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.”

Those Job Crushing Regulations

Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress love to refer to regulations as “job crushing.”  When Trump spoke recently at the Conservative Political Action Conference he not only said that companies can’t hire because of regulations, but he also said that “we’re going to put the regulation industry out of work and out of business.”  Trump has already taken steps to make it much harder for government agencies to do their jobs.  When he came into office, he imposed a hiring freeze, and he issued an executive order decreeing that the cost of all new regulations issued by each department or agency for fiscal year 2017 can’t be greater than zero regardless of the benefits to be gained from the regulations.  Now, Trump has proposed a budget that would dramatically slash the budgets of most federal agencies.  Government “regulators” do a great deal of important work to help sand some of the harshest edges off of our capitalist economy.  I’ll leave it to others to talk about the importance of environmental and food safety regulations, but workers desperately need a vigilant Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to protect them from injuries and chemical exposure on the job.  To take just one example, in the last days of the Obama Administration, OSHA issued citations to a manufacturing company after two workers suffered severe hand injuries within ten days due to the company’s failure to install proper safety guards on its machines. While the consequences of inadequate wage and hour regulation are less dramatic, a recent Tenth Circuit case illustrates why there is such a pressing need for the government to monitor workplaces.

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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.

Today’s News & Commentary — March 13, 2017

The confirmation hearing for President Trump’s Labor nominee, Alexander Acosta, has been rescheduled due to scheduling conflicts.  The hearing is now set for March 22.  In the meantime, Acosta has been meeting one-on-one with senators to drum up support for his nomination.  Several Democrats have still not made up their mind on Acosta, Bloomberg BNA reports, and will continue to scrutinize his reputation.

That reputation is mixed, according to The New York Times.  Some — including immigration advocates and his colleagues at Florida International University — believe that Acosta is “a fair leader” who won’t let his conservative values affect his decisions.  But former colleagues claim that during his time at the Justice Department, Acosta sometimes acted out of political expedience, hiring candidates based on political connections instead of merit.

Can an employee be punished for refusing to participate in genetic testing?  Maybe, if a new bill — H.R. 1313, the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act — becomes law.  The bill, which secured House committee approval last week, would allow employers to collect genetic information on employees who participate in workplace wellness programs (read our previous coverage of corporate wellness programs here).  The Washington Post has more.

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The Current State of Overtime

The New Rule

In May 2016, the Department of Labor, under the direction of President Obama, issued a final rule updating the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The Department raised the minimum annual salary for employees exempt from overtime pay from $23,660 to $47,476.  The Department set December 1, 2016 as the effective date for the new rule, implementation of which would have affected over 4 million employees.

Underlying the new overtime rule is the desire to protect workers from being over-worked and under-paid.  As the United Food and Commercial Workers union stated in 2015, the previous threshold of $23,660 is below the poverty line, and reflects only one salary threshold increase since 1975.  As long as employers could classify their workers as “managers,” they could avoid paying them overtime.  The new rule would have required employers to either raise the salaries of low-level managers to meet the $47,476 threshold, or reclassify them as hourly employees entitled to overtime pay.  It was intended to encourage employers to spread employment, and hire multiple workers to perform a job rather than forcing a single worker to work 70 hours a week.  Critics argue the rule would hurt small businesses and reduce jobs.

As many employers were making changes to come into compliance with the new rule by the approaching December 1 deadline, a federal judge in Texas ordered a preliminary injunction barring nationwide enforcement of the rule.  A number of private business groups and 21 states had challenged the rule as an overreach of executive power.  The district judge agreed, claiming Congress, not the Department of Labor, should be responsible for making changes to the minimum salary requirement.

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Today’s News & Commentary — March 9, 2017

Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) stood in solidarity with rallying crowd of women for International Women’s Day. According to Politico, labor unions such as the American Federation of Teachers and National Nurses United were in attendance. Rep. Schakowsky addressed the protestors, stating, “American women still earn far less than men 50 years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act.”

The Huffington Post reports that the number of deportations of undocumented workers under the Trump administration, alongside the regime’s immigration policies, begs the question of how reporting standards in immigrant labor will shift. Chicago attorney Christopher Williams, who specializes in immigrant wage theft cases, notes, “There’s a lot of fear out there, and it’s driving workers further underground. I honestly think it’s creating an incentive to hire more undocumented workers, because now they’re even more vulnerable to being exploited.” So far, the Labor Department has not issued a press release detailing wage and safety investigations since Trump’s presidency commenced.

Meanwhile, the D.C. Circuit has issued its opinion in Scoma’s of Sausalito. Scoma’s involved an employer’s withdrawal of recognition of UNITE HERE Local 2850 based on the employer’s belief that the union no longer enjoyed majority support of the bargaining unit.  The Board held that the withdrawal was illegal and issued a bargaining order. The D.C. Circuit agreed that withdrawing recognition was an unfair labor practice, but refused to enforce the Board’s bargaining order remedy. Instead, the court of appeals sent the case back to the Board and ordered the Board to come up with a less “extraordinary” remedy for the illegal withdrawal of recognition.

In other NLRB news, the Board has ordered a Regional Director to revisit its decision that NBCUniversal workers in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles were part of a single nationwide bargaining unit.

Today’s News & Commentary — March 8, 2017

Today is International Women’s Day, and many women around the country are participating in a strike that has been billed as “A Day Without a Woman.”  The action is intended to highlight the economic importance and impact of women on society, and it was organized following the Women’s March on January 21.  CNN reports that American women “aren’t the only ones taking to the streets.”  In Ireland, women and pro-choice activists are expected to rally across the country in a day of action dubbed “Strike 4 Repeal,”  aimed at repealing Ireland’s eighth amendment, which places the right to life of an unborn child on equal footing with the right to life of the mother.  In Australia, thousands rallied in Melbourne, demanding economic justice and reproductive rights for women around the world.  In the Philippines, women’s rights activists marched to the embassy in Manila, carrying signs calling for employment and discrimination reforms. Protests also took place in Rome and Moscow.

Politico weighs in on Trump’s revised executive order, noting that attention “may now shift to the refugee-related provisions” in the order.  The new order exempts valid visa holders and eliminates the provision that called for the U.S. to prioritize religious minorities (i.e. non-Muslims) in refugee admissions, but left in place a 120-day suspension of the refugee resettlement program (although Syrian refugees are now barred only temporarily, whereas before they were barred indefinitely).

At the Atlantic, Alana Semuels interviews David Weil, an Obama appointee who directed the Department of Labor’s wage-and-hour division, about the future of DOL under Trump.  One of Weil’s big worries concerns “the overlay of immigration policies on…the labor market.”  As Weil put it, “There’s a lot of writing on the wall that deeply, deeply concerns me.”

In international news, Argentina’s main labor union led a mass picket on Tuesday to protest job cuts and pay raises.  According to Reuters, the picket attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators and took place in the midst of a two-day teachers’ strike.  The protests also come at a bad time for Argentinian President Mauricio Macri: key congressional elections are slated to take place in October, and Macri needs his political coalition to do well “in order for him to keep pushing his economic reforms through Congress and position himself for re-election in 2019.”