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 25, 2017

When we talk about disappearing jobs, we often think of men.  But as the New York Times notes, women are also part of the trend.  In the United States, the “share of prime-age women bringing home a paycheck rose at the end of World War II” and continued increasing during the 1970s and 1980s before it peaked in 1999 at 77 percent.  In the early 2000s, however, women’s participation in the labor force began decreasing — making the United States one of the only major countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development not to have a rising rate of female workforce participation.  During the recession, that rate plunged further, and it has failed to bounce back.  In 2015, only 73.7 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 54 were in the work force.

Although Trump met with several union leaders on Monday, the gathering was limited to representatives of the construction and building trades unions.  Public sector and service industry unions — some of the most powerful supporters of Democrats in recent elections — were not invited.  As Newsweek explains, the meeting may be “a sign of how Trump may seek to split organized labor as president.”  Still, the excluded unions, such as the SEIU, aren’t backing down.  SEIU President Mary Kay Henry told Newsweek that although Trump poses challenges to her union, the threats are “not existential,” and the SEIU is preparing to fight for the same blue-collar workers Trump managed to win over.

Taxpayers get stuck with the cost of supporting workers in the fast food industry. That’s the thesis of a recent Los Angeles Times article articulating why Andy Puzder as Secretary of Labor gives major cause for concern.  The National Employment Law Project (NELP) estimates that Puzder’s CKE Restaurants, which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s brands, collects a taxpayer-funded subsidy of about $247 million a year.  According to NELP, that’s what it takes to “offset poverty wages and keep [CKE’s] low-wage front-line workers and their families from economic disaster.”  The issue is particularly salient because Puzder opposes an increase in the minimum wage, but evidence exists that even modest minimum wage increases “help to cut the need of low-wage workers for assistance from Medicaid and other programs.”

Today’s News & Commentary — January 11, 2017

In case you missed it, the New York Times has full video and text coverage of President Obama’s farewell speech. In his speech, President Obama praised worker organization as part of “our nation’s call to citizenship,” called for “a new social compact” that, inter alia, “give[s] workers the power to unionize for better wages,” and warned that “[i]f every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”

Also at the New York TimesNoam Scheiber covers two new studies on raising the minimum wage.  The first study found, consistent with the growing body of work on minimum wage, that increasing wages does not contribute to a decline in hiring.  However, the study also showed that when employers were forced to pay more in wages, they hired more productive workers, so that the overall amount amount of money employers spent on each job did not change substantially.  If this pattern were to apply across the economy — and the study’s author, as well as other economists, note that there are many reasons it might not — a higher minimum wage could result in low-skilled workers losing their jobs to higher-skilled workers.  The second study suggested that some employers may go out of business in response to a rising minimum wage.  The study, which examined restaurants in the San Francisco area, found that many poorly rated restaurants went out of business after a minimum-wage increase took effect.  Highly rated restaurants, by contrast, appeared “to be largely unaffected,” and overall there was “no substantial rise in restaurant closings after a minimum-wage increase.”

Politico and CNBC report that Andy Puzder’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of Labor may be delayed until February.  Puzder was originally scheduled to testify before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on January 17, but the hearing will now be moved and may not take place until after Betsy DeVos’ hearing, which has also been delayed.

Continue reading

Far Better than an Injunction: Philly Strike Settles

Avoiding the need for an injunction showdown, SEPTA and the Transport Workers Union have reached a tentative settlement ensuring that public transit will be operational in Philadelphia on election day.  The union’s website announced this morning “Tentative Agreement Reached. We are Off Strike.” According to SEPTA:

[T]his agreement is fair to our employees, and to the fare-paying customers and taxpayers who fund SEPTA,” agency Chairman Pat Deon said. “It provides for wage increases, pension improvements, and maintains health care coverage levels while addressing rising costs.

A hearing on SEPTA’s motion to enjoin the strike had been scheduled for this morning. The contract will be put to a membership ratification vote, but trains and buses will be running tomorrow.

Today’s News & Commentary — October 19, 2016

On Tuesday, Harvard University and the Harvard Graduate Student Union–United Auto Workers (HGSU-UAW) signed an agreement on election terms for eligible students to vote on unionization.  An email sent to the student body about the election can be accessed here.  HGSU-UAW seeks to represent all Harvard students who serve in research and teaching positions, with the exception of undergraduate research assistants.  The NLRB will conduct an on-site secret ballot election on November 16 and 17.  Both the Office of the Provost and the HGSU-UAW have created FAQ pages about unionization, and the HGSU-UAW has also created a “Response” to the Harvard FAQ page.

The Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) workers’ strike has entered its third week, and students continue to rally to the cause.  On Monday, hundreds of students staged a walk-out to support the workers.  As The Crimson reports, the protests began at 10:30am, when Divinity students gathered at the Harvard Divinity School before marching to the Science Center Plaza to join striking HUDS workers for a rally.  At 12:30pm, hundreds of undergraduates walked out of their afternoon classes and joined another rally, organized by the Student Labor Action Movement, at the John Harvard statute.

Ford has decided to stop making small cars in the United States, and plans to move production of its Focus compact cars from a factory in Wayne, Michigan to a new plant in Mexico.  Donald Trump and other critics of NAFTA have attacked Ford for creating jobs in Mexico instead of the United States.  However, as the New York Times points out, the move will not result in a cut to U.S. jobs: the Wayne factory will remain fully staffed to build more trucks and S.U.V.s.  As the Times explains, Nafta has played a role in shifting American manufacturing jobs to Mexico.  The story of Ford’s Wayne plant, however, demonstrates that many factors — including the state of the economy, the profitability of the vehicles being produced, the strength of the dollar, and how well or not each carmaker’s products are faring in the marketplace — determine the number of auto-making jobs in the United States.

At the end of September, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn threatened to abandon a major investment in the U.K. until the nation provided more clarity on its plans for post-Brexit trade relations with the E.U.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Ghosn now appears to have shifted his tone.  After a meeting on Friday with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, Ghosn said in a joint statement that he looked forward to “continued positive collaboration.”  In the statement, Prime Minister May said that the U.K. government would continue to work with Nissan as it develops “the environment for competitiveness of the automotive industry here in the U.K. to ensure its success.”

Gig News: 14,000 New York Uber & Lyft Drivers Sign ATU Union Cards

A major union is mounting a high-profile effort to represent gig economy workers in New York.  Crain’s reports that this week, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 delivered union cards signed by 14,000 New York Uber and Lyft drivers to New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission.  The union also held a rally outside the TLC’s headquarters.  Gothamist and the New York Daily News have more.

The ATU’s campaign comes after an IBEW local filed a petition to represent some New York Uber drivers, the Teamsters announced an intent to form an Uber “drivers’ association” in California, and Seattle passed an ordinance allowing independent contractors to unionize.  Uber and Lyft drivers are presently classified as independent contractors without collective bargaining rights under the National Labor Relations Act, but the National Labor Relations Board could find that drivers are misclassified and are in fact employees.

Weekend News & Commentary — September 24-25, 2016

A pioneer in developing co-working spaces, WeWork has been impacted for more than a year by labor and employment disputes.  On Friday, it took a step toward resolving at least one of those outstanding issues by signing a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board regarding policies on employee communications.  The Board had alleged that portions of the company’s policies and handbook could be read to forbid the discussion of wages and unionization in violation of federal law.  Remedial steps agreed to include emailing employees about their right to work together on employment issues, and to form unions.  The handbook will also be changed.

The New York Times reports on troubling news from a recent study by the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute about the wages of home care workers: such aides now actually earn less than they did a decade ago.  That decrease in wages—from an inflation-adjusted median of $10.21 an hour in 2005 to $10.11 an hour today—comes despite Labor Department action in 2013 to extend minimum wage and overtime rights to the industry.  The Times notes two bright spots within the study: the Affordable Care Act has boosted the number of home care workers with health insurance, and the more than 600,000 aides who have joined the Service Employees International Union in recent years have secured raises.

In the aftermath of Senate hearings this week on fraudulent sales practices at Wells Fargo, two former employees have filed a class action lawsuit in California alleging that the company punished employees who failed to meet aggressive sales quotas.  The former employees argue that those workers who refused to engage in fraud and then missed their targets were often pressured to work off the clock or fired.  The suit alleges wrongful termination, wage theft, and overtime violations under California labor statutes.

Also in California, the state labor commissioner announced this week that eighteen garment companies based in Los Angeles were fined more than $682,000 for violations of state labor laws.  Investigators seized more than $150,000 in illegally manufactured garments, which state officials said would be distributed to local homeless and domestic violence shelters.