Today’s News & Commentary — May 3, 2017

Hollywood writers have achieved victory.  As the New York Times reports, the Writers Guild of America reached a “middle-of-the night deal” with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the group that bargains on behalf of studios.  As the Los Angeles Times put it, the deal itself “was a pulse-pounding climax that a Hollywood screenwriter might have conceived.”  Although the union did not get everything it wanted — namely, uniform pay for writing done across platforms — it won major concessions from the studios, including better pay, job protection for paternity leave, and a bailout for the union’s struggling health insurance plan.

The New York Times also weighs in on the “lopsided pay structure in coal.”  While coal executives take home huge sums of money — recent bonuses have been in the $10-$15 million range — pay for the average coal worker has stagnated.  From 2004 to 2016, the average salary of chief executives in the coal industry increased as much as five times faster than the salaries of lower-wage coal workers.  Although this disparity reflects widening income inequality across all sectors of the American economy, pay for coal executives “grew much faster, on average, than that of their counterparts across the wider economy, while the average pay for coal industry construction workers failed to keep up with similar jobs in other fields.”  As the Times also notes, the “yawning gap takes on an added significance” in the coal industry since “Trump has made lifting the fortunes of blue-collar and rural Americans a centerpiece of his administration.”

At U.S. News and World Report, Andy Stern addresses the subject of automation and its effect on jobs.  As Stern posits, “automation is increasingly replacing jobs and leaving too few good new jobs in its wake,” but elected officials have failed to take action. According to Stern, “[i]f we want an economy that allows everyone to be economically secure, we need our economists to get out of their bubble and thinking about how we can rightfully address automation.”

According to CNBC, industries from hospitality to landscaping are struggling to find seasonal help because the government “tightened up on visas” for temporary foreign workers.  At-issue are H-2B visas, which are issued to temporary, non-agricultural foreign workers, with a cap of 66,000 visas per fiscal year.  Although the 2015 spending bill exempted returning workers from the cap, no such exception was passed for 2017. On Monday, lawmakers introduced a government spending bill that would increase the number of allotted H-2B visas to about 130,000, but even if the measure passes, it will take weeks for the visas to be processed.  The result?  Many workers “probably won’t arrive in time for Memorial Day and maybe not until after the Fourth of July.”

Today’s News & Commentary — May 1, 2017

Happy May Day! Also known as International Workers’ Day (or Labour Day in many countries outside the U.S.), May 1st is celebrated by workers and unions around the world in honor of the Haymarket affair. As we noted yesterday, the tradition will continue in force today. Organized labor and immigration groups are set to protest throughout the country, especially the Bay Area, according to the Los Angeles Times. Today too marks the last day of the contract of the Writers Guild of America, meaning strikes could begin as soon as tomorrow.

Michael Grabell in the New Yorker has a lengthy feature on immigrant worker exploitation at Case Farms’ chicken plant. One of “most dangerous workplaces in America,” the plant recruits immigrants “who endure harsh and at times illegal conditions that few Americans would put up with.” Workers, however, find themselves in a bind when complaining about conditions and injuries as harsh immigration law penalties loom over them. And when workers successfully bring cases in front of the NLRB or other authorities, they often receive few actual remedies. Instead of fixing its labor conditions, however, Case Farms is hoping to get rid of them altogether—with automatic chicken deboners.

The U.K. House of Commons Work and Pension Committee just published a damning report on self-employment and the gig economy [PDF]. The report accuses companies like Uber and Amazon of avoiding paying taxes and “free-riding on the welfare state” by classifying workers as “self-employed,” and “rebuffs their claims to be providing flexibility for workers,” according to the Guardian. The report concludes that drivers should be by default assumed to have “worker” status, giving them more labor protections while still affording them plenty of flexibility.

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.

Today’s News and Commentary — March 1, 2016

Labor unions have gone digital…media, that is.  The New York Times reports that “Gawker Media and the union that represents its employees announced on Monday that they had reached an agreement on a labor contract, the first designed and negotiated specifically for a digital media company.”  Gawker workers are represented by the Writers Guild of America, East and voted to join the union last year.  The agreement sets wages, gives workers editorial control, and ensures salary increases and severance, but leaves workers as at-will.  Voting on the agreement will take place this week.

French labor law won’t be changing so quickly after all.  Despite earlier reports suggesting a proposal to revamp laws might have been under consideration, Bloomberg notes that “President Francois Hollande held off presenting his proposals to revamp French labor law after the nation’s main unions all opposed the plan.”  The proposals would eliminate France’s 35 hour work week and give businesses more latitude to increase working time and fire workers with limited severance.

The Chicago Teachers Union is moving closer to striking as soon as April 1.  According to the Chicago Sun-Times, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkley said strike preparations would proceed “if Chicago Public Schools follows through on its threat to unilaterally cancel the 7 percent pension pickup it has made for decades.”  Chicago teachers have been working without a union contract since June.

You go to B&H…for discrimination?  The New York Times reports that the U.S. Department of Labor filed suit against New York electronics retailer B&H “for hiring only Hispanic men into entry-level jobs in a Brooklyn warehouse and then subjecting them to harassment and unsanitary conditions.  The company was so unlikely to hire women to work in the warehouse that it did not have a separate restroom for them, according to the suit.”  The suit marks the second time in nine years B&H has been sued by the government for alleged discrimination, and the company came under fire for discrimination during a unionization campaign last year.

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Today’s News & Commentary — October 8, 2015

The New York Times reports Fiat Chrysler and the United Auto Workers struck a tentative deal early this morning, shortly after the midnight strike deadline set by the UAW.  As we reported yesterday, a UAW walkout would have been the first strike against an U.S. automaker since 2007.  The deal will be presented to union leaders on Friday morning, at which time details of the deal will be released. It is subject to ratification by workers, who rejected last week’s deal two to one.

If you missed the live feed of yesterday’s White House Summit on Worker Voice, Reuters summarizes President Obama’s main points from the Summit.  Obama praised unions, finding their role especially important in our technology-driven economy.  He also lauded innovative companies like Uber and Lyft, whose models increase flexibility of workers, while also cautioning that such company models could be detrimental to workers. You can read more about Professor Sachs’s priorities as he headed to the Summit to participate in a panel here.

President Obama has also been drawing attention to other problems arising in our technology-driven economy.  In Obama’s initial attempts at boosting support for the just-completed Trans-Pacific Partnership, he emphasized that offshoring may no longer be the enemy of the American worker; now, it might be robots.  According to Lydia DePillis at the Washington Post, the robotics lobby put out a white paper on Monday to combat this theory, arguing that robots are good for American workers.  Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation, urges people to look at job growth and robot growth over the past two decades, and it will show steady growth in both areas over that time.  DePillis pushes back—after all, correlation doesn’t equal causation—and she emphasizes that the rate at which robot shipments is rising is faster than that of job growth, and labor force participation is dropping.

The editorial staff of the Huffington Post is planning to unionize, the New York Times reports.  The organizing committee wrote yesterday, “a union will give us a voice in our newsroom’s future.”  Their list of reasons for organizing includes a push for better pay, clearer job responsibilities, a more efficient hiring process, and more diversity on staff.  Arianna Huffington said in a statement that she supports the unionization.  The staff is the latest in several digital publications that have recently joined the Writers Guild of America, East, including ThinkProgress, Gawker, Vice, and Salon. Continue reading