Today’s News & Commentary — March 16, 2017

Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland dealt a blow to President Trump’s revised travel ban yesterday.  In Honolulu, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick K. Watson granted a nationwide temporary restraining order preventing the Trump Administration’s executive order from taking effect.  Hours later, U.S. District Court Judge Theodore D. Chuang in Maryland issued an order preventing the key provision, which would have stopped the U.S. from issuing visas from six countries for 90 days, from being implemented.  Read more here.

The Federal Reserve raised the benchmark interest rate yesterday for the third time following the financial crisis.  It opted to raise the benchmark by a quarter of a percentage point and continues to predict two additional rate increases this year.  In a press conference regarding the decision, Janet Yellen, chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, showed confidence in the economy stating “[w]e’re closing in, I think, on our employment objective; we’re coming closer on our inflation objective. … It looks to us to be appropriate to gradually raise the federal funds rate to neutral.”   A historical examination of the Federal Reserve’s involvement in rate increases can be found here.

Yesterday, the Senate voted 51-48 to repeal an Obama Administration regulation restricting the sectors in which states could require a drug test for unemployment benefits.  President Trump is expected to sign the repeal into law.  Because the regulation was repealed under the special procedures outlined in the Congressional Review Act, Congress only requires majorities in both chambers to undo recently finalized regulations.  This regulation is the eighth Obama regulation to be repealed under the Congressional Review Act.

At the New Yorker, Jonathan Blitzer suggests that the case of Daniel Ramirez, a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, demonstrates how the Trump Administration could undermine the program without formally abolishing it.  Ramirez and his legal team have alleged that Ramirez’s due process rights were violated when he was arrested.  The government has responded that DACA status can be revoked at any time if a DACA beneficiary is convicted of a crime or considered to be a threat to public safety.  Ramirez has not been convicted of a crime, and he and his legal team maintain that the government has no evidence that he is a threat to public safety.  The article questions whether DACA’s protections and the emphasis on high-priority immigration enforcement will prove illusory in the face of such broad discretion delegated to immigration enforcement officials.  Blitzer states that “[w]hile the Trump Administration may preserve DACA on paper, honoring the policy in practice would require being clear about who is and isn’t a priority for detention by immigration agents.”

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.”

The Role of the Labor Market in the Trump Travel Ban Litigation

Among the executive orders and presidential memoranda issued by the Trump White House during its inaugural weeks in power, the order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” — colloquially known as the “travel ban” or “Muslim ban” — stands out for the degree of political and legal fire that it has drawn.

Issued on January 27, the travel ban immediately barred citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days, purportedly to provide the Department of Homeland Security with time to review immigrant vetting procedures.  It also imposed restrictions on refugee entry into the U.S.

Of the dozens of lawsuits filed against the travel ban, the challenge brought by Washington and Minnesota — Washington v. Trump — has gone furthest toward striking it down.  On February 3, the Seattle-based federal district court judge hearing the lawsuit issued a nationwide temporary restraining order (TRO) against the ban’s enforcement, a decision upheld by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  In response to the panel’s decision, the Trump Administration is currently revising the ban.

Despite national interest in the travel ban’s legality, however, the news coverage and online commentary about Washington v. Trump have largely overlooked a key feature of the states’ case: the travel ban’s purported effects on their labor markets as the bases for their injuries.

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Guest Post: An Obama Executive Order That Trump Should Love

Sharon Block served in the Obama Administration as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Labor and Senior Counselor to the Secretary of Labor.  In February, she will become the Executive Director of Harvard University’s Labor and Worklife Program.  Chris Lu served in the Obama administration as the Deputy Secretary of Labor, and is now a Senior Fellow at the University of Virginia Miller Center.  This post originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

As former political appointees in the Obama administration’s Labor Department, we can think of few areas where we are in agreement with Donald Trump.  In fact, we have fundamental differences with him about how to build an economy that works for everyone.

Yet, we share his belief that government needs to do more to lift up American workers.  If the new president is interested in delivering on his promise of creating jobs and growing wages for workers, there’s an executive order already in place that he should support.

Every year, the federal government spends hundreds of billions of dollars on procurement contracts.  By some estimates, one quarter of all American workers are employed by a federal contractor — that’s millions of families whose livelihoods are connected to the federal procurement system.

In 2014, Barack Obama signed an executive order called “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” that was premised on two fundamental principles: doing business with the federal government is a privilege, not a right; and taxpayer money should only go to companies that are abiding by the laws that protect American workers.  Under the Obama executive order, the federal government would give contracts only to companies that pay their workers the wages they’ve earned, protect the health and safety of employees, and prohibit discriminatory practices.

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Today’s News & Commentary — October 14, 2015

Two camps are preparing for battle over the future of Los Angeles education. As philanthropists and civic leaders bring together $490 million for charter schools, the teachers union has pulled in support from other employee unions for more traditional public schools. The Los Angles Times reports, although the California Teachers Association has long been wary of charter schools, the broader union support is new. Non-teaching employees at charter schools often lack union protections and are exempt from the $15 minimum wage. The coalition of unions representing administrators, clerical workers, janitors, police officers and other employees represents investment in existing neighborhood schools.

Add B&H Photo Video to the list of workplaces likely to unionize. The New York-based electronics and shipping company is known for expert customer service, but less so for employee relations, according to the New York Times. On Sunday, the United Steelworkers submitted a petition to the N.L.R.B. to represent B&H warehouse workers. The mostly Latino workers raised complaints that they face discrimination, have been pressured to sign English-language forms releasing the company from medical liability, and have been forced to work long hours in hazardous health conditions.

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez received a lesson in labor organizing at an unlikely meeting spot: a children’s playground. As part of his tour through New York City, the Secretary met with the Domestic Workers Alliance, the recently unionized staff of Gawker, and carwasheros who made legislative victories this summer. Lydia DePillis of the Washington Post writes that the Obama administration recognizes its limited political power to pass meaningful workplace legislation. But Perez has found other ways to get at his goals, whether through executive orders on minimum wages for federal contracts, industry-specific rules issued by the Labor Department, or funding cities to design paid leave laws. While his tools remain limited, Perez encourages workers to keep organizing. “You might not get a return on investment next year, but you’ve got to invest in it, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul, because that’s the key to success.”

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Today’s News and Commentary — December 29

NPR today released an interview recording with President Obama. Among the highlights as reported by the Los Angeles Times, President Obama discussed circumstances in which he would be more likely to veto legislation passed by the Republican Congress. Discussing Republican opposition to Executive Action, he stated, “So the question then becomes, by me having taken these actions, does that spur those voices in the Republican Party who I think genuinely believe immigration is good for our country?  Does it spur them to work once again with Democrats and my administration to get a reasonable piece of legislation done? Or does it simply solidify what I do think is — is a nativist trend in parts of the Republican Party?”

The Associated Press reports that railroad executives are attempting to decrease the number of workers required to operate freight trains from two to one. They argue that advances in technology, including improved safety systems and an automatic braking system under development, could minimize risks. Labor groups have pointed out the risks of such a move. J.P. Wright, co-chair of Railroad Workers United, argues that railroads cannot put all their faith in technology, stating that, “We’re transporting chlorine through your town in the middle of the night completely fatigued with the possibility that the computer is going to make a mistake.”

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Today’s News & Commentary — November 17

According to the Associate Press, IG Metall President and German autoworker head Detlef Wetzel called on Volkswagen to recognize the United Auto Workers as its bargaining partner at its Chattanooga, TN plant once the union has a majority. His statement, issued from Frankfurt, came after Volkswagen established new polices last week, stating that worker groups that could demonstrate minority representation of at least 15 percent of the work force could use the Chattanooga plant’s facilities for regular meetings with management. The policy commits Volkswagen management to participate in the talks, but does not outline any binding outcomes. Prof. Sachs was quoted in the article, stating, “On paper that’s not much of a commitment, you could satisfy that by sitting down, listening to what organizations have to say and then leaving.”

BusinessWeek reports that a new paper written by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland challenges the theory that unemployment insurance leads to higher unemployment. The paper’s authors found that the effect of extending benefits “can, at its highest, account for only one-fourth of the increase in the unemployment rate; an impact that is much lower than other estimates in the literature.”

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