Guest Post: Curtis Ellis Considered to Lead the Bureau of International Labor Affairs

Bloomberg/BNA’s Ben Penn is reporting that the White House is considering appointing Curtis Ellis to lead the Bureau of International Labor Affairs at the Department of Labor.  Ellis, a Steve Bannon associate, has written that he believes progressives “literally” want the death of white working people and that the Obama Administration sought to “liquidate” American workers through TPP.  He also called job training for unemployed workers “re-education and extermination.”  As the head of ILAB, Ellis would be responsible for representing the Department of Labor in international forums.  Read Penn’s full report here.

Today’s News & Commentary — November 22, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump released a video noting his intended initial executive actions once in office, and two are labor-related.  First, Trump stated he would ask the Department of Labor to investigate “all abuses of the visa programs that undercut the American worker.”  Accoring to Computerworld, this represents a signal that the H-1B visa program will be scrutinized.  Trump has previously criticized the H-1B visa program for leading to the displacement of American workers.  Additionally, the BBC reports that Trump made clear that the United States will quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership in his first day in office.

In another remarkably close election in 2016, James Hoffa has been re-elected to a fifth term as president of the Teamsters.  The Hill notes that Hoffa won by just 600 votes.  Hoffa said that “though we have many challenges before us, now is the time to join together as brothers and sisters and stand strong against those who would destroy the labor movement and deny worker’s the gains they have struggled to achieve.  We will continue to lead the fight to organize the unorganized, ensure strong health care, good wages, a secure retirement and holding employers and politicians accountable.”

German airline Lufthansa faces another strike by pilots.  According to Reuters, “the strike, the 14th in the row between union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) and Lufthansa, will run for 24 hours from midnight and affect short-haul and long-haul Lufthansa flights departing from German airports.”

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Today’s News and Commentary — November 10, 2016

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s shocking electoral victory, the analysis of his win continues.  The New York Times reports that Donald Trump’s support among white, working-class men carried him to the presidency.  While Hillary Clinton’s campaign believed that their coalition of minorities and women voters would carry the day, their lack of support among white men without college degrees proved problematic for the campaign.  Exit polls indicated that this year’s gender gap “could be the largest in 60 years” with men choosing Trump by 12 percentage points and women choosing Clinton by 12 percentage points.

President-elect Trump has released his plan for his first 100 days.  Trade is featured prominently.  Trump has stated that he will renegotiate or pull out of NAFTA and abandon pursuit of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.  Despite Trump’s focus on trade, the Boston Globe warns that Trump’s promise to bring manufacturing jobs back could be difficult to put into practice.  Citing a statistic from Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, the Globe states that automation and other innovations resulted in an 88 percent decrease in factory positions.  Other items with impacts for workers on Trump’s list include a federal hiring freeze and ending limits on American energy production.  Read Trump’s plan for his first 100 days here.

Yesterday, Politico reported on its conversations with labor law and policy authorities regarding the ramifications of Trump’s election for workers.  These experts highlighted changes on immigration policy, the introduction of anti-organizing measures, a diminishment of labor standards, and the appointment of anti-regulatory judicial nominees as potential effects of Trump’s victory.  Read more here.  Some of these changes require the participation of Congress, but others, such as stronger immigration enforcement, President-elect Trump could enact alone.

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Guest Post: What Hillary Needs to Say About Trade

Katherine V.W. Stone is the Arjay and Frances Miller Distinguished Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law.  She is the author of “From Widgets to Digits: Employment Regulation for the Changing Workplace” (Cambridge Univ. Press) and “Rethinking Workplace Regulation: Beyond the Standard Contract of Employment” (with Harry Arthurs). (Russell Sage Foundation 2013).  This post originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Hillary delivered a masterful debate performance last night, and trumped Trump on many issues.  But on one important issue, most commentators give him the point – and that is trade.  Trump, and Sanders, have both made enormous political capital by blaming U.S. trade deals – particularly NAFTA –for the plight of American workers.  Hillary has not come up with a good response, and she needs to.

The problems of American workers are not simply due to increased global trade.  Most economists attribute the decline in the middle class to automation.  They contend that new digital technology favors workers with higher skills, so that workers who lack a college degree have been pushed out of the jobs that, in the past, provided middle class incomes.  Industrial factory jobs, clerical jobs, supermarket cashiers and many other jobs have disappeared due to “skill biased technological change.”  To be sure, trade exacerbates the problem because it enables firms to move the lowest skilled jobs to countries that have low labor standards.

However, to blame trade or/or technological change does not fully account for the decline in America’s middle class.  Their problem is not merely the disappearance of old jobs; it is that new jobs, and even the jobs remaining, have changed.  No longer do jobs come with the kind of security they had in the past.  In the past, having a job meant having an implicit promise of job security, as well as steady and rising wages, health benefits, vacations, sick leave, and the promise of a secure retirement.  These types of jobs have disappeared.  Instead, many firms have replaced regular workers with temporary workers or independent contractors.  And many regular workers have found that the security and benefits they had assumed was part of the job package have disappeared.

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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 & Commentary — March 17, 2016

How might — and how should — a Supreme Court including Merrick Garland rule in labor and employment cases? For analysis of Chief Judge Garland’s labor decisions and positions, see here. For one commentator’s view of how the next Justice should approach judicial review of NLRB decisions, see here, and for discussion of what replacing Justice Scalia could mean for workers, see here.

CNNMoney reports that the Teamsters, along with five Lyft drivers, have objected to the proposed settlement reached in the employee misclassification class-action suit against the company. The settlement would have paid out over $12 million and prohibited Lyft from terminating drivers without case, but it did not require the company to classify its drivers as employees. And that classification, Teamsters representatives argued, is more important than any short-term economic benefit: “That would empower them to organize and collectively bargain over their rates and company policies, including what happens when a worker gets terminated,” said one union official. Shannon Liss-Riordan, the attorney who filed the Lyft suit, and who is also behind similar litigation pending against Uber, acknowledged that she would have liked to win employee status for drivers, but that the odds were stacked against her: “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has allowed companies to avoid employment-related and other class actions through the use of arbitration agreements, and in this case (unlike the Uber case) we believe our odds of overcoming the arbitration agreement were slim.”

Goodbye, premium pay on Sundays. Lydia DePillis of the Washington Post examines Walmart’s decision to cease offering premium pay to employees working Sunday shifts — a move that follows an industry-wide trend to discontinue the practice. Whereas state laws and a tight labor market once demanded Sunday premium pay, most states have now stricken those laws from their books. The trend has been further spurred by changes in shopping habits (retail shopping increasingly takes place on weekends), workers’ loss of control over their schedules, and “the [receding] importance of Sunday as a universal day of rest.” Now, Massachusetts and Rhode Island stand alone in requiring retailers to pay their workers more to work on Sunday, but “the retail industry is pushing hard to get the requirement rolled back in Massachusetts.”

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Enforcing Labor Standards Under The Trans-Pacific Partnership

The United States Trade Representative touts the Trans Pacific Partnership as having “the strongest protections for workers of any trade agreement in history.”  On paper at least, the Trade Representative is probably correct about the TPP.  The TPP requires that all parties to the agreement adopt and maintain laws recognizing the International Labor Organization’s fundamental labor rights and practices.  Additionally, the United States has negotiated bilateral “consistency plans” with TPP Parties Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.  The consistency plans place additional legal requirements on the parties before they may export goods duty-free to the United States.

The TPP and the consistency agreements differ in content, scope, and enforcement mechanism, but they both suffer from the same fundamental problem: they all depend on the political will of the United States to enforce the labor standards they set out.

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