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 & 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].”

Today’s News & Commentary — May 5, 2016

Earlier this week, the EEOC issued a fact sheet to employers nationwide, stating they must allow transgender employees access to the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, Politico reports.  The fact sheet explains denying an employee equal access to a “common restroom corresponding to the employee’s gender identity” constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The US services sector expanded last month, according to Reuters, but a report published yesterday shows private employers hired the fewest number of workers in three years in April.  Construction firms reported “severe” shortages of unskilled workers.  The services sector accounts for more than two-thirds of the US economy; economists suggest these numbers point to a “solid growth rebound” of the economy in the second quarter.

Yesterday, the EEOC announced the owners and operators of Moonshine Whiskey Bar in Tempe, Arizona, will pay $66,000 to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit.  According to JDSupra, the plaintiff, a bartender, alleged she was discharged because she was pregnant.  During the hearing, EEOC provided an audiotape recording of one of the owners, explaining allowing a pregnant woman to bartend would offend customers.

According to Politico, lawmakers in Congress have quietly begun efforts to expand visas for low-skilled foreign workers.  Republicans and Democrats from states that rely on immigrant labor are lobbying members of the Appropriations Committee to include language in this year’s funding bills to keep last year’s omnibus measure quadrupling the number of low-skilled worker visas.  The AFL-CIO is lobbying strongly against the move.