Today’s News & Commentary — March 22, 2017

According to the New York Times, Portland, Maine will try a new tactic to deal with panhandlers: hire them. After Portland’s previous efforts — which included outlawing begging and bulldozing a strip in the middle of a road that had proved popular with beggars — were struck down by the First Circuit as infringing on people’s First Amendment rights and proved ineffective, respectively, city officials adopted a new tactic.  In April, Portland will hire a few panhandlers a day, pay them the city’s minimum wage of $10.68 an hour, and assign them to clean parks and public spaces. Several other cities have already successfully adopted a similar approach, and Portland is following their lead.  A year and a half ago, for example, Albuquerque instituted a jobs program that pays $9 an hour.  The program has created 1,750 jobs and led to the removal of over 60 tons of litter.  The jobs program in Portland will function similarly to the one in Albuquerque.

Alexander Acosta appears before the Senate HELP Committee today.  Politico weighs in on the issues expected to arise: politicized hiring at the DOJ, voting rights, Acosta’s role in Jeffrey Epstein’s plea deal, and DOL regulations governing retirement advice and overtime eligibility.

CNBC and Business Insider report that Goldman Sachs will move jobs out of London and bulk up its European presence by “hundreds of people” as it executes its Brexit contingency plans.  Richard Gnodde, the CEO of Goldman Sachs International, explained that the plans will “be a combination of things. We’ll hire people inside of Europe itself and there will be some movement.”  Goldman plans to invest in infrastructure, systems, and technology, and the movement away from London will “not necessarily result in a net reduction of workers in the U.K.”

Educating America’s Twenty-First Century Workforce

The nature of work in America is changing, with increasingly sophisticated automation, advanced digital platforms, and other technological innovations serving as a catalyst.  And these transformations are only adding to the challenges facing the American labor force and its readiness to succeed at work, especially younger workers who are relying on their secondary educations to jump-start their careers.  In a survey released by Achieve in 2005, employers estimated that about 39 percent of high school graduates were unprepared to meet entry-level job expectations, and the same percentage of recent graduates in the labor market found “gaps” in their workforce preparation.  Even more notable, employers in the same survey estimated that about 45 percent of recent graduates in the workforce were not prepared to advance in their companies beyond entry-level positions, a problem that at the time resulted in millions of job openings that companies are unable to fill with the right people.  A similar 2011 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Arizona found similar results, with about 40 percent of high school graduates unprepared for career training.

And these numbers could become even more stark as technology continues to impact the labor landscape, leaving millions of Americans without the skills necessary to secure and maintain employment.  For instance, technological advancements will increasingly polarize “labor-market opportunities between high- and low-skill jobs, unemployment and underemployment (especially among young people), and stagnating incomes for a large share of households.”  Moreover, while automation “brings the promise of higher productivity, increased efficiencies, safety, and convenience,” it also carries the danger — continually increasing as robotics and artificial intelligence advances — of job displacement and depressed wages.

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The Right to Disconnect

In the digitally connected workplace, it’s not easy to be “off the clock.”  Email — coupled with the widespread use of smartphones — has made many employees available at a moment’s notice.  In the United States, one in three full-time workers check their work email “frequently” outside of normal working hours.  Many report checking their inbox at the dinner table, or even in the middle of the night.  The 9-to-5 job is becoming more like 24/7.

This breakdown of work/life boundaries has led to strong calls for reform.  France recently enacted a new law establishing “the right to disconnect” outside of work hours.  And some companies have already banned the use of email when workers are off-duty.  These efforts signal an important shift in attitudes toward work-life balance.  But the problem of workplace technology is more complicated than these solutions might suggest.  “Work-life balance” looks different for different individuals.  In an attempt to strengthen the boundaries between the professional and the personal, policies insisting on a “right to disconnect” could be making those boundaries too rigid for workers who seek flexibility instead.

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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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