Today’s News & Commentary — January 31, 2017

2017 could be a tough year for labor unions at the state level.  According to NPR, Kentucky has become the nations’s 27th “right-to-work” state, and Missouri and New Hampshire could join it in February.  New Hampshire would become the first “right-to-work” state in the Northeast.  Advocates in New Hampshire claim that “right-to-work” will entice businesses to relocate to the state, while opponents assert that “right-to-work” creates free rider problems and constitutes political reprisal against unions for supporting Democrats.

At the federal level, things might not be much better.  The Washington Examiner reports that two Republicans will introduce national “right-to-work” legislation tomorrow.  President Trump’s purported support has “right-to-work” advocates optimistic, despite previous failures in Congress.

With respect to President Trump’s agenda, unions are prepared to fight.  Per Bloomberg BNA, “labor groups representing immigrants, women, blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans vowed collective action against President Donald Trump at a rally in Washington Jan. 27” and “[Representatives from AFL-CIO constituency groups] promised grass-roots organizing with regional union chapters to protect immigrants and union workers and to ensure sanctuary cities remain.”

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Today’s News & Commentary — December 20, 2016

Uber drivers and other gig economy workers in Seattle may soon be able to unionize, as the city is close to finalizing rules to implement an ordinance passed last year which survived a court challenge.  According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “the city’s Finance and Administrative Services department held a public hearing to take comments on the draft rules.”  More than 20 people signed up to testify.  The proposed rules can be found here.  Seattle’s target date for implementation is January 17, 2017, and collective bargaining negotiations could begin as soon as next summer.

The race for chairman of the Democratic National Committee features two front-runners with strong pro-labor backgrounds, and unions appear divided.  NBC News reports that “the International Association of Firefighters, the main union representing American firefighters, has placed itself on a collision course with the AFL-CIO in the race for the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee, deciding to back Labor Secretary Tom Perez over Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison.”  Perez has also garnered the support of the UFW and the UFCW.  Per Bloomberg BNA, both candidates have strong records supporting organized labor.

Logging continues to be the most dangerous job in America, according to new data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Forbes notes that “last year loggers suffered 67 fatalities while on the job, with a fatality rate of 132.7,” while the “occupation which suffered the most fatalities overall was that of driver/sales workers and truck drivers.”

Weekend News & Commentary — October 29-30, 2016

The week ended with some good news, as the Commerce Department reported GDP growth of 2.9% for the third quarter — the highest rate we’ve seen in two years.  Wages and benefits were also up, according to the Labor Department.  POLITICO reports on what these strong numbers might mean for Donald Trump — who has built his campaign on a message of economic doom and gloom — as the election nears.

Speaking of which, a new poll from the AFL-CIO reveals that Trump’s popularity among union members is waning, with only about 30% still supporting him.  The AFL-CIO — which has endorsed Hillary Clinton — and other unions are now ramping up efforts to get out the vote for their candidate, with a plan to contact millions of voters before the election.  POLITICO has more.

Meanwhile, some working-class voters still question whether Clinton is the right candidate for them.  In its latest issue, The New Yorker discusses the Democratic Party’s complicated past with the working class — and Clinton’s chances of winning them back.

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Today’s News & Commentary — May 26, 2016

As the debate over the proposed settlement in O’Connor v. Uber continues, some advocates have focused on how deference to arbitration agreements is a fundamental problem.  Katherine V.W. Stone writes for the Economic Policy Institute that “it is now more clear than ever that everyone who cares about employment rights and the fair treatment of workers should support federal legislation to end mandatory arbitration in employment and put workers and corporations on a more equal footing.”  Stone reviews the Uber litigation in the context of  developments with respect to arbitration, and concludes that ” Uber’s use of arbitration clauses could effectively wipe out all the class actions brought by drivers in all 50 states.  Even if some judges adopt Judge Chen’s reasoning and invalidate the 2013 and 2014 arbitration agreements, Uber can and will modify their arbitration agreements to address any issues a court finds problematic going forward and require as a condition of continued employment that its drivers agree to give them retroactive application.”

The Verizon strike has entered its second month, and it’s clear Verizon has heard the strike’s effects.  CNN Money reports that Verizon shares have lost 5% of their value since the strike began, while Motherboard notes that Verizon is urgently seeking temporary replacement workers to perform necessary work.

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Today’s News & Commentary — May 24, 2016

Nowadays, you can order a pizza by tweeting an emoji and have it delivered to you in a car equipped with a built-in pizza warmer. But technology hasn’t just changed the way that pizza arrives on your doorstep; apparently, it has changed the way that employers underpay workers as well. The New York Times reports that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has filed a lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza alleging that the computer system it provides its franchisees “systematically undercounted hours worked by employees, shortchanging them hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The suit comes on the heels of a number of recent legal victories against Domino’s franchisees in the Empire State, but differs from those actions in that it targets the franchiser for “forcing franchisees to use a computer accounting system even though it was aware it was flawed.” In fact, Schneiderman claims, “Domino’s corporate executives knew about the violations, denied responsibility and failed to take action.” Accordingly, Schneiderman promises to “prove that the Domino’s corporate franchiser is legally responsible for rampant wage theft occurring at its stores.” Exactly how rampant is the problem? According to Schneiderman’s office, “78 percent of franchisees listed instances of subminimum wages, and 86 percent . . . listed instances of unlawfully low overtime rates.”

As the recent dust-up over SEIU’s proposed agreement with Airbnb suggests, the growing gig economy has forced a bit of an existential crisis upon organized labor. Writing in Fast Company, Sarah Kessler takes a closer look at how unions are responding to rapidly advancing technology and its spiraling effects on the economy. On the one hand, says SEIU president Mary Kay Henry, “technology gives [unions] a leg up in being able to connect people to each other and activate them.” Some unions have also expressed willingness to organize gig workers, even if the shape of that organization does not fit the contours of a traditional union. On the other hand, however, “[e]ncouraging on-demand companies to rely on a workforce of independent contractors who lack the rights and protections of employees” may be “bad public policy.” That’s why the AFL-CIO — of which SEIU is no longer a part — continues to insist that “working people in the gig economy share a single common designation: employees.”

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Today’s News & Commentary — May 5, 2016

Earlier this week, the EEOC issued a fact sheet to employers nationwide, stating they must allow transgender employees access to the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, Politico reports.  The fact sheet explains denying an employee equal access to a “common restroom corresponding to the employee’s gender identity” constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The US services sector expanded last month, according to Reuters, but a report published yesterday shows private employers hired the fewest number of workers in three years in April.  Construction firms reported “severe” shortages of unskilled workers.  The services sector accounts for more than two-thirds of the US economy; economists suggest these numbers point to a “solid growth rebound” of the economy in the second quarter.

Yesterday, the EEOC announced the owners and operators of Moonshine Whiskey Bar in Tempe, Arizona, will pay $66,000 to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit.  According to JDSupra, the plaintiff, a bartender, alleged she was discharged because she was pregnant.  During the hearing, EEOC provided an audiotape recording of one of the owners, explaining allowing a pregnant woman to bartend would offend customers.

According to Politico, lawmakers in Congress have quietly begun efforts to expand visas for low-skilled foreign workers.  Republicans and Democrats from states that rely on immigrant labor are lobbying members of the Appropriations Committee to include language in this year’s funding bills to keep last year’s omnibus measure quadrupling the number of low-skilled worker visas.  The AFL-CIO is lobbying strongly against the move.

Today’s News & Commentary—April 4, 2016

The largest US border patrol union has endorsed Republican Donald Trump for president, raising eyebrows among AFL-CIO constituents.  Up until this election cycle, the National Border Patrol Council had followed a longstanding policy of not throwing its support behind a presidential candidate, reports Quartz.  Now, not only has the Council chosen a contender, but it has chosen the candidate who has attracted public criticism from AFL-CIO leadership and its constituents.  Although the AFL-CIO has yet to endorse a candidate, safe to say it was not going to be the man who Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO president, described as “hot air” and “full of baloney and bluster” just last week.  In response to the Council breaking rank, a prominent immigrants rights group is now demanding that the AFL-CIO sever their relationship with the border patrol union, reports the Inquisitr. According to a petition being circulated by Not1More, the Council’s endorsement of Trump is evidence of the disconnect between the “Border Patrol, immigrant communities, and the rest of the labor movement across the United States.”  AFL-CIO has yet to act or comment on the petition.

Uber drivers in Texas now have insurance coverage tailored to the ride-sharing business, reports Reuters.  Last Friday Progressive Insurance and Uber Technologies launched a pilot program that covers Uber drivers with Progressive’s new TNC (transportation network companies) insurance product.  Stoked by recent changes in Texas insurance rules, the TNC product is specifically designed to protect individuals who use their vehicles for profit and not for personal use.  The partnership is a positive step towards bridging the gap between personal insurance policies, which often do not cover ride-hailing services, and the reality that we live in sharing economy.

The Obama administration is slated to announce a long-awaited proposal on retirement advice later this week, according to Reuters.  The rule, which is required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, seeks to regulate brokers by “end[ing] potential conflicts of interest by brokers who advise on individual retirement accounts and to protect consumers from buying unnecessary investment products.”  The Labor Department withdrew its first retirement proposal five years ago, in 2011, after generating a firestorm of criticism.  And although the content of the current rule is still unknown, many expect a similar fight over this version.