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 — 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 4, 2017

The New York Times reports that Apple plans to create a $1 billion fund for the advancement of manufacturing jobs in the United States. In an interview with CNBC, Apple’s chief executive Timothy D. Cook noted, “Those manufacturing jobs create more jobs around them because you have a service industry that builds up around them.” The company hopes to announce its first investment from the new fund sometime this month.

The House Rules Committee will meet this week to discuss an amendment to the FLSA. The Working Families Flexibility Act is a Republican-sponsored bill that would create the option for employers to offer one-and-a-half hours of paid time off in lieu of one hour’s worth of time-and-a-half overtime wages. The bill recommends capping the paid time off hours available at 160. A blog post notes that the House Education and Workforce Committee approved the bill last week.

The Circuit Court for the District of Columbia reversed an NLRB decision last week in the case of Bellagio LLC v. National Labor Relations Board, finding that the Bellagio Hotel and Casino did not interfere with a bellhop’s “Weingarten rights” under the NLRA. Weingarten rights assert that employees have the right under the NLRA to have union representation during any investigatory interviews. This right must be affirmatively requested by the employee, after which an employer may (1) grant the request, (2) end the interview, or (3) offer the employee the option between holding an interview without representation or not having an interview.

Following a complaint from a hotel guest about the bellhop, Bellagio management attempted to interview the bellhop, Gabor Garner, who requested union representation. Bellagio suggest Garner contact a union representative on his own, but he refused. The hotel then attempted to find a representative, but was unsuccessful. Upon returning to the interview room where Garner was waiting, management asked Garner if he would like to make a written statement instead, which he also refused. Management then ceased the interview and placed Garner on paid suspension pending investigation until Garner returned the following day with his union representative to conduct the interview. Continue reading

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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