particular its hardline stance on immigration.

Meanwhile, the administration’s immigration crackdown has worsened the farm labor shortage in California, The Los Angeles Times reports.  Although farm wages have shot up, few Americans have been willing to accept those jobs — casting doubt on President Trump’s claim that tougher borders will help American-born workers.

Disney will be paying $3.8 million in back wages to 16,339 of its “cast members” as part of a settlement with the Department of Labor.  The DOL’s investigation revealed that Disney resorts in Florida deducted a “costume” expense that caused some employees’ hourly rates to fall below the federal minimum wage.  The Christian Science Monitor has more.

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Today’s News & Commentary — March 16, 2017

Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland dealt a blow to President Trump’s revised travel ban yesterday.  In Honolulu, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick K. Watson granted a nationwide temporary restraining order preventing the Trump Administration’s executive order from taking effect.  Hours later, U.S. District Court Judge Theodore D. Chuang in Maryland issued an order preventing the key provision, which would have stopped the U.S. from issuing visas from six countries for 90 days, from being implemented.  Read more here.

The Federal Reserve raised the benchmark interest rate yesterday for the third time following the financial crisis.  It opted to raise the benchmark by a quarter of a percentage point and continues to predict two additional rate increases this year.  In a press conference regarding the decision, Janet Yellen, chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, showed confidence in the economy stating “[w]e’re closing in, I think, on our employment objective; we’re coming closer on our inflation objective. … It looks to us to be appropriate to gradually raise the federal funds rate to neutral.”   A historical examination of the Federal Reserve’s involvement in rate increases can be found here.

Yesterday, the Senate voted 51-48 to repeal an Obama Administration regulation restricting the sectors in which states could require a drug test for unemployment benefits.  President Trump is expected to sign the repeal into law.  Because the regulation was repealed under the special procedures outlined in the Congressional Review Act, Congress only requires majorities in both chambers to undo recently finalized regulations.  This regulation is the eighth Obama regulation to be repealed under the Congressional Review Act.

At the New Yorker, Jonathan Blitzer suggests that the case of Daniel Ramirez, a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, demonstrates how the Trump Administration could undermine the program without formally abolishing it.  Ramirez and his legal team have alleged that Ramirez’s due process rights were violated when he was arrested.  The government has responded that DACA status can be revoked at any time if a DACA beneficiary is convicted of a crime or considered to be a threat to public safety.  Ramirez has not been convicted of a crime, and he and his legal team maintain that the government has no evidence that he is a threat to public safety.  The article questions whether DACA’s protections and the emphasis on high-priority immigration enforcement will prove illusory in the face of such broad discretion delegated to immigration enforcement officials.  Blitzer states that “[w]hile the Trump Administration may preserve DACA on paper, honoring the policy in practice would require being clear about who is and isn’t a priority for detention by immigration agents.”

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.”