Today’s News & Commentary — May 3, 2017

Hollywood writers have achieved victory.  As the New York Times reports, the Writers Guild of America reached a “middle-of-the night deal” with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the group that bargains on behalf of studios.  As the Los Angeles Times put it, the deal itself “was a pulse-pounding climax that a Hollywood screenwriter might have conceived.”  Although the union did not get everything it wanted — namely, uniform pay for writing done across platforms — it won major concessions from the studios, including better pay, job protection for paternity leave, and a bailout for the union’s struggling health insurance plan.

The New York Times also weighs in on the “lopsided pay structure in coal.”  While coal executives take home huge sums of money — recent bonuses have been in the $10-$15 million range — pay for the average coal worker has stagnated.  From 2004 to 2016, the average salary of chief executives in the coal industry increased as much as five times faster than the salaries of lower-wage coal workers.  Although this disparity reflects widening income inequality across all sectors of the American economy, pay for coal executives “grew much faster, on average, than that of their counterparts across the wider economy, while the average pay for coal industry construction workers failed to keep up with similar jobs in other fields.”  As the Times also notes, the “yawning gap takes on an added significance” in the coal industry since “Trump has made lifting the fortunes of blue-collar and rural Americans a centerpiece of his administration.”

At U.S. News and World Report, Andy Stern addresses the subject of automation and its effect on jobs.  As Stern posits, “automation is increasingly replacing jobs and leaving too few good new jobs in its wake,” but elected officials have failed to take action. According to Stern, “[i]f we want an economy that allows everyone to be economically secure, we need our economists to get out of their bubble and thinking about how we can rightfully address automation.”

According to CNBC, industries from hospitality to landscaping are struggling to find seasonal help because the government “tightened up on visas” for temporary foreign workers.  At-issue are H-2B visas, which are issued to temporary, non-agricultural foreign workers, with a cap of 66,000 visas per fiscal year.  Although the 2015 spending bill exempted returning workers from the cap, no such exception was passed for 2017. On Monday, lawmakers introduced a government spending bill that would increase the number of allotted H-2B visas to about 130,000, but even if the measure passes, it will take weeks for the visas to be processed.  The result?  Many workers “probably won’t arrive in time for Memorial Day and maybe not until after the Fourth of July.”

Today’s News and Commentary — March 30, 2017

The New York Times reports that Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Trump, “is becoming an official government employee.”  She will serve as an unpaid adviser with the title of assistant to the president.  This move appears to have been spurred by criticism from ethics experts, including former White House ethics lawyers, Norman L. Eisen and Richard W. Painter, who served in the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations, respectively.  In a letter to the White House counsel, the two ethics experts suggested that “[Ivanka Trump’s informal advising] arrangement appears designed to allow Ms. Trump to avoid the ethics, conflict-of-interest and other rules that apply to White House employees.”  In a statement released yesterday, Ms. Trump said, “I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the president in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules, and I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House Office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees.”  Ms. Trump’s issue portfolio appears to include maternity leave and affordable child care, two issues she supported during the campaign.

This week President Trump called for review of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.  The controversial Clean Power Plan established carbon pollution standards and requires the states to create and enact plans to reach these emission targets.  At the ceremony where President Trump signed this executive order, Trump told miners present that this executive action means they are “going back to work.”  Trump’s statements have come under attack because they “den[y] economic realities.”  The demand for coal has slowed because of the availability of less expensive and cleaner burning natural gas and increasingly affordable alternative energy sources.  Automation of coal jobs has also lead to decreased employment in the industry.  These market conditions suggest that even if Trump is successful in rolling back the Clean Power Plan, the coal jobs that President Trump has promised to revive will not be returning to historic highs.  Read more about the impact of the Clean Power Plan on jobs from OnLabor here.

In international news, the New York Times published a piece highlighting legislation in Iceland that would require employers to show that they are paying men and women equally.  Despite having equal pay laws on the books for the past fifty years, government figures suggest that Icelandic women earn 14 percent to 20 percent less than men.  Although Icelandic companies have embraced voluntary measures to decrease the gender wage gap, they have been resistant to mandatory measures.  The legislation would require the country’s largest companies and government agencies to be audited beginning in 2018 and receive certificates of compliance with pay parity rules from auditors.  Businesses with more than 25 employees would have until 2022 to conform to the law’s requirements.  Read more here.

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.