News & Commentary

January 2, 2019

Happy New Year! OnLabor’s daily News & Commentary posts return today. Here are the biggest updates in labor news from the holidays.

Minimum wages rose in 20 states yesterday, raising wages for 5.3 million workers nationwide. According to the Economic Policy Institute, workers will see about $5.4 billion in increased wages due to rising minimum wages, which range from automatic inflation adjustments to a $2.00 per hour increase in parts of New York. In eight states, the minimum wage automatically increases to adjust for inflation — unlike the federal minimum wage, which is not indexed to inflation and erodes in value over time. Six legislatures raised the minimum wage standard by law, including increases in New York, Massachusetts, and California, which are in the midst of a gradual process of raising the state minimum wages to $15 an hour. In six more states, voters directly approved minimum wage increases through ballot measures, including in purple and red states like Maine, Arizona, Arkansas, and Mississippi. 24 cities and counties also raised their minimum wages on January 1st, including Washington, D.C.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the joint-employer standard, which the NLRB announced in its 2015 Browning-Ferris decision. Browning-Ferris removed a serious obstacle to collective bargaining for contractors and franchise workers by announcing a joint-employer standard in which companies that hire franchisees or contractors to staff their operations would be considered joint employers (along with the contractor), even if the company doesn’t actively supervise those workers. Under the Browning-Ferris standard, unions representing workers employed by contractors or franchises (say, workers at McDonald’s franchises) would have the right to negotiate with McDonalds’ corporate headquarters — not just owners of an individual franchise. But the NLRB and the Trump Administration are now in a rule-making process to undo the joint employer standard, returning to a much narrower interpretation of the joint employer test (OnLabor’s Sharon Block outlines the proposed joint-employer rule here). But the D.C. Circuit’s approval of the rule may be a problem for the Trump Administration’s plans to undo the worker-friendly rule: as Professor Block told Bloomberg Law, the court “clearly [said] they have the last word, so the NLRB acts at its peril in not taking their perspective into account.”

Yesterday marks the one-year anniversary of #TimesUp, a massive, multi-pronged initiative to fight systemic sexual harassment, including a multi-million legal defense fund designed to support working-class women like janitors, restaurant workers, nurses, and farmworkers speaking up in their workplaces. The Times Up Legal Defense Fund was launched by 300 Hollywood women who — after receiving a letter of support from 700,000 women farmworkers — invested millions to make sure the #MeToo movement didn’t leave working class women behind. In the past year, the #TimesUp initiative has secured new laws to fight workplace sexual harassment in 11 states and provided free legal consults to over 3,700 workers across all 50 states.

General Motors workers are furious about plans to layoff nearly 14,000 people — after getting $49.5 billion in taxpayer dollars from a federal bailout and an $11 trillion tax break due to the Trump Administration’s tax cuts last year. The company has spent almost $14 billion on stock buybacks since 2015.

The federal government’s partial shutdown stretched into the new year, leaving approximately 800,000 federal workers without their paychecks over the holidays, more than half of whom are required to report for work anyway. Approximately 25 percent of the government has been affected by the shutdown, as President Trump refuses to sign a funding bill with less than $5 billion in funding for a border wall. As the shutdown continues, federal workers are increasingly financially strained — for example, Audrey Murray, who was suspended from her jobs cleaning the State Department and Smithsonian Museum, told the Wall Street Journal that she doesn’t know how she’ll make her mortgage payment in January. On top of the shutdown, President Trump halted a planned 2019 pay increase for civilian workers this weekend.

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