Today’s News & Commentary — April 17, 2017

Why don’t all jobs matter? The provocative question is posed by Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times. Krugman questions why so much focus is on mining and manufacturing jobs, when the service sector—a much bigger slice of the economy—is dwindling. He points to several possible reasons, though complicates them all: the importance of mining jobs to local economies, the “political footballs” they have become, and the fact that miners and manufacturers tend to be white and male. Krugman ultimately concludes that saving jobs that are being lost may not be the smartest tack; instead, we should be investing in reeducation and guaranteeing benefits like health care.

Dylan Matthews of Vox summarizes a number of ideas—inspired largely by Europe—for how to save unions. First, unions could be organized on the sector level instead of on the company level, so all workers in a particular industry are affected. With less cross-company labor competition, the argument goes, businesses will be less union-averse. But how do you avoid the “free rider” problem, where, as in France, nearly every worker is covered by a collective bargaining agreement but fewer than 10% of workers are actually in unions? Some countries, like Denmark and Finland, have systems where unions run unemployment insurance, increasing the contact between the labor organizations and possible members. As Professor Sachs notes in the piece, however, such a change might be very tough during the Trump years.

Fast Company Co.Design covers a recent report by the Center for Business and Human Rights at NYU Stern School of Business on migrant workers. The report highlights how many of these workers end up paying to work: agents and recruiters require trumped-up fees and many workers end up dishing out extra for airline tickets and other documents. As the piece notes, “When you finally get to work, you might already owe a year’s worth of wages.”

Today’s News & Commentary — January 23, 2017

President Donald Trump’s first day in office is slated to be full of meetings and executive actions regarding trade and manufacturing in the United States, though details about his exact agenda remain unclear.

According to CNN, President Trump plans to sign an executive order today withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiation process. Trump’s campaign took a very hard stance against the TPP, claiming it would hurt American workers—a view also shared by many unions across the United States. The trade deal, pushed by President Obama, became a divisive issue during the election, even after it lost the support of every major candidate.

Furthermore, NBC News reports that Trump will sign an executive order beginning the renegotiation process around the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Another campaign hot button, the President decried this agreement with Mexico and Canada for destroying manufacturing jobs. He has stated that he will soon meet with the Mexican and Canadian president and prime minister to make changes to the trade deal.

Later today, Trump will meet with various labor leaders and workers, according to Reuters. In the morning, he will meet with business leaders to discuss manufacturing in America, according to a tweet by Trump. Details are still unclear as to who from the labor community will be at the second meeting or what specifically the agenda is.

When it comes to jobs within the new administration, the New York Times editorial board notes that many seem to still be available. Since President Trump “assumed office on Friday with the most incomplete team in recent history.” Currently he has not nominated three-quarters of the top 100 positions that require Senate confirmation, and his White House team—which doesn’t require confirmation hearings—remains light on both numbers and experience. “Clearly, Mr. Trump could have spent more time on the transition and less on Twitter.”

Weekend News & Commentary — August 6-7, 2016

The July jobs report came out Friday, smashing expectations — 255,000 new jobs were added — and quelling fears that job growth is slowing.  July’s strong numbers might also give Democrats something to boast about in the presidential race, as The New York Times suggests.  However, some commentators remain skeptical.  Fortune points out that the number of long-term unemployed — that is, those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more — actually rose in July, climbing to more than 2 million total.

Meanwhile, the presidential race continues to heat up.  Trade remains one of the hottest topics on the campaign trail, with both candidates promising to make changes to current trade agreements.  The New York Times‘ editorial board weighs in on the debate, warning that overly protectionist policies — such as increasing tariffs or withdrawing from trade agreements — might hurt the job market more than it will help.

Another hot topic this election season (and a related one) is the decline in American manufacturing.  The New Yorker tries to unpack the strong American attachment to manufacturing, suggesting that concerns over its decline might have more to do with nostalgia — nostalgia for “real work” — than lost jobs.

And lastly, Professor Joseph McCartin (writing for the Washington Post) considers what’s at stake for labor in the upcoming election, arguing that — given the broad divergence in labor policy between the two candidates — a Clinton presidency will be crucial to the future success of unions.

From the Runway to the Factory Floor: The Invisibility of Labor in Fashion

The fashion industry is good at disguising labor.  On one end of the supply chain, models lack adequate labor protections and suffer a myriad of abuses, from coerced starvation to systematic wage theft, but they appear effortlessly glamorous.  Indeed, their performance succeeds only when the work involved is hidden from the audience.  On the other end, sweatshop conditions are well known and have long plagued the planet, but garment workers remain out of sight, out of mind toiling in factories overseas.

This week, on the Global Day of Action for Safe Factories, as protesters demanded that apparel giant H&M keep its promises to make its Bangladeshi supplier factories safe, I consider garment workers’ plight and how achieving visibility over the supply chain is a precondition for fulfilling workers’ rights.

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Today’s News and Commentary — April 1, 2016

The U.S. National Women’s soccer team is filing a complaint alleging pay discrimination against the U.S. Soccer Foundation, according to JDSupra.  Citing the USSF’s 2015 financial report, the filing alleges that the female players were paid almost four times less than the male players last year, despite earning $20 million more in revenue.  The women will likely try to make out a claim under the Equal Pay Act by showing that the jobs require “substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility, and that are performed under similar working conditions within the same establishment.”

Politico highlights a couple of developments in the fight for $15.  The California state legislature passed a proposal on Thursday to raise the hourly minimum wage from the current $10 to $15 by 2022.  SEIU-Healthcare Workers West have been credited with initiating the bill after the union filed a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2021.  Also on Thursday, state legislative leaders in New York City announced an agreement to increase the minimum wage to $15 in NYC by the end of 2018 and in other areas of the state in the years that follow.

The New York Times reports that Hilary Clinton plans to unviel a $10 billion plan to increase manufacturing jobs.  Part of the plan depends on “Make It In America” partnerships that will encourage companies to invest in American workers.  The plan would be funded by stripping corporations that move job overseas of tax benefits.

Also per the NYT, the job report released by the Labor Department today reflects a steady job market that continues to add jobs.  Overall in March, 215 jobs were added, the labor force increased slightly to 63%, and average hourly earnings rose by .3% (notably more than the projected .1%).  In line with this, the Wall Street Journal reports that the number of jobless claims filed by Americans topped off at a seasonally adjusted 276,000, continuing the longest streak of weeks under 300,000 since 1973.





Today’s News & Commentary — July 17, 2015

The number of Americans claiming first-time unemployment benefits fell by 15,000 last week to about 281,000, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.  According to the New York Times, this drop, along with reported 10-year high of confidence among home builders, indicates “underlying momentum in the economy.”  Nevertheless, the Times explains that while the labor market and housing industry may be solid, the manufacturing industry continues to struggle, due largely to a stronger dollar and lower oil prices.

Walmart is trying to revive the American manufacturing industry, Lydia DePillis at the Washington Post reports.  Walmart is two years into its 10-year plan to buy $250 billion more in products from U.S. factories.  Critics point out that $250 billion is only about 5% of Walmart’s net sales over the past decade, and that even if Walmart does live up to its pledge, it still remains the nation’s biggest importer.  While skeptics also say it’s a PR stunt to get back into America’s good graces, the advances in technology and rising standard of living and wages in China may help Walmart make good on its promises.  At Walmart’s third annual manufacturing summit, would-be suppliers pitched their products in an Open Call meeting with Walmart. The catch, DePillis explains, is that “the same technology that helps factories compete eliminates the need for many workers.”  As a result, Walmart’s investment is going to need to be greater than ever before in order to replace the jobs that have been lost.

According to TIME, U.S. District Judge William Alsup has certified a class of over 12,000 current and former Apple retail workers in their suit against Apple seeking compensation for the time taken to search their bags to make sure they haven’t stolen merchandise.  Reuters reports Apple argued, in its opposition of class certification, that not all store managers conducted bag searches, and that any searches that did occur took a tiny amount of time.  Named plaintiffs Amanda Frlekin and Dean Pelle are seeking an $5 million in lost overtime wages, due to the checks and an injunction requiring Apple to terminate or modify its policy, which they allege as being both time consuming—including waiting in line to be checked—and demeaning—since they were often performed in front of customers.  This is the most recent update in the suit, which was originally filed in 2013, and dismissed in 2014 after the Supreme Court ruled against Amazon employees suing the company’s temp agency for overtime wages to compensate for waiting in line for security checks.  The case is Frlekin et al. v. Apple Inc., 3:13-cv-03451 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Continue reading

Today’s News and Commentary – April 15

The Wall Street Journal reports that Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro recently sent a “letter to all the presidents of NCAA Division I football schools” regarding the unionization efforts by members of the school’s football team. The letter notes that Northwestern is prepared to pursue its legal appeal of the regional NLRB ruling that players can unionize all the way to the Supreme Court, and asserts that Northwestern plans “’to fully exercise’ its right to campaign against the union.”

The Washington Post reports on a somewhat counterintuitive phenomenon: the manufacturing sector of the American economy is improving, but it is not generating more jobs or better pay for workers.

The Los Angeles Times reports that “SAG-AFTRA, the union representing about 165,000 actors and other performers, said it will begin negotiations with Hollywood’s major studios on a new film and television contract May 5.” Observers say these talks will be significant “as they mark the first time the union has bargained on a film and TV contract since SAG merged with its smaller rival union, AFTRA, two years ago.”

In other entertainment news, the Los Angeles Times also notes a new report from the Writers Guild of America, West that found “female film writers continue to lag behind their male counterparts when it comes to earnings and employment.” Specifically, “women remained underrepresented by a factor of more than 3 to 1 among screenwriters” and “earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by white male film writers in 2012, down from 82 cents in 2009.”

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