To Tweet or Not to Tweet? Public Employee Rights During Free Time

Since President Trump took office, public participation in mass forms of civic participation has increased dramatically. The Women’s March, in Washington, D.C. and sister cities across the country, was the largest march in U.S. history. Thousands gathered at airports to protest the Muslim Ban. Activism generated more protests, like “A Day Without Immigrants,” “A Day Without Women,” and to come, a March for Science. But what role can employees working for the federal government have in speaking out? Mounting public pressure against employees highlights the need to educate public employees on their rights to engage in civic discussion and protect their interest in political speech.

A Park Ranger Started the Movement

The first display of public employee participation in civic discussion around Trump administration actions and policies began on January 20th, when the National Park Service (NPS) retweeted a side-by-side comparison of 2009 and 2017 inauguration crowds. The NPS later deleted the retweet and spokesman Thomas Crosson apologized for “mistaken RT’s.” In the first week of his presidency, President Trump instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interior Department, which oversees the NPS, to cease communicating through social media. But on January 24th, the Badlands National Park, tweeted a series of climate change data, including “Burning one gallon of gasoline puts nearly 20 lbs of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. #climate.” By nightfall, the posts were deleted and a NPS official said that the posts were improperly posted by a former employee.

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Today’s News & Commentary — April 19, 2017

The New York Times weighs in on the effect that Trump’s “Hire American” order may have on tech worker visas.  According to the Times, the order “represents a small win for bigger tech companies,” but may hurt smaller technology companies that “cannot afford to pay high salaries and are already struggling to attract talent.”  Senator Schumer, however, had a different take: “This does nothing,” he said. “Like all the other executive orders, it’s just words — he’s calling for new studies. It’s not going to fix the problem. It’s not going to create a single job.”

Is O’Reilly no longer a factor?  That’s the question being asked at Politico, which cites the Wall Street Journal’s report that Fox News “is preparing to cut ties with . . . O’Reilly.”  Since an April 1 New York Times story broke the news that Fox had paid out about $13 million to settle sexual harassment allegations against O’Reilly, pressure has been mounting on Fox to fire its biggest star.

As the New York Times puts it, “[t]he threat of a Hollywood strike is getting real.” Members of the Writers Guild of America will begin voting today on whether to authorize a walkout.  If members approve a strike, it could have “serious implications.” When writers went on strike a decade ago, it cost the Los Angeles economy an estimated $2.5 billion, affecting everyone from the writers themselves to caterers, limo drivers, and florists.  As for how a strike would affect viewers, the Times explains that late-night comedy shows would screen reruns, some scripted series would be delayed, and daytime soap operas would probably end (unless producers bring in non-union writers).  A strike might also speed the shift from network viewing to Netflix and Amazon.

Weekend News & Commentary—April 15-16, 2017

Yesterday, in dozens of cities across the U.S., tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets to demand that Trump release his tax returns.  Reuters explains that organizers of the “Tax March” wanted to draw attention to Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns.  The marches were planned for April 15 because it is the traditional filing deadline for U.S. federal tax returns (this year the filing date was pushed back two days).

Politico reports that the “clock is ticking” for expanding the number of available H-2B visas.  The H-2B visa program permits business to hire temporary, non-agricultural foreign workers, with a cap of 66,000 visas per year.  The 2015 spending bill exempted returning workers from the cap, and business leaders are pushing for Congress to do the same in 2017.  Although a House appropriations bill for the fiscal year 2017 already includes the exemption, business leaders are lobbying the Senate to do the same by April 28, the date by which Congress needs to pass a spending bill to keep the government functioning.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge for the District of Massachusetts Leo T. Sorokin presided over a two-hour hearing regarding two City Hall aides charged with extortion for “allegedly threatening to withhold permits for the Boston Calling festival in September 2014 unless organizers hired union workers.”  According to the Boston Globe, a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office asserted that the aides thought they were advancing Mayor Walsh’s agenda.  Attorneys for the defense countered that the aides acted as city workers seeking jobs for constituents, that they had the right to negotiate the use of City Hall Plaza, and that the prosecutors “have failed to show that the defendants received anything of value for allegedly urging the labor union jobs.”  As Attorney Thomas Kiley argued, “A violation of the National Labor Relations Act is not the same as [extortion].”

The Union Household Vote Revisited

Jake Rosenfeld is Associate Professor of Sociology at Washington University-St. Louis and an OnLabor Senior Contributor.  Patrick Denice is a postdoctoral researcher in the sociology department at Washington University in St. Louis.  He received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Washington (Seattle) in 2016.  His research examines stratification in education and the labor market.

A spate of labor-related election postmortems converged on one key theme: Donald Trump managed to cleave significant union support away from the Democrats.  “Donald Trump Got Reagan-Like Support from Union Households,” ran one typical headline; “It Looks Like Donald Trump Did Really Well With Union Households,” declared another.  But what if these prognoses have it wrong?  Could it be that instead of Trump’s unique appeal to union household voters, the election results really suggest sagging enthusiasm among union households for the Democratic candidate?

It is true that the Democratic-Republican vote split among union households was narrower in 2016 than in any time since, well, Ronald Reagan’s re-election.  In 2016, exit polls indicate that voters in union households supported the Democratic over the Republican candidate by only 8 points.  In 2012, by contrast, the Democratic advantage among members of union households was a yawning 18 points.  And 2016’s gap looks positively miniscule compared to the Democratic vote advantage among union households Bill Clinton enjoyed.  In 1992, exit polls suggest that members of union households preferred Clinton to George H.W. Bush by over 30 points.

Below we display exit poll results from every presidential race dating back to Ronald Reagan’s defeat of Jimmy Carter in 1980.[1]  The figure shows the Democratic candidate advantage over the Republican candidate in the union household vote.  In Reagan’s first victory, there was hardly any Democratic advantage: In 1980, Reagan managed 45% of the union household vote, compared to 48% for Jimmy Carter (the rest went largely to the 3rd party candidate in that race, John Anderson).

 

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Based on this figure alone it sure appears that the postmortems have it right. In 2016 the partisan split among union households was smaller than at any time since Ronald Reagan’s re-election in 1984.

But there is another way of investigating the issue.  Continue reading

Today’s News & Commentary — April 6, 2017

The Department of Labor has once again delayed the implementation of the Obama Administration’s “Fiduciary Rule,” previously slated to take effect on April 10. According to Forbes, the DOL has responded to President Trump’s February 3 executive order to review the rule by postponing the rule’s implementation until June 9. The comment period on issues raised by President Trump remains open until April 17.

Law360 reports that U.S. District Judge Cathy Seibel denied conditional certification to a nationwide class of Papa John’s International Inc. delivery drivers in Durling, et al. v. Papa John’s International, Inc., Case No. 7:16-CV-03592 (CS) (JCM) (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 29, 2017). The drivers alleged that the company failed to sufficiently reimburse them for the cost of their vehicle expenses. The court reasoned that the absence of any evidence of common policy that violates the FLSA is enough for employers to defend their pay practices, noting that evidence of underpaid workers at few dozen corporate stores and two franchisees is insufficient to certify a class comprised of more than 3,300 restaurants.

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCC”) released its 2017 Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) Benchmark of 6.7%. Federal contractors use this figure to evaluate their veteran hiring efforts. This year’s benchmark is slightly lower than 2016’s Benchmark of 6.9%.

As noted on the blog, five women have received settlements totaling $13 million following accusations of sexual harassment by Bill O’Reilly. The revelation sparked an online conversation under the hashtag #droporeilly under which an outpouring of women have described years of workplace mistreatment. The New York Times shares some of these narratives.

A Truly Green Economy

President Trump has already declared his intention to go down in history as the “greatest jobs producer God ever created.”   He has promised to create 25 million new jobs by 2027.   Since taking office, Trump has made clear that two of the industries he plans to focus on for job creation are coal and manufacturing. Trump has cited his belief that American manufacturing and coal industry jobs are the “backbone of our economy” as the impetus behind his focus on revitalizing these types of jobs.  Now that he’s in office, he is increasing his efforts to revitalize these struggling sectors.  However, Trump is operating in a myopic state that ignores the need for American workers to shift to jobs into emerging sectors, particularly sectors that are relatively more resistant to automation than are manufacturing jobs.

Manufacturing jobs have declined as a percentage of the U.S. workforce while overall U.S. manufacturing output has increased.  The loss of jobs points as much to automation as it does jobs moving to less expensive markets like China or Mexico.   Jobs in coal are likely to continue to disappear as they have been for the last 30 years as a result of alternative, cleaner and affordable fuels entering the market. Instead of – or, at least in addition to – focusing on struggling industries, Trump should look to ease job creation in emerging industries.  One such industry that is steadily on the rise was recently flagged as one that his administration may look to quash: legalized marijuana.

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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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