Today’s News and Commentary — March 28, 2017

President Trump repealed a rule yesterday requiring federal contractors to disclose labor law violations.  Per The Hill, the “blacklisting rule” implemented by President Obama was intended “to prevent the government from contracting with businesses responsible for wage theft or workplace safety violations at any point within the last three years.”  Business groups supported the rule’s repeal, while other commentators noted the repeal could contradict Trump’s stated promises to working-class voters of improving job prospects and working conditions.

Another action by President Trump is frustrating efforts by employers to find seasonal workers.  NPR reports that “a cap will soon kick in on the number of short-term work visas provided under the H-2B program, which brings in low-skilled labor for nonagricultural jobs that U.S. employers say they can’t fill closer to home.”  The cap particularly disadvantages employers in the Northern United States, where the demand for seasonal workers begins later in the year.  A bipartisan group of senators has called for an audit of the HB-2 program to ensure the maximum number of visas are awarded, while progressives have noted problems with the program.  For his part, President Trump has espoused opposition to hiring foreign workers but has hired dozens of foreign workers under the HB-2 program at his hotels and resorts.

Universities continue to oppose efforts by graduate students to unionize.  Most recently, The Cornell Daily Sun notes a series of questionable anti-union communications by Dean Barabara Knuth of the Cornell Graduate School through an online forum.  In particular, “the Ask a Dean forum has been a breeding ground for conflict.  Administrators claim they are addressing legitimate concerns from students — who are always anonymous — while union organizers claim that it is the University’s method of circumventing the agreement reached between the two sides in May that prevents professors or administrators from trying to persuade graduates to vote ‘no.'”

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Today’s News & Commentary — January 9, 2017

The Wall Street Journal reports that car manufacturers are feeling political pressure from the incoming administration to invest in plants within the United States, keeping jobs from going abroad. Fiat Chrysler announced yesterday that it will invest $1 billion to create jobs in existing plants, instead of seeking plants in Mexico. This follows the pattern of announcements set by Ford and Toyota this past week, right before the biggest auto show in Detroit. General Motors, however, just announced it would not move its highly profitable Mexico production facilities despite President-elect Trump’s criticism.

Teachers unions have come out strongly against proposed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, according to the Washington Post. The National Education Association has launched a campaign for its members to contact Congress and urge against DeVos. The American Federation of Teachers is expected to criticize the DeVos pick today too. Both unions worry about DeVos’ stated efforts to privatize public schools, which may adversely affect students and teacher preparation programs.

A column in the Washington Post questions whether Trump will continue the Obama administration’s efforts to diversify national security workers. The likely answer? Probably not. Creating a national security apparatus that better reflects the American population is “a national security imperative,” according to current National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

The Venezuelan government raised minimum wage levels 50%—the fifth raise in the last year, according to CNN Money. These drastic measures are in response to the country’s massive inflation, which is “expected to surge to 1,660% this year and 2,880% next year.”

Today’s News & Commentary — August 3, 2016

On Monday, Massachusetts became the first state to prohibit employers from asking applicants to share information about past salaries prior to being hired.  Hailed as an innovative strategy to combat the disparity in wages between women and men, the law requires companies to calculate and offer salary figures without regard for past compensation.  Commentary on the bipartisan legislation comes from Slate, Mother Jones, and Forbes, while The Boston Globe takes a deeper look at the history of the equal pay movement in Massachusetts.

Organized labor is flexing its political muscle in New Jersey, with one of the state’s largest unions refusing to donate to democratic candidates until the New Jersey Senate votes on a constitutional amendment requiring the state to make quarterly payments into the public employee pension fund.  The teacher’s union has demanded progress on the amendment—now stalled because of negotiations surrounding a transportation bill—and faces a looming deadline for passing the measure if it is to appear on the November ballot.

A unit of telecommunications workers at AT&T has voted to authorize a strike—though contract talks continue—a sign, perhaps, that the recent Verizon strike has encouraged workers in the industry to take action.  The Communications Workers of America, which represents both sets of workers, has also stepped up its organizing activities at competitor T-Mobile in the aftermath of the 45 day walkout.

In The Washington Post, Michael Wasser, a senior policy analyst at Jobs With Justice, makes the case for a broader rebirth of organized labor in the United States.  Focusing on the gap between widespread public support for unions and diminishing union density, he suggests strengthening penalties under the National Labor Relations Act to improve the ability of workers to organize.

Weekend News & Commentary — April 23-24, 2016

In the wake of the Uber settlement, more outlets release their take on the resolution. The Washington Post provides details of the terms of the settlement, gauging that it is ultimately in Uber’s favor. The Wall Street Journal dives deeper into the tipping notice issue. For the first time, Uber drivers can post a sign stating that fares do not include tips but that passengers may leave tips in cash. Unlike its competitor Lyft, Uber will not build tipping into the app. Given the app’s appeal of riding currency-free, along with drivers’ hesitancy to do anything that might put off customers, drivers don’t know if the optional notices will have any effect on tipping or if they will even post them.

While Uber workers remain classified as independent contractors, the National Labor Relations Board takes up the question of whether misclassification is an unfair labor practice. Politico announced that the NLRB regional office filed a complaint alleging an NLRA violation for misclassification of Southern California port truck drivers as independent contractors. The Teamsters called the complaint a “historic” moment in their organizing drive. Additionally, this summer the NLRB will release decisions on whether graduate student teaching assistants have collective bargaining rights, and whether new rules will make it easier for permanent and temporary employees to unionize in a single bargaining unit.

The Boston Globe released a report on a federal investigation into alleged use of strong-arm tactics to stifle non-union development projects—with the implicated actors risings as high as Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. As the former head of the Boston Building Trades, Walsh was drawn into the investigation through 2012 wiretaps, in which he reportedly told a development company it would face permitting problems unless it hired union labor on an unrelated development project. Walsh denied threatening any company and maintains that as mayor, “no one gets any special treatment under [his] administration — developers, contractors, or unions.”

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Weekend News & Commentary — April 2-3, 2016

Only a few years ago, the prospect of a $15 minimum wage seemed laughable. Now, California has a graduated increase on the books, and New York may soon follow. Steven Greenhouse at the New York Times discusses how unions—even with historically low participation rates—convinced the people and politicians to support raising the minimum wage.

As economists battle over whether the higher wage will cause job losses, Lydia DePillis at the Washington Post says this is the wrong question. For DePillis and advocates of wage increases, the issue is not whether jobs will be lost, but what structures exist to support unemployed people. They contend that if the goal is to prevent job loss, then the minimum wage will always stay below a living standard. SEIU chief economist asked: “‘What should be the criterion about setting a minimum wage? Should it be the level which produces minimal job loss? Or should it be, in the language of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for the health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers?’”

Workers in Elkhart, Indiana are not thanking President Obama, despite the success of his economic recovery plan in the region. The city’s unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country, and the auto industry bailout staved off up to150,000 auto jobs in Indiana. But many Elhart voters’ mistrust of big government and strong stances on abortion, gun rights, and same-sex marriage trumps the president’s efforts there. As the New York Times reports, “autoworkers are more apt to complain about the president’s gun proposals than to acknowledge the auto turnaround.”

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Today’s News & Commentary — March 30, 2016

If Chicago students arrive to teacher-less schools Friday, it won’t be an April Fools joke. The Chicago Teachers Union is preparing for a one-day strike with teach-ins and rallies, in response to alleged school closings, furloughs and layoffs next year. Through the walkout, the union intends to highlight its contract dispute with Chicago Public Schools as well push Illinois Governor Rauner to approve funding for public education and social service agencies, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Amidst a contentious election season, one political issue unites disgruntled voters: blaming economic woes on foreign trade. According to the New York Times, many voters think international trade deals have hurt American workers, and politicians’ rhetoric fans their flame. Economists accuse politicians of “following in the footsteps of politicians of all stripes who have found it convenient to blame the boogeyman of unfair trade for domestic economic problems.” But voters for both Trump and Sanders reflect a disappointment with the politicians’ and economists’ long history of “understat[ing] the costs of globalization, which tend to be more concentrated than the benefits.”

Trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership made one meaningful difference this week, though. US Customs and Border Patrol seized a shipment of goods produced by forced labor for the first time in 15 years, which they could at last do because the TPP closed a loophole in enforcement mechanisms. Quartz explains that the TPP now prohibits goods made with forced labor from entering the US, even if they meet “consumptive demand.” China’s confiscated shipment of soda ash made by forced prison labor may be the first of many goods to now come under US scrutiny.

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Today’s News and Commentary — March 1, 2016

Labor unions have gone digital…media, that is.  The New York Times reports that “Gawker Media and the union that represents its employees announced on Monday that they had reached an agreement on a labor contract, the first designed and negotiated specifically for a digital media company.”  Gawker workers are represented by the Writers Guild of America, East and voted to join the union last year.  The agreement sets wages, gives workers editorial control, and ensures salary increases and severance, but leaves workers as at-will.  Voting on the agreement will take place this week.

French labor law won’t be changing so quickly after all.  Despite earlier reports suggesting a proposal to revamp laws might have been under consideration, Bloomberg notes that “President Francois Hollande held off presenting his proposals to revamp French labor law after the nation’s main unions all opposed the plan.”  The proposals would eliminate France’s 35 hour work week and give businesses more latitude to increase working time and fire workers with limited severance.

The Chicago Teachers Union is moving closer to striking as soon as April 1.  According to the Chicago Sun-Times, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkley said strike preparations would proceed “if Chicago Public Schools follows through on its threat to unilaterally cancel the 7 percent pension pickup it has made for decades.”  Chicago teachers have been working without a union contract since June.

You go to B&H…for discrimination?  The New York Times reports that the U.S. Department of Labor filed suit against New York electronics retailer B&H “for hiring only Hispanic men into entry-level jobs in a Brooklyn warehouse and then subjecting them to harassment and unsanitary conditions.  The company was so unlikely to hire women to work in the warehouse that it did not have a separate restroom for them, according to the suit.”  The suit marks the second time in nine years B&H has been sued by the government for alleged discrimination, and the company came under fire for discrimination during a unionization campaign last year.

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