Today’s News & Commentary — April 19, 2017

The New York Times weighs in on the effect that Trump’s “Hire American” order may have on tech worker visas.  According to the Times, the order “represents a small win for bigger tech companies,” but may hurt smaller technology companies that “cannot afford to pay high salaries and are already struggling to attract talent.”  Senator Schumer, however, had a different take: “This does nothing,” he said. “Like all the other executive orders, it’s just words — he’s calling for new studies. It’s not going to fix the problem. It’s not going to create a single job.”

Is O’Reilly no longer a factor?  That’s the question being asked at Politico, which cites the Wall Street Journal’s report that Fox News “is preparing to cut ties with . . . O’Reilly.”  Since an April 1 New York Times story broke the news that Fox had paid out about $13 million to settle sexual harassment allegations against O’Reilly, pressure has been mounting on Fox to fire its biggest star.

As the New York Times puts it, “[t]he threat of a Hollywood strike is getting real.” Members of the Writers Guild of America will begin voting today on whether to authorize a walkout.  If members approve a strike, it could have “serious implications.” When writers went on strike a decade ago, it cost the Los Angeles economy an estimated $2.5 billion, affecting everyone from the writers themselves to caterers, limo drivers, and florists.  As for how a strike would affect viewers, the Times explains that late-night comedy shows would screen reruns, some scripted series would be delayed, and daytime soap operas would probably end (unless producers bring in non-union writers).  A strike might also speed the shift from network viewing to Netflix and Amazon.

Gender Equality at Work Requires More Than Corporate Tokenism

Last month, a Fusion article warned women to beware of “the guy who talks a big game about gender equality… then turns around and harasses you, assaults you, or belittles you,” coining the term, the “woke misogynist.” The same warning can be made about corporate gestures toward gender equality. In an age where feminism is cool, it now takes more scrutiny to discern the genuine from the superficial. Many businesses are relying on their image as hip, progressive organizations to appeal to socially-conscious consumers by making statements about equal pay, donating to the ACLU, or appointing a handful of women to their boards. Yet, so many of these companies continue to foster systemic cultures of sexual disrespect, harassment, and assault.

Sex Discrimination in the Workplace

Multiple accounts of sexual harassment have recently come to light in the tech industry. Susan Fowler’s February blog post revealed the rampant sex discrimination and harassment she faced while an engineer at Uber. She recounted her experience with the HR department, which retaliated against her for making complaints and refused to take action against her “high performing” harasser. She says the number of women in the organization dwindled from 25% to 6% while she was there. Another survivor came forward with her account a few weeks later under the alias Amy Vertino, detailing similar backlash for reporting the sexist behavior of her colleagues. She reports Uber CEO Travis Kalanik “is well known to protect high performing team leaders no matter how abusive they are to their employees.”

Sex discrimination in employment is not unique to Uber. The tech industry averages 21-22% female employees. 60% of women in tech report being sexually harassed in the workplace. The hostile environment both creates barriers for women entering the tech industry and also causes them to leave the field at alarming rates, 45% higher than men. After reading Fowler’s blog, The Observer reached out to women in tech and, within a few hours, had twelve more personal accounts of workplace sexual harassment. Allison Esposito, the founder of Tech Ladies, said they hear similar stories at least once a week. A female engineer recently filed a lawsuit against Tesla for failure to take action against the pervasive harassment. TechCrunch conducted a number of anonymous interviews that further evince the rampant mishandling of sexual harassment complaints in the industry.

Even beyond tech, the core issue is that sexism pervades male-dominated industries. The culture reflects the leadership, and as Rachel Bitte, chief people officer at Jobvite, explains, “tech is the newest industry to see male dominance in leadership roles, but we saw the same sort of problems that resulted in lawsuits decades ago in industries such as manufacturing or mining.”

The financial industry is also struggling to increase diversity and address discrimination. 25% of companies on the Russell 3000 index have no women on their boards. According to an SEC report of Fortune 500 companies, women and minorities held 30.8% of corporate board seats in 2016, which the Alliance for Board Diversity criticized as not moving fast enough. Increasing board diversity requires planning, they counseled, given that the board is often a reflection of the lack of diversity in the rest of the company.

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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.