Today’s News & Commentary — April 17, 2017

Why don’t all jobs matter? The provocative question is posed by Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times. Krugman questions why so much focus is on mining and manufacturing jobs, when the service sector—a much bigger slice of the economy—is dwindling. He points to several possible reasons, though complicates them all: the importance of mining jobs to local economies, the “political footballs” they have become, and the fact that miners and manufacturers tend to be white and male. Krugman ultimately concludes that saving jobs that are being lost may not be the smartest tack; instead, we should be investing in reeducation and guaranteeing benefits like health care.

Dylan Matthews of Vox summarizes a number of ideas—inspired largely by Europe—for how to save unions. First, unions could be organized on the sector level instead of on the company level, so all workers in a particular industry are affected. With less cross-company labor competition, the argument goes, businesses will be less union-averse. But how do you avoid the “free rider” problem, where, as in France, nearly every worker is covered by a collective bargaining agreement but fewer than 10% of workers are actually in unions? Some countries, like Denmark and Finland, have systems where unions run unemployment insurance, increasing the contact between the labor organizations and possible members. As Professor Sachs notes in the piece, however, such a change might be very tough during the Trump years.

Fast Company Co.Design covers a recent report by the Center for Business and Human Rights at NYU Stern School of Business on migrant workers. The report highlights how many of these workers end up paying to work: agents and recruiters require trumped-up fees and many workers end up dishing out extra for airline tickets and other documents. As the piece notes, “When you finally get to work, you might already owe a year’s worth of wages.”

Today’s News & Commentary — April 11, 2017

Minors in Texas may soon need parental approval to join a labor union.  According to the Texas Tribune, “minors in the state may be required to obtain parental approval before they can join a labor union under a proposal the Texas Senate tentatively approved along party lines Monday.”  The legislator who introduced the bill “said she filed the measure in response to concerns from a constituent whose daughter ‘was persuaded to join a union without fully understanding’ the terms of agreement.”  For their part, “some union leaders argue the bill would target minors employed by grocery stores while unfairly limiting their freedom and opportunity in the workplace.”

Voters in Missouri may be deprived the opportunity to vote on the state’s right-to-work legislation, if a lawsuit is successful.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that “supporters of Missouri’s new ‘right to work’ law have filed another lawsuit seeking to scuttle an attempt by labor officials to put the issue before voters for an up-or-down vote.”  Labor leaders “want to give voters the chance to weigh in on the issue after it was pushed quickly through the GOP-controlled Legislature this year and signed into law by Republican Gov. Eric Greitens.”  The law is set to go into effect on August 28.  Missouri residents “can call a referendum on a new law by collecting signatures totaling 5 percent of voters from two-thirds of the state’s congressional districts.”

The Fight for $15 has been incredibly successful – but not in Baltimore.  Vox explores why the effort to raise the minimum wage in Baltimore to $15 an hour fell apart, noting the city’s financial problems and fear of ensuing job loss.

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The Union Household Vote Revisited

Jake Rosenfeld is Associate Professor of Sociology at Washington University-St. Louis and an OnLabor Senior Contributor.  Patrick Denice is a postdoctoral researcher in the sociology department at Washington University in St. Louis.  He received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Washington (Seattle) in 2016.  His research examines stratification in education and the labor market.

A spate of labor-related election postmortems converged on one key theme: Donald Trump managed to cleave significant union support away from the Democrats.  “Donald Trump Got Reagan-Like Support from Union Households,” ran one typical headline; “It Looks Like Donald Trump Did Really Well With Union Households,” declared another.  But what if these prognoses have it wrong?  Could it be that instead of Trump’s unique appeal to union household voters, the election results really suggest sagging enthusiasm among union households for the Democratic candidate?

It is true that the Democratic-Republican vote split among union households was narrower in 2016 than in any time since, well, Ronald Reagan’s re-election.  In 2016, exit polls indicate that voters in union households supported the Democratic over the Republican candidate by only 8 points.  In 2012, by contrast, the Democratic advantage among members of union households was a yawning 18 points.  And 2016’s gap looks positively miniscule compared to the Democratic vote advantage among union households Bill Clinton enjoyed.  In 1992, exit polls suggest that members of union households preferred Clinton to George H.W. Bush by over 30 points.

Below we display exit poll results from every presidential race dating back to Ronald Reagan’s defeat of Jimmy Carter in 1980.[1]  The figure shows the Democratic candidate advantage over the Republican candidate in the union household vote.  In Reagan’s first victory, there was hardly any Democratic advantage: In 1980, Reagan managed 45% of the union household vote, compared to 48% for Jimmy Carter (the rest went largely to the 3rd party candidate in that race, John Anderson).

 

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Based on this figure alone it sure appears that the postmortems have it right. In 2016 the partisan split among union households was smaller than at any time since Ronald Reagan’s re-election in 1984.

But there is another way of investigating the issue.  Continue reading

Guest Post: A Letter from Sharon Block

Sharon Block is the Executive Director of Harvard University’s Labor and Worklife Program.  She formerly served in the Obama Administration as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Labor and Senior Counselor to the Secretary of Labor. 

Dear Friends:

Two months ago, I walked out of the Frances Perkins Building in Washington and helped turn off the lights on the Obama Administration’s Department of Labor.  As the head of the Department’s policy office and Senior Counselor to Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, I left proud of what we had accomplished to expand opportunity for American workers. I was also acutely aware that much remained to be done.

My life and the condition of our country has changed a great deal during these past two months.  I am thrilled to be embarking on a new professional journey here at the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and honored to have the opportunity to work with Professors Richard Freeman and Ben Sachs, the program’s faculty directors.  I am humbled by the responsibility of taking over the program that my remarkable predecessor, Elaine Bernard, so successfully built over the past 30 years and by the magnitude of the challenges facing American workers today.

I come to the Labor and Worklife Program committed to continuing its core mission:  to take advantage of the unique Harvard University community to bring rigorous, creative and serious problem-solving efforts to meet today’s challenges and prepare for the opportunities of tomorrow.  A key component of my commitment is to continue the proud tradition of the Harvard Trade Union Program.  I believe that it is more important than ever, as the labor movement faces unprecedented challenges, that a new generation of leaders benefit from the unparalleled training that the HTUP has provided for 75 years.

Today’s News & Commentary — March 9, 2017

Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) stood in solidarity with rallying crowd of women for International Women’s Day. According to Politico, labor unions such as the American Federation of Teachers and National Nurses United were in attendance. Rep. Schakowsky addressed the protestors, stating, “American women still earn far less than men 50 years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act.”

The Huffington Post reports that the number of deportations of undocumented workers under the Trump administration, alongside the regime’s immigration policies, begs the question of how reporting standards in immigrant labor will shift. Chicago attorney Christopher Williams, who specializes in immigrant wage theft cases, notes, “There’s a lot of fear out there, and it’s driving workers further underground. I honestly think it’s creating an incentive to hire more undocumented workers, because now they’re even more vulnerable to being exploited.” So far, the Labor Department has not issued a press release detailing wage and safety investigations since Trump’s presidency commenced.

Meanwhile, the D.C. Circuit has issued its opinion in Scoma’s of Sausalito. Scoma’s involved an employer’s withdrawal of recognition of UNITE HERE Local 2850 based on the employer’s belief that the union no longer enjoyed majority support of the bargaining unit.  The Board held that the withdrawal was illegal and issued a bargaining order. The D.C. Circuit agreed that withdrawing recognition was an unfair labor practice, but refused to enforce the Board’s bargaining order remedy. Instead, the court of appeals sent the case back to the Board and ordered the Board to come up with a less “extraordinary” remedy for the illegal withdrawal of recognition.

In other NLRB news, the Board has ordered a Regional Director to revisit its decision that NBCUniversal workers in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles were part of a single nationwide bargaining unit.

Today’s News & Commentary — March 8, 2017

Today is International Women’s Day, and many women around the country are participating in a strike that has been billed as “A Day Without a Woman.”  The action is intended to highlight the economic importance and impact of women on society, and it was organized following the Women’s March on January 21.  CNN reports that American women “aren’t the only ones taking to the streets.”  In Ireland, women and pro-choice activists are expected to rally across the country in a day of action dubbed “Strike 4 Repeal,”  aimed at repealing Ireland’s eighth amendment, which places the right to life of an unborn child on equal footing with the right to life of the mother.  In Australia, thousands rallied in Melbourne, demanding economic justice and reproductive rights for women around the world.  In the Philippines, women’s rights activists marched to the embassy in Manila, carrying signs calling for employment and discrimination reforms. Protests also took place in Rome and Moscow.

Politico weighs in on Trump’s revised executive order, noting that attention “may now shift to the refugee-related provisions” in the order.  The new order exempts valid visa holders and eliminates the provision that called for the U.S. to prioritize religious minorities (i.e. non-Muslims) in refugee admissions, but left in place a 120-day suspension of the refugee resettlement program (although Syrian refugees are now barred only temporarily, whereas before they were barred indefinitely).

At the Atlantic, Alana Semuels interviews David Weil, an Obama appointee who directed the Department of Labor’s wage-and-hour division, about the future of DOL under Trump.  One of Weil’s big worries concerns “the overlay of immigration policies on…the labor market.”  As Weil put it, “There’s a lot of writing on the wall that deeply, deeply concerns me.”

In international news, Argentina’s main labor union led a mass picket on Tuesday to protest job cuts and pay raises.  According to Reuters, the picket attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators and took place in the midst of a two-day teachers’ strike.  The protests also come at a bad time for Argentinian President Mauricio Macri: key congressional elections are slated to take place in October, and Macri needs his political coalition to do well “in order for him to keep pushing his economic reforms through Congress and position himself for re-election in 2019.”

Today’s News and Commentary — February 28, 2017

The fate of several of President Obama’s signature labor and employment policies could soon hang in the balance.  The Hill reports that “President Trump is facing pressure to roll back union-friendly policy changes made by the Obama-era National Labor Relations Board” from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  In particular, the Chamber urged Trump to target “policies that hold companies accountable for labor violations committed by their partners, speed up union elections, and allow small groups of workers to organize multiple unions inside a single company.”  Meanwhile, a Washington Post columnist notes that the Republican Congress is targeting President Obama’s “Fair Pay and Safe Workforces” executive order aimed at ensuring the compliance of federal government contractors with labor laws.

As President Trump acts, Americans work confidently while those without or about to lose work struggle.  USA Today highlights data from payroll company ADP which shows that American workers are increasingly “shifting into new sectors, such as a marketing manager who leaves retail for finance.”  Notably, “in eight of the 10 major industries tracked by ADP, the share of job-switchers who came from a different industry increased from late 2014 to late 2016 while the share swapping jobs within the same industry fell.  That’s up from seven of 10 sectors that met that criteria in the third quarter.”  ADP attributes such shifts to a tight labor market and worker confidence.  Many workers are, of course, struggling.  USA Today also features the story of John Feltner, an Indiana machinist whose union job is being outsourced to Mexico.  Feltner “is left to wonder how Middle America will endure in the age of offshoring moves such as the one [his employer] is executing.”

The reports of sexual harassment of female engineers at Uber continue to make headlines.  According to The New York Times, “the company dismissed the head of its engineering efforts for failing to disclose a sexual harassment claim from his previous job.”  If Americans are surprised by the allegations, many female engineers are not.  The CBC interviewed women in the tech world who note the commonality of harassment and misogyny in the industry.

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