Today’s News & Commentary — May 16, 2017

Noncompete agreements — once limited to senior executives — are now a widespread practice, locking in almost one fifth of American workers.  This includes low-wage workers at fast-food chains and factories.  A recent report from The New York Times revealed how such agreements can harm workers, preventing them from finding new jobs or embroiling them in costly legal battles.  This morning, the Editorial Board called for an end to “such morally dubious practices.”  It pointed to California  — where state law makes noncompete agreements generally unenforceable — as one potential blueprint for reform.

Waymo has scored a big win in its lawsuit against Uber.  Yesterday, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction, barring one of Uber’s star engineers — who is accused of stealing trade secrets — from working on its self-driving car program for the duration of the litigation.  Wired has more.

Ford is cutting jobs, Reuters reports.  The auto manufacturer plans to shrink its salaried workforce in North America and Asia by as much as 10%, in a move that could attract the ire of the Trump administration.  President Trump has promised to expand jobs in the auto industry — earlier this year, he took credit for Ford’s decision not to shift its manufacturing plants to Mexico — but this most recent announcement (which will likely affect thousands of American workers) is a serious setback.

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Today’s News & Commentary — September 27, 2016

Last night’s presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump featured discussions of jobs, labor and other topics related to labor and employment law.  CNN has a general summary, while Lexology published a summary for employers.  The Detroit Free Press reports on how how the United Auto Workers and Ford fact-checked Mr. Trump on jobs-related claims in real time via Twitter.

The U.S. Department of Labor is bringing suit against one major American employer, and conducting a comprehensive investigation into the practices of another.  First, in a move that will affect discussions of diversity in Silicon ValleyThe New York Times reports that the DOL “sued Palantir Technologies, a prominent data analytics start-up, claiming systemic discrimination against Asian job applicants.”  The DOL “claimed that Palantir’s hiring processes for software engineering positions placed Asians at a disadvantage.  Qualified Asian candidates were routinely eliminated during the résumé screening and telephone interview process, the government said.  The company also relied on an employee referral system that favored non-Asian candidates.”  Second, Reuters notes that “Secretary Thomas Perez on Monday pledged to conduct a ‘top-to-bottom’ review of all cases, complaints and other alleged violations that the department has received concerning Wells Fargo in recent years.”  NPR notes that some former Wells Fargo employees have brought a class action lawsuit, alleging they were punished for not breaking the law.  Wells Fargo is facing fallout from the “creation of millions of secret, unauthorized bank accounts.”

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Today’s News & Commentary — November 24, 2015

Friday was a big day for the United Auto Workers, who ratified new four-year labor agreements with General Motors and Ford after previously reaching an agreement with Fiat Chrysler.  CNBC reports that the new agreement with General Motors was approved after an initial rejection by skilled trades workers.  The agreement “calls for raises for all workers and the end of the two-tiered pay system, although it will take a newly hired worker eight years to reach top pay rather than the three years it used to take before 2007.”  Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press notes that Ford workers narrowly approved their agreement.  Per the report, “UAW production members voted 51% in favor; skilled trades were 52% in favor and almost 92% of salaried workers voted yes.”  With all of the “Big 3” automakers having new four-year agreements, labor peace is expected in the automobile industry for the foreseeable future.

The new agreements in the automobile industry could benefit workers in other industries across the country.  According to Bloomberg, the agreements have the potential to lift pay standards in the auto industry and broader labor market.  Since in the past decade senior auto workers have forgone raises and new auto workers have accepted lower wages, the once-significant auto worker wage premium in the labor market has almost disappeared.  Accordingly, the wage increases as part of “the autoworker agreements and their potential to ripple through the economy may help provide Fed officials with an extra bit of confidence that wage inflation pressures are building.”

On the other hand, the battle over labor representation at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant continues.  The Times Free Press  reports that an anti-union group criticized the actions of the Department of Labor in a letter sent ahead of a unionization vote.  The National Right to Work Defense Foundation accused the DOL of ignoring alleged labor law violations by the German union IG Metall, which is working with the United Auto Workers to unionize 164 maintenance workers.  The workers will vote on unionization in early December.

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Today’s News & Commentary — February 5, 2015

In immigration news, Congress and President Obama continue to fight over immigration reform. Senate Democrats blocked a Republican-backed bill that would fund the Department of Homeland Security on the condition that none of the money go toward implementing President Obama’s executive action on immigration, according to the Los Angeles Times. The President’s executive action would “defer deportation for more than 5 million” undocumented immigrants. The President, meanwhile, hosted six “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who came here as children and have since been granted legal status, and pledged to veto any legislation that would roll back his immigration initiatives, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The New York Times reports that Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner used his “State of the State” address to announce his support for a state “right to work” law and to argue that political contributions from public employee unions should be banned. Governor Rauner is the first Republican in that office in twelve years. Roberta Lynch, the executive director of the local AFSCME union, said “public servants will be disappointed to learn that the governor is pursuing an aggressive agenda to undermine their rights[.]”

The Washington Post reports that Ford is moving 500 employees into a higher-paid tier of workers. Under Ford’s contract with the United Auto Worker’s union, only 20% of its workforce can be paid at the entry-level wage. Ford will hire 1,550 new workers this quarter to increase pickup truck production, and must move some workers into a higher wage tier to stay within the 20% limit.

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Today’s News and Commentary — February 12

The Northwestern football players who petitioned to form the country’s first union of college athletes are scheduled to appear at a hearing today with the local office of the National Labor Relations Board, USA Today reports. In a profile of the College Athletes Players Association’s strategy, the paper notes that the athletes might follow the tactics of NYU’s graduate students. In 2000 and 2012, the students argued that they were “employees” because their compensation came from research and teaching, which fell outside their standard academic responsibilities — a good precedent for football players whose own compensation, scholarships, is dependent on playing sports.

The American Federation of Government Employees marched on the Capitol yesterday as part of the union’s annual legislative conference, the Washington Post reports. Now that the three-year freeze on basic federal pay rates is over, the AFGE and National Treasury Employees Union are each launching campaigns to overturn increased pension contributions for new employees and increase their community and political clout. The AFGE, for example, released a “Big Enough to Win” strategic plan, which involves the appointment of legislative and political coordinators by each local designed to change the way politicians and the public view federal employees.

President Obama is set to sign an executive order to raise the minimum wage for workers under future federal contracts this afternoon, USA Today reports. The order will include a provision to address concerns that disabled workers were legally paid subminimum wages. Meanwhile, as Congress takes no action with regard to President Obama’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage, state legislatures are considering passing higher minimum wage laws on their own. The Washington Post profiles Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s plea to his state’s legislature to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2016. In New York, meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo has rejected Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to set a higher municipal minimum wage, saying it was a matter better left to the state.

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Today’s News and Commentary – January 28

President Obama will give his State of the Union Address tonight. The New York Times reports that President Obama will use the speech to highlight his increasing willingness to use his executive power to fulfill his agenda if Congress remains deadlocked. One way President Obama intends to convey that message is by announcing a raise in the minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. The New York Times notes that although such an executive order would raise wages for “several hundred thousand workers,” it would not come close to affecting the number of workers (21 million) who would see a raise if Congress raised the minimum wage across the board.

The Washington Post reports that day laborers have made great strides in recent years in raising wages and improving working conditions, thanks in large part to the growth of workers’ centers and day laborer networks. The groups have worked to educate workers about their rights and to negotiate contracts with companies to establish wages and working conditions. As a result, many workers have seen their wages rise and the safety of their workplaces improve.

The New York Times reports that the House leadership plans to unveil a plan this week for overhauling the country’s immigration system. The plan calls for “a path to legal status — but not citizenship — for many of the 11 million adult immigrants who are in the country illegally.” However, pro-immigrant organizations that have been briefed on the document warn that it is “not intended to serve as a conservative starting point for future negotiations, but as a gauge of how far to the left House Republicans are willing to move.” The document will be circulated among Republican House members at a retreat beginning tomorrow.

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