Today’s News & Commentary — March 22, 2017

According to the New York Times, Portland, Maine will try a new tactic to deal with panhandlers: hire them. After Portland’s previous efforts — which included outlawing begging and bulldozing a strip in the middle of a road that had proved popular with beggars — were struck down by the First Circuit as infringing on people’s First Amendment rights and proved ineffective, respectively, city officials adopted a new tactic.  In April, Portland will hire a few panhandlers a day, pay them the city’s minimum wage of $10.68 an hour, and assign them to clean parks and public spaces. Several other cities have already successfully adopted a similar approach, and Portland is following their lead.  A year and a half ago, for example, Albuquerque instituted a jobs program that pays $9 an hour.  The program has created 1,750 jobs and led to the removal of over 60 tons of litter.  The jobs program in Portland will function similarly to the one in Albuquerque.

Alexander Acosta appears before the Senate HELP Committee today.  Politico weighs in on the issues expected to arise: politicized hiring at the DOJ, voting rights, Acosta’s role in Jeffrey Epstein’s plea deal, and DOL regulations governing retirement advice and overtime eligibility.

CNBC and Business Insider report that Goldman Sachs will move jobs out of London and bulk up its European presence by “hundreds of people” as it executes its Brexit contingency plans.  Richard Gnodde, the CEO of Goldman Sachs International, explained that the plans will “be a combination of things. We’ll hire people inside of Europe itself and there will be some movement.”  Goldman plans to invest in infrastructure, systems, and technology, and the movement away from London will “not necessarily result in a net reduction of workers in the U.K.”

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.”

Lawsuit Alleging Antitrust Violations Filed Against Puzder’s Company

Yesterday, shift leaders at Carl’s Jr. filed a complaint on behalf of themselves and those similarly situated alleging various antitrust violations by Carl’s Jr. Restaurants and CKE, of which Andrew Puzder is CEO. The complaint was filed in California Superior Court.

The complaint is based on a “no hire” policy extending to all CKE franchises, under which franchisees must agree not to hire or seek to hire anyone who works as a shift leader or any higher position at a CKE restaurant or has worked at a CKE restaurant in the prior two years. The policy might not be a problem if all the workers were employed by CKE, but “CKE and Puzder have gone out their way” to stress that the franchises are not part of a single entity that hires and fires workers (thereby avoiding some federal and state labor protections). According to the complaint, the effect of the “no hire” policy has been to “suppress the wages of the restaurant-based managers” and “worsen[ ] working conditions” by diminishing competition between the restaurants.

The complaint was filed just as Puzder’s confirmation hearing was rescheduled for the fourth time to Feb. 16. A spokesman for Puzder said that the delays were “prompted by Puzder’s need to divest financial holdings that the Office of Government Ethics judged a conflict of interest.” If confirmed, Puzder would have to sell his stake in the fast-food companies, which are valued at 10-50 million dollars.

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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The Future of Labor

This post is part of a series on Labor in the Trump Years.

From the end of Reconstruction up through the election of 2016, political elites have done a masterful job convincing the white working class that they do not share a common interest with nonwhite workers.  They used regional differences to political advantage by convincing Southern and rural voters that Northerners, urbanites, and intellectuals disdain them.  The task for labor and the left now is to make sure that the 2016 election is the last time that happens.  Rather than demonize those who voted for Trump as bigots, labor should take their economic demands seriously.  Labor should seek common cause among all people around the economic issues that animated the vote for change.  White voters in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin put Trump in office because he promised to improve their lives.  When he doesn’t deliver on his populist promises because his policy agenda is entirely about cutting taxes and freeing corporations from all labor regulation, labor must remind middle class and working class voters of all races and ethnicities that corporate interests are dominating a Trump Administration.

Republicans now have to govern in a way that at least makes a gesture toward the populist campaign that Trump ran.  The longstanding Republican strategy of using religion and social issues as wedges to divide the working and middle classes may not work in a Trump Administration.  Trump is not beholden to the religious right; for the first time since 1980, the religious right did not get the Republican candidate they wanted.  Trump will not be able to make good on, and has already begun backing away from, his most hateful nativist promises to build a wall along the Mexican border and to deport 11 million people because business elites in agriculture, shipping, service work, and manufacturing depend on immigrant labor.  He has also begun to back away from the most reckless promises about repealing the Affordable Care Act because too many of his likely voters depend on some of its protections.  Unless there is a major attack, Trump cannot use the threat of terrorism, as the George W. Bush administration did, to distract the electorate from serious attention to the declining or stagnant fortunes of the vast majority of Americans.  He ran on domestic economic malaise in the regions of the country that haven’t seen the spectacular increases in wealth of the urbanized coasts, and labor should now hold government to account for doing something about it.

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Who Will be Trump’s Sec. of Labor?

Politico has a piece up on possible cabinet nominees.  Here’s what they say about Labor:

Labor secretary

As with many Cabinet posts under Trump, the campaign and transition staff have been looking for a CEO or executive to lead the Labor Department. One name being bandied about is Victoria Lipnic, commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission since 2010. She also served as an assistant secretary of labor for employment standards from 2002 until 2009. The Mitt Romney transition team reportedly also considered her for a top labor post in 2012.

Today’s News & Commentary — August 15, 2016

At the New York Times, Binyamin Appelbaum and Michael D. Shear weigh in on President Obama’s “embrace” of executive power.  As they describe, “President Obama has sought to reshape the nation with a sweeping assertion of executive authority,” and “[a]n army of lawyers working under Mr. Obama’s authority has sought to restructure the nation’s health care and financial industries, limit pollution, bolster workplace protections and extend equal rights to minorities.”  President Obama’s actions specifically targeting the workplace include raising the minimum wage for several hundred thousand federal contract workers; requiring contractors to let their workers take paid sick days; banning discrimination against LGBT workers; and increasing workplace protections for all workers at businesses holding federal contracts.  As Joseph Geevarghese, director of Good Jobs Nation, put it, “What the president was ultimately doing was holding up the United States government as a model employer.”

The Washington Post reports that the Department of Labor is trying to incentivize states to create their own paid family leave programs.  Last week, DOL announced that it will grant $1.1 million to six states and municipalities — Denver; Franklin, Ohio; Madison, Wisconsin; and Hawaii, Indiana and Pennsylvania — to research how much it would cost to open public aid to its residents.  As it currently stands, the U.S. guarantees only 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents, and only three states — California, New Jersey and Rhode Island — guarantee paid family leave for all workers.

According to the Wall Street Journal, car companies once flocked to Mexico due to its abundant supply of cheap labor.  Now, however, demand has outstripped supply.  In order to attract and retain workers, auto makers are raising wages, offering retention and retraining programs, and providing bonuses for employees who agree to stay.  Others, in an effort to avoid raising wages, have offered “perks” like English classes, use of soccer fields, and referral bonuses.  Still, wages — and working conditions — remain a source of contention: this summer witnessed workers’ rallies for higher pay and better working conditions.