Today’s News & Commentary — February 22, 2017

The influx of refugees into upstate New York has helped revitalize previously-suffering communities.  As the New York Times reports, “[t]he impact has been both low-budget and high-tech”: refugees have provided local businesses with inexpensive, willing labor; foreign-born students have enrolled — paying tuition and fees — at upstate schools; and street-level entrepreneurs have opened new shops.  Somewhat ironically, the cities’ struggles made them popular locations to settle refugees.  Because people left, housing prices dropped, and refugees came in and were willing “to put in the sweat equity that a lot of people weren’t anymore.”  That, in turn, “put properties back on the tax rolls.”

The Wall Street Journal also weighs in on the benefits that refugees bring to the economy. In addition to providing a key source of labor, many refugees “bring a resilience and level of expertise that makes them well-suited for learning on the job.”  According to a study from the Migration Policy Institute, roughly 28% of the refugees over the age of 25 who settle in the U.S. arrive with at least a bachelor’s degree.  The Wall Street Journal notes that skills from abroad may not always translate, and some employers have found that refugees need help with translation services, resume writing, American-style management techniques, and tips for navigating their new lives.  Despite potential training challenges, however, refugees can provide companies with  “a strong competitive advantage,” enabling them to better understand, for example, the needs of clients in key markets across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Chief Judge Patricia Elaine Campbell-Smith of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims recently held that the government had violated the FLSA by failing to examine whether it was required to pay employees who continued to work during the partial government shutdown in 2013.  That those workers were later paid for their time was irrelevant. The Washington Post explains that the decision entitles workers to minimum wage pay for the hours they worked between October 1 and October 5, 2013.  Judge Campbell-Smith ordered the government and the plaintiffs to calculate amounts due and report back by April 7.

The New York Times editorial board posits that blaming robots for job loss, “while not as dangerous as protectionism and xenophobia, is also a distraction from real problems and real solutions.”  The Times points out that if automation were rapidly accelerating, labor productivity and capital investment would be increasing as well.  But the data shows the opposite: in the 2000s, labor productivity and capital investment decelerated.  The problem lies instead with “politicians, who have failed for decades to support policies that let workers share the wealth from technology-led growth.”

Today’s News & Commentary — February 8, 2016

Yesterday, Republican lawmakers “proposed sweeping changes to Iowa’s collective bargaining laws” in the form of House Study Bill 84 and Senate File 213.  As the Des Moines Register explains, the new bills would limit mandatory negotiations for most public-sector union workers (public safety workers such as firefighters and police officers are exempted) to base wages only; negotiations over issues like health insurance and overtime would be prohibited.  The bills would also require unions to go through a certification process before each new contract negotiation.  Additional coverage is available at the New Republic, which also provides a brief historical overview of collective bargaining law in Iowa.

The New York Times reports that New York is attempting to revive the once-thriving, now-troubled garment industry.  City officials have increased efforts to create a new garment industry in Sunset Park, including a $115-million renovation of the city-owned Brooklyn Army Terminal, which will expand manufacturing space by 500,000 feet.  They have also partnered with the Council of Fashion Designers of America in order to assist companies with modernizing their manufacturing processes and workplaces.

Can Andy Puzder survive?  That’s the question Politico asks, noting that Puzder has faced allegations of beating his wife, began his career working for “one of the most notorious mob lawyers in the country,” and just admitted that he employed an undocumented immigrant as his house cleaner and didn’t pay taxes on her employment.  Despite these scandals, however, Puzder is “somehow . . . still standing.”

In other news, the New York Times observes that the appeals panel that heard oral argument yesterday in State of Washington v. Donald Trump “appear[ed] skeptical of Trump’s travel ban.”  The Times also notes that nearly 130 companies, most of them from the tech industry, filed an amicus brief in support of Washington State.


Today’s News & Commentary — January 31, 2017

2017 could be a tough year for labor unions at the state level.  According to NPR, Kentucky has become the nations’s 27th “right-to-work” state, and Missouri and New Hampshire could join it in February.  New Hampshire would become the first “right-to-work” state in the Northeast.  Advocates in New Hampshire claim that “right-to-work” will entice businesses to relocate to the state, while opponents assert that “right-to-work” creates free rider problems and constitutes political reprisal against unions for supporting Democrats.

At the federal level, things might not be much better.  The Washington Examiner reports that two Republicans will introduce national “right-to-work” legislation tomorrow.  President Trump’s purported support has “right-to-work” advocates optimistic, despite previous failures in Congress.

With respect to President Trump’s agenda, unions are prepared to fight.  Per Bloomberg BNA, “labor groups representing immigrants, women, blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans vowed collective action against President Donald Trump at a rally in Washington Jan. 27” and “[Representatives from AFL-CIO constituency groups] promised grass-roots organizing with regional union chapters to protect immigrants and union workers and to ensure sanctuary cities remain.”

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Today’s News and Commentary — December 8, 2016

The Wall Street Journal reports that President-elect Donald Trump is planning to name Andrew Puzder, chief executive of CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc., as his labor secretary.  Andrew Puzder has advocated a pro-business stance on labor issues.  Read more from OnLabor here.

The Atlantic reported on a new Allstate/Atlantic Media Heartland Monitor Poll, which released findings that Americans are expecting big changes in the economy from Donald Trump.  Three-fifths of Americans believe that the U.S. economy will become more globally competitive and half of Americans believe their opportunities will improve.  However, it remains to be seen whether Donald Trump will be able to deliver on his economy-related campaign pledges.

In a piece entitled, “The 5 Easiest and 5 Most Difficult Promises for Donald Trump to Keep,” the New York Times tries to predict which of President-Elect Trump’s campaign promises are most and least likely to be realized. Many of the hardest ones for him to achieve are particularly significant for workers.  They include investing in infrastructure jobs, reinvigorating U.S. steel production and coal mining, and stopping U.S. companies from outsourcing jobs to other countries.  Read more here.

With Republican victories at the state and national levels following this fall’s election, Alana Semuels of the Atlantic examined the effects of Wisconsin’s Act 10, to see what union workers could have in store.  She cites a new study by Andrew Litten, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan, who found that total teacher compensation, including fringe benefits, decreased by 8 percent as a result of the Wisconsin law.  Read more here.

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Weekend News & Commentary — December 3-4, 2016

Yesterday afternoon, the largest public-employee union in California announced a deal with the state government to avert a Monday strike.  Though terms of the contract have yet to be released, leaders of Service Employees International Union Local 1000 called the agreement a win for the group’s 95,000 members.

Following up on our earlier coverage of President-elect Trump’s deal with Carrier to keep 1,000 factory jobs in Indiana, Politico reports that criticism has begun to emerge on the right from none other than Sarah Palin.  The former Alaska governor and rumored Trump Cabinet pick called the agreement, which will apparently grant the company substantial tax relief, “crony capitalism” bearing the “hallmark[s] of corruption.”

In further manufacturing news, the New York Times looks into how heated rhetoric from Trump and others may negatively impact domestic production.  Noting the reliance of many American manufacturers on imported parts, the Times spoke with factory owners and academics afraid that a trade war — especially one involving the imposition of new tariffs on goods from China — could ultimately make U.S. goods less competitive.

Also at the Times, Patricia Cohen analyzes recent economic news and observes that President Obama will be handing off an economy far stronger than those generally present when the White House switches parties.  After 80 straight months of job growth in the private sector, unemployment is at its lowest level since the summer of 2007 — and, with 5.5 million open jobs, two major deficiencies in the current recovery (wage growth and labor force participation) seem poised to creep up.  More analysis on the contrast between current economic conditions and those in 2008 comes from Jared Bernstein, the former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden.

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Today’s News & Commentary — October 13, 2016

Yesterday, Politico reported that Walmart, the country’s largest private sector employer, increased the pay of its entry-level managers in preparation for the Obama administration’s overtime rule.  The company changed its starting salary from $45,000 to $48,500.  This change allows the company to avoid paying overtime for these workers under the new rule scheduled to take effect on December 1st.  The rule raises the overtime threshold to $47,500 from $23,660 a year.  This regulation has come under attack from Republicans in Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Congress and other business groups, and 21 states.  Read more here.

The Wall Street Journal posted an article yesterday seeking to explain why the technology revolution has not delivered more jobs even as tech companies have created enormous wealth.  Although a growing number of workers were employed in computer and electronic companies in the 1990s, workers employed at this type of firm dropped from 1.87 million in 2001 to 1.03 million in August 2016.  Tech companies’ decision to produce goods at lower costs, fewer public offerings of tech companies, a slowdown in the creation of tech startups, and increased automation have all contributed to the disappointing nature of the tech boom for workers.  Learn more here.

The trend of Republican governors feuding with public sector unions continues in Massachusetts.  The Boston Globe reported that Republican Governor Charlie Baker has created opposition among public sector unions.  In particular, the article points to Baker’s support for a state ballot measure that would allow 12 new charter schools to be added a year.  MA teacher unions have been vocal in their fight against the measure.  Governor Baker has also faced opposition from the Boston Carmen’s Union, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s largest union.  The article’s author, Jim O’Sullivan, notes, “targeting public-sector unions and unpopular government agencies in the name of reform is a staple of many Republican governors’ political strategy.”  These conflicts will likely continue as lawmakers on Beacon Hill move to deal with a state budget gap resulting from inaccurate revenue estimates.


Today’s News & Commentary — June 29, 2016

James Green, noted labor historian, activist, and writer, has passed away.  As the Boston Globe reports, Dr. Green was “a scholar, a writer, a historian, and more”: he worked to protect affordable housing, wrote for numerous publications, traveled to Appalachia to advocate on behalf of coal miners, taught at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and wrote books about West Virginia coal miners and Chicago’s Haymarket Square bombing.  Encouraged by the late-historian C. Vann Woodward, Dr. Green wrote and taught “history with a purpose,” blending “life in the field with teaching in the classroom.”  As Dr. Green told the Globe in a 2002 interview, “There’s no break between what I do here and what I do outside.”  The New York Times has paid tribute to Dr. Green as well.

Judge Sam Cummings of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas has issued a preliminary injunction against the Labor Department’s “persuader rule.”  As Politico explains, Judge Cummings wrote that the plaintiffs demonstrated that the rule will “cause irreparable harms” by “reducing access to full, complete, unconflicted legal advice,” “reducing access to training, seminars, information, and other advice relating to unionization campaigns,” and “burdening and chilling First Amendment rights.”  As for what’s next, it’s up to the Labor Department to file an appeal.  Jeff Londa, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said that if the Labor Department does not file an appeal, “we would hope to turn the injunction into a permanent injunction.”

A number of states are taking steps to curb the use of noncompete agreements.  According to the New York Times, these efforts are driven in large part by a desire to spur entrepreneurship and help the economy.  Noncompete agreements, for example, were “one ingredient in the recipe that worked against Massachusetts and to the advantage of Silicon Valley, where employees can depart and start their own companies mostly without fear of a lawsuit.”  The Massachusetts House of Representatives is set to vote this week on a noncompete reform bill.

The French Senate has approved the government labor bill, 185-156.  ABC News reports that on Tuesday, thousands of protestors marched through Paris and other major French cities in protest.  The Eiffel Tower also remained closed, as many of its employees joined the protests.  Photos and videos of the protests can be found at RT, which reports that the protests resulted in up to 40 arrests.  Organizers estimated that at least 55,000 people participated in the protests, while the police estimated the number of demonstrators to be between 14,000 and 15,000.  The bill will now return to the National Assembly, France’s lower house of Parliament, for further debate.