Weekend News & Commentary — May 20-21, 2017

Updating our coverage yesterday, more than 35,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) are striking this weekend after the union and AT&T failed to agree to a new long-term contact by the union’s Friday afternoon deadline.  The walkout forced stores across the country to close, though AT&T insisted that most of its locations were still open.

Laurie Stalnaker with the Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties has an op-ed in the Press-Enterprise discussing the recent efforts of the AFL-CIO to protect undocumented immigrants, and issuing a call for additional solidarity among workers across the political spectrum.

Dueling rallies in Italy on Saturday exposed sharp political divisions on worker and migrant issues as the country turns toward parliamentary elections due to occur at the beginning of 2018.  In Umbria, thousands of supporters of the populist 5-Star Movement marched in support of a guaranteed minimum income for Italian citizens, while in Milan, similar numbers demonstrated against racism and intolerance.  The government’s response to the tens of thousands of people crossing the Mediterranean fleeing violence or searching for economic opportunities has boosted 5-Stars’ national profile as it seeks to appeal to poorer Italian voters by melding nationalistic, anti-immigrant messages with an anti-poverty and income inequality platform.

The Canadian government has banned officials from seeking information from social media accounts of applicants for disability benefits, unemployment benefits, and other social programs after reports surfaced that employees were using publicly available information to check details provided in applications.  Senior officials stated that they feared such searches might violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Privacy Act.

 

Today’s News & Commentary — May 15, 2017

The New York Times describes in a feature how the Iranian economy has created serious unpredictability for individuals seeking jobs. The only stable jobs are in government, yet older individuals who currently have these jobs have stuck around; when they refrain from retiring, younger Iranians are caught in “a vicious cycle of hidden poverty.” The struggle to find consistent employment for a younger lower and middle class—many of whom have professional and advanced degrees—lies in contrast with the influx of money into Iran in recent years.

A feature in the Atlantic describes how men who have lost manufacturing jobs are becoming nurses or surgical technicians instead. The article explains how many of these have historically belonged to women, due to their lower pay and the perception that “jobs that require caring for and tending to others” are for women. Yet the stereotype is breaking down, as an increasing number of men—former plumbers and electricians—train to be registered nurses and radiation technicians.

The Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments today in an appeal of an injunction on President Trump’s second travel ban. The case, Hawaii v. Trump, is brought by the state on behalf of its residents, some of whom are immigrants who have work visas. The series of cases that arose after the President’s travel bans were signed have drawn participation from companies that rely on immigrants, who make up a significant part of their workforces.

Today’s News & Commentary—May 11, 2017

The New York Times reports that Canada’s technology sector may benefit from the Trump Administration’s efforts to restrict immigration and immigration’s increased centrality in the American political debate.  After the travel ban was announced, Canada received an increase in temporary and student visa requests.  While not enough time has elapsed to determine whether the “Trump effect” has staying power, early signs indicate that fields, such as artificial intelligence, will benefit by attracting foreign workers.  The Atlantic suggests Canada is well-positioned to capitalize on these developments.  The country has publicly welcomed immigrants and invested in its technology sector.  Read more here.

Uber is piloting a personal injury insurance program for drivers in eight states.  The insurance program will be funded by a mix of increased fares for customers and a fee for drivers who opt-in.   Customers will pay five cents more a mile in these states, and drivers will contribute 3.75 cents per mile.  Maximum benefits will equal $1 million for medical expenses, $150,000 in survivor benefits, and wage replacement of fifty percent of a driver’s weekly earnings.  However, Uber has not escaped criticism by instituting this program.  Commenting on this development, Rebecca Smith, the deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, objected to the optional nature of the program and stated that “[i]f Uber valued its workers, it would simply pay its workers’ compensation premiums and cover all of them.”

In other gig economy news, the New Yorker published a piece on liberals embrace of the gig economy.  Nathan Heller details the connections between Democratic political operatives and companies, such as Airbnb and Uber.  While showing that the gig economy is a source of wealth for some, the article highlights evidence suggesting that those who benefit the most from the gig economy are not the same people who benefited from the service industries being disrupted.  Describing the findings of Boston College Sociology Professor Juliet B. Schor, Heller observes,

“[i]nstead of simply driving wealth down, it seemed, the gigging model was helping divert traditional service-worker earnings into more privileged pockets—causing what Schor calls a ‘crowding out’ of people dependent on such work.  That distillation-coil effect, drawing wealth slowly upward, is largely invisible.”

In light of these effects, Heller asks what can be done to make the gig economy viable over the long-term.  Read more here.

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Today’s News & Commentary — April 3, 2017

The New York Times has a thorough feature about how Uber is using “psychological tricks” to subtly control the drivers who use the service. The article focuses on how the company “solves” the problem of how it cannot exert too much control over its drivers—currently treated as independent contractors—by using inducements: alerts questioning decisions to log out of the app, reminders of monetary goals, and sending drivers their next ride even before their previous ride is over. In turning the app into a video game, the article—and several researchers it cites—argue that Uber is in reality asserting quite a bit of control over drivers.

California Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher plans to introduce a bill allowing gig economy workers—like Uber and Lyft drivers—to unionize, according to the Los Angeles Times. Fletcher introduced a bill last year attempting to do the same, but pulled it after facing both business and labor opposition. The California push comes at the heels of Seattle’s ordinance allowing ride-hailing drivers to unionize and New York City’s informal union affiliation.

Mother Jones has an article providing more detail into how a private prison company put detained immigrants to work without pay, leading to a lawsuit that was certified as a class action a little over a month ago. By using “voluntary” workers, the prison company—the GEO Group—plausibly saved hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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Weekend News & Commentary — April 1-2, 2017

Fox News has paid out as much as $13 million to fend off sexual harassment claims against their top anchor, Bill O’Reilly.  A New York Times investigation has revealed that five women (including employees) have received payouts either from O’Reilly or the network in exchange for their promise not to pursue litigation or speak out in public.  This is the second sexual harassment scandal to hit Fox News in the last year: long-time chairman Roger Ailes resigned in July after several female employees accused him of inappropriate conduct.

President Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary is on his way to the Senate floor.  On Thursday the Senate HELP Committee approved Alexander Acosta.  No date has been set for the confirmation vote, but the expectation is that he will be approved.  And while Acosta has been welcomed as a far more qualified candidate than Trump’s last nominee, Andrew Puzder, some remain skeptical.  The Nation warns that Acosta’s deference to the President’s labor policies — such as the rollback of overtime rules and the elimination of OSHA training grants — makes him “more dangerous” than he might appear.

Does the United States need a wall?  Not according to the numbers, The New Yorker argues.  A recent paper from researchers at UC San Diego reveals that the pace of undocumented immigration into the United States has slowed over the past decade, meaning that the competitive pressure on low-skilled jobs and wages is easing up.  The dilemma facing the United States is not how to protect its borders, the researchers claim, but rather “how to prepare for a lower-immigration future.”

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Weekend News & Commentary — March 18-19, 2017

On the campaign trail, President Trump pledged that he would create 25 million jobs over the next decade.  Will he keep his promise?  The New York Times thinks not.  The Editorial Board takes aim at the President’s “wheezing jobs effort,” pointing to his recently released budget proposal — which would cut the Department of Labor’s budget by 21% and eliminate several important jobs programs — and his neglect of important job markets, such as the clean energy sector.

President Trump’s labor policies have also attracted the ire of unions and labor leaders.  The SEIU and Food Chain Workers Alliance have announced a general strike on May 1 (#May1Strike), coinciding with International Workers’ Day.  More than 300,000 food chain employees and 40,000 service workers are expected to turn out, The Hill reports, to protest the Trump administration and in particular its hardline stance on immigration.

Meanwhile, the administration’s immigration crackdown has worsened the farm labor shortage in California, The Los Angeles Times reports.  Although farm wages have shot up, few Americans have been willing to accept those jobs — casting doubt on President Trump’s claim that tougher borders will help American-born workers.

Disney will be paying $3.8 million in back wages to 16,339 of its “cast members” as part of a settlement with the Department of Labor.  The DOL’s investigation revealed that Disney resorts in Florida deducted a “costume” expense that caused some employees’ hourly rates to fall below the federal minimum wage.  The Christian Science Monitor has more.

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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.”