Today’s News & Commentary — May 23, 2017

Companies in Utah are struggling to find workers to fill job openings thereby slowing economic growth. While companies are eager to hire more workers to meet increased demand, Utah’s unemployment rate of 3.1% means there are relatively few workers looking for jobs. Companies have begun raising wages to attract more workers; however, automation may also increase as a means to substitute for labor.

Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy is trying to balance the budget with budget cuts and public-sector layoffs; however, the Service Employees International Union Local 1199 is airing an ad opposing this. The Union’s ad argues that rather than cutting services to the disabled or laying-off middle class workers, the Governor should consider higher taxes on the wealthy.

The Economic Policy Institute released a report finding that annually 2.4 million U.S. workers lose $8 billion because of minimum wage violations. Women, people of color, and youth are the most likely to report being paid less than the minimum wage. Although the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division investigates such violations, the report’s authors note that it has limited staff and is thus unable to fully examine all minimum wage violations.

Michelle Russell with BCG and Lori Lepler with BRANDspeak have a piece in the Harvard Business Review explaining the importance of high-quality apprenticeship programs. They find that such programs led to a 22-percentage-point rise in promotions of female workers, a 5-percentage-point decline in attrition of female workers, and a 20-percentage point-rise in job satisfaction for female employees.

 

 

Today’s News & Commentary — April 25, 2017

The Supreme Court will soon be presented with the opportunity to decide whether unions can constitutionally charge non-members “fair share” fees.  According to Bloomberg BNA, “the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation intends by the end of May to file a petition asking the high court to review a Seventh Circuit decision dismissing a lawsuit by two Illinois government workers who challenged the fees on First Amendment grounds.”  The Supreme Court heard a similar challenge in 2016, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, but ultimately ruled 4-4 following the death of Justice Scalia, thus affirming a lower court decision finding that public-sector unions may continue to collect “fair share” fees from nonmembers.  The Seventh Circuit similarly upheld such fees in the case at issue now.

Using colorful language about a boss does not deprive a worker of the protections of the National Labor Relations Act, according to the Second Circuit.  Consumerist reports that the Second Circuit found that the operator of restaurants at New York’s Chelsea Piers illegally terminated a worker in retaliation for engaging in protected activity when, two days before a unionization vote, the worker posted a colorful Facebook post about his boss in urging support for unionization.  The Second Circuit concluded that “the NLRB could reasonably determine that the server’s “outburst was not an idiosyncratic reaction to a manager’s request but part of a tense debate over managerial mistreatment in the period before the representation election.”

America’s male-dominated industries want to diversity.  Per the Chicago Tribune, the “Iron Workers union this month leaped to the cutting edge of the effort, becoming the first building trades union to offer up to eight months of paid maternity leave to pregnant women and new moms” despite only 2 percent of union members being women.  The union and other traditionally male-dominated employers are driven to recruit women by the aging of baby boomers, a decline in enrollment in vocational education, and other factors.

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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.