Today’s News & Commentary — March 20, 2017

While President Trump has launched a campaign against undocumented immigrants, his administration has not spoken out about the employers who hire them, notes the New York Times in an editorial today. Faulty enforcement and high evidentiary hurdles make holding employers accountable difficult. The Times faults the administration’s one-sided focus on demonizing immigrants while not providing a path to citizenship and putting money into (controversial) solutions to verify employment eligibility, like E-Verify.

Trump’s push to bring back coal jobs (“a delusion,” according to the New York Times in a separate editorial) is prompting Republican legislatures in coal country to reenact looser mine safety laws. Some lawmakers claim that the “federal government can do the inspections just as well as the states”—a seemingly out-of-character stance, until one looks at the current federal government, which has no interest in regulating coal companies and plans to cut the Department of Labor budget by 21%. Other legislatures are passing laws that cut down on annual safety checks (in exchange for a “‘safety analysis’ based on conversations with miners”) and proposing bills that lower standards.

A former law student of Neil Gorsuch claims that the Supreme Court nominee implied that women manipulate companies during interviews to gain maternity benefits, according to NPR. The former student wrote a letter detailing her class experience to Senate Judiciary Committee leaders, which was posted by the National Employment Lawyers Association and the National Women’s Law Center last night.

Labor secretary nominee Alex Acosta will be heard before the Senate HELP Committee this Wednesday, reports The Hill. Acosta, whose hearing was delayed once already, hasn’t faced the same level of criticism as former nominee Andy Puzder. Many are eager to learn more about the Labor tap, who has managed to avoid the spotlight and is a “blank page on policy,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Abortion Restrictions as Forced Labor in the Age of Trump

The new administration has made no secret of its intent to dismantle remaining protections for reproductive rights.  Despite the fact that 79 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances, President Trump and Vice President Pence have both made statements indicating their desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, and Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is likely to be hostile to reproductive rights.  The administration has also made moves to defund Planned Parenthood via the global gag rule, entrench the Hyde amendment, and repeal the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act.  A drastic anti-choice bill was introduced in Congress that would ban abortion after six weeks, a point at which many people do not even know they are pregnant.

These attempts to constrict reproductive choice are not only an affront to the basic principles of liberty and privacy that underlie this country’s abortion jurisprudence, but also a threat to the labor rights of anyone capable of becoming pregnant.  Should the new administration’s assault on reproductive rights come to fruition, many of those capable of becoming pregnant will be coerced into pregnancy and parenthood—a kind of labor they did not choose.  These burdens will be placed most severely on low-income women and women of color who cannot afford to access reproductive services.  Cuts to funding and services will further negatively impact trans men, who already face ignorance and discrimination when trying to access reproductive healthcare.

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Today’s News & Commentary — August 22, 2016

Hillary Clinton has been repeating the claim that, under the Obama administration, the US has seen 15 million new jobs. According to the Washington Post fact checker, she’s off by about 5 million, earning her “three Pinocchios.” Clinton seems to be touting the range from the lowest job level during the administration to the job level today—but the low point for jobs happened a year into the Obama presidency. If you count from the beginning of the administration, only about 10.4 million private sector jobs have been created.

A report published today by British charitable group Citizens Advice notes that 60% more women “face discrimination at work for taking maternity leave as compared to last year,” according to Newsweek. Citizens Advice provides information to individuals about financial, legal, and consumer matters. They received many more complaints of mothers being made redundant, seeing a significant reduction of their office hours, or having to assume a more junior role upon returning to work.” Such stories abound despite laws against pregnancy discrimination. The press release and full report are available here.

A piece in Alternet last week, “Union and Conservative, Better Together,” argues that unions have an important effect on shaping workers’ political values—largely, “a communal spirit wins out over a narrow self-interest.” Written by Simon Greer, founder of Cambridge Health Ventures, and Andy Potter, Chief of Staff of the Michigan Corrections Officers/SEIU, the piece explores the trend of workers’ support for Donald Trump. With relatively low union participation today, Greer and Potter explain, it’s no surprise that workers today feel like they must “do it on [their] own.” The authors explain how workers’ conservative and radical values, when filtered through a union, can be “integrated into a true and coherent populist politics that is neither conventionally left nor right.”

Foxconn—the Chinese manufacturer of Apple’s iPhones—saw two deaths, including one suicide, within the last week. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the deaths—especially the suicide, committed by a man in his first month on the job—are on many of the workers’ minds.

Weekend News & Commentary — August 13-14, 2016

United Airlines announced on Friday that it had reached new agreements with the unions representing its flight attendants and mechanics, moving forward the continued integration of Continental Airlines, acquired by United in 2010.   Though terms of the mechanics’ deal have yet to be finalized, flight attendants will receive raises of between 18 and 31 percent by the end of the year.  The agreements end contentious negotiations and protests by flight attendants that outside analysts suggest compromised the airline’s reliability.

This morning, Neil Gross of the New York Times examines how a stronger labor movement might have prevented the rise of Donald Trump.  Drawing on Seymour Martin Lipset’s 1959 study of blue-collar workers’ political attitudes and more recent looks at American and European elections, Gross suggests that union membership actively pushes working class voters away from far-right political movements, even when those voters otherwise closely resemble movement participants demographically.

The Post-Tribune examines elements of that thesis in the context of the Indiana gubernatorial race, reporting on Democratic candidate John Gregg’s outreach to union steelworkers in the Republican-voting Demotte, Indiana.

Following up on earlier reporting about Labor Department efforts to boost state and local paid family leave programs through a $1.1 million grant program, the Washington Post compares paid maternity leave policies around the world.  According to the Post, the United States is one of only nine countries to guarantee no paid leave, and by far the most advanced economy lacking such a program.

Today’s News & Commentary — December 3, 2015

Companies in the U.S. added 217,000 jobs in November, according to the New York Times and Associated Press. Increased hiring was focused in service sector firms, led by gains in retail, finance and other service industries. The government will issue its official jobs report for last month tomorrow.

The New York Times reports that small business owners are developing creative ways to hold onto employees. Quit rates in private businesses have stagnated after rising in recent years, but the number of employees voluntary leaving small companies continues to rise. One Manhattan-based small business owner explains, “we don’t have a 401(k) and can’t always offer a big salary.” Most who quit report doing so due to a lack of career path or growth opportunities. Small business owners describe their efforts to retain workers: they make a point of spending one-on-one time with all staff members, focusing on their interests, and discussing their career aspirations, as well as making sure their needs outside the workplace are met. Some offer shares in the business. The individualized attention and perks, as one employee put it, “makes you want to work at 110 percent for somebody.”

According to the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post, financial companies are beginning to follow tech’s lead in the parental leave movement. Credit Suisse announced Monday that it would begin offering 20 weeks of paid parental leave to its 8,300 U.S. employees. Most of Credit Suisse’s banking competitors offer about 12 weeks, with the exception of Goldman Sachs, at 16. But, as a company rep explained, the landscape has changed; Credit Suisse’s competitors no longer include only banks. The company also announced it would pay for parents to bring a nanny if they had to travel within the first year of a child’s life. The policy, which applies to primary caregivers, gives employees a year within which to take the time off, ideally allowing dual-income families to stagger their leave time.

There is a new company in town for working moms, according to the New York Times. The Second Shift, a new membership-based company in New York, is focusing on pairing mothers who left professional careers with companies looking to hire consultants and freelancers for projects. Membership is free, but when the company successfully matches a member with a job, employers pay the Second Shift 15% of the total fee on top of the agreed-upon salary, and members have 5% deducted from their payment as a service fee.  Since the website launched in January 2015, the company has placed women in 45 project-based jobs, and has amassed 300 members, with 500 more whose references are under review. Google is one of the companies who has hired through the Second Shift, glad to access this demographic, especially as it tries to improve its staff-wide diversity.