Today’s News & Commentary — February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Those celebrating should be careful not to run affront of labor and employment law.  The Richmond Times-Dispatch notes that “when a gift is received unexpectedly from a co-worker on Valentine’s Day of all days, it raises the creep level to litigation status.”  Their special correspondent advises readers to keep their celebrations out of the workplace.

Donald Trump’s selection for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, continues to face difficulties with his nomination.  According to CNN, four Republican senators – “Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Johnny Isakson of Georgia” – are withholding support for Puzder pending his confirmation hearings.  Republican leaders will lobby the four senators, but if they cannot be swayed Trump may replace Puzder.

After a long campaign, a little over 3,000 Boeing workers in Charleston will finally vote tomorrow on unionization.  The New York Times reports that the election represents a key test of the strength of organized labor in the early days of Trump’s presidency.  Boeing was enticed to open the plant in South Carolina in large part because of reduced labor costs relative to their operations in the Seattle area, partly driven by the lack of unionization.

In other news, graduate students at colleges and universities continue to mount union organization campaigns.  Organizers and students continue to make their case at Duke University and the University of Maryland, for example.

Today’s News & Commentary — February 8, 2016

Yesterday, Republican lawmakers “proposed sweeping changes to Iowa’s collective bargaining laws” in the form of House Study Bill 84 and Senate File 213.  As the Des Moines Register explains, the new bills would limit mandatory negotiations for most public-sector union workers (public safety workers such as firefighters and police officers are exempted) to base wages only; negotiations over issues like health insurance and overtime would be prohibited.  The bills would also require unions to go through a certification process before each new contract negotiation.  Additional coverage is available at the New Republic, which also provides a brief historical overview of collective bargaining law in Iowa.

The New York Times reports that New York is attempting to revive the once-thriving, now-troubled garment industry.  City officials have increased efforts to create a new garment industry in Sunset Park, including a $115-million renovation of the city-owned Brooklyn Army Terminal, which will expand manufacturing space by 500,000 feet.  They have also partnered with the Council of Fashion Designers of America in order to assist companies with modernizing their manufacturing processes and workplaces.

Can Andy Puzder survive?  That’s the question Politico asks, noting that Puzder has faced allegations of beating his wife, began his career working for “one of the most notorious mob lawyers in the country,” and just admitted that he employed an undocumented immigrant as his house cleaner and didn’t pay taxes on her employment.  Despite these scandals, however, Puzder is “somehow . . . still standing.”

In other news, the New York Times observes that the appeals panel that heard oral argument yesterday in State of Washington v. Donald Trump “appear[ed] skeptical of Trump’s travel ban.”  The Times also notes that nearly 130 companies, most of them from the tech industry, filed an amicus brief in support of Washington State.

 

Today’s News & Commentary — January 25, 2017

When we talk about disappearing jobs, we often think of men.  But as the New York Times notes, women are also part of the trend.  In the United States, the “share of prime-age women bringing home a paycheck rose at the end of World War II” and continued increasing during the 1970s and 1980s before it peaked in 1999 at 77 percent.  In the early 2000s, however, women’s participation in the labor force began decreasing — making the United States one of the only major countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development not to have a rising rate of female workforce participation.  During the recession, that rate plunged further, and it has failed to bounce back.  In 2015, only 73.7 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 54 were in the work force.

Although Trump met with several union leaders on Monday, the gathering was limited to representatives of the construction and building trades unions.  Public sector and service industry unions — some of the most powerful supporters of Democrats in recent elections — were not invited.  As Newsweek explains, the meeting may be “a sign of how Trump may seek to split organized labor as president.”  Still, the excluded unions, such as the SEIU, aren’t backing down.  SEIU President Mary Kay Henry told Newsweek that although Trump poses challenges to her union, the threats are “not existential,” and the SEIU is preparing to fight for the same blue-collar workers Trump managed to win over.

Taxpayers get stuck with the cost of supporting workers in the fast food industry. That’s the thesis of a recent Los Angeles Times article articulating why Andy Puzder as Secretary of Labor gives major cause for concern.  The National Employment Law Project (NELP) estimates that Puzder’s CKE Restaurants, which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s brands, collects a taxpayer-funded subsidy of about $247 million a year.  According to NELP, that’s what it takes to “offset poverty wages and keep [CKE’s] low-wage front-line workers and their families from economic disaster.”  The issue is particularly salient because Puzder opposes an increase in the minimum wage, but evidence exists that even modest minimum wage increases “help to cut the need of low-wage workers for assistance from Medicaid and other programs.”

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.

Today’s News & Commentary — January 17, 2017

Donald Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary, Andrew Puzer, may be having second thoughts about taking the job following intense criticism of his nomination.  CNN reports that Puzder “has voiced second thoughts in recent days, because of a relentless barrage of criticism from Democrats, labor unions and other liberal groups, a business ally and GOP sources tell CNN.”  Puzder is apparently discouraged by the required paperwork and attacks on him by Democrats, organized labor and worker advocates.  At the earliest, Puzder’s confirmation hearing would be next month.  In response to the report, Puzder tweeted that he looks forward to his hearing.

Meanwhile, Trump’s plans to increase American jobs through increased American production of goods continues to generate significant skepticism.  With respect to production of iPhones, according to technology site BGR, “if iPhone factories came to the US, you can be sure that robots would be the only ones getting more jobs.”  Any increased American production would reflect that the “relative cost of skilled labor in the US and China is such that it’s cheaper to build a robot than it is to hire one US worker to replace one Chinese worker in the supply chain.”

Education increasingly defines the ability of Americans to succeed economically.  The Associated Press notes that “Americans with no more than a high school diploma have fallen so far behind college graduates in their economic lives that the earnings gap between college grads and everyone else has reached its widest point on record.”  College-educated workers have disproportionally benefited from new jobs and wage increases following the 2008-09 Great Recession, and are far more in demand by employers.  The education gap is most significant for white men, but is true across the board, and developing the skills of non-college-educated workers is critical.

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Today’s News & Commentary — January 11, 2017

In case you missed it, the New York Times has full video and text coverage of President Obama’s farewell speech. In his speech, President Obama praised worker organization as part of “our nation’s call to citizenship,” called for “a new social compact” that, inter alia, “give[s] workers the power to unionize for better wages,” and warned that “[i]f every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”

Also at the New York TimesNoam Scheiber covers two new studies on raising the minimum wage.  The first study found, consistent with the growing body of work on minimum wage, that increasing wages does not contribute to a decline in hiring.  However, the study also showed that when employers were forced to pay more in wages, they hired more productive workers, so that the overall amount amount of money employers spent on each job did not change substantially.  If this pattern were to apply across the economy — and the study’s author, as well as other economists, note that there are many reasons it might not — a higher minimum wage could result in low-skilled workers losing their jobs to higher-skilled workers.  The second study suggested that some employers may go out of business in response to a rising minimum wage.  The study, which examined restaurants in the San Francisco area, found that many poorly rated restaurants went out of business after a minimum-wage increase took effect.  Highly rated restaurants, by contrast, appeared “to be largely unaffected,” and overall there was “no substantial rise in restaurant closings after a minimum-wage increase.”

Politico and CNBC report that Andy Puzder’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of Labor may be delayed until February.  Puzder was originally scheduled to testify before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on January 17, but the hearing will now be moved and may not take place until after Betsy DeVos’ hearing, which has also been delayed.

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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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