News & Commentary

April 9, 2014

President Obama signed an executive order yesterday intended to help close pay disparities between men and women employed by federal contractors, the New York Times, Wall Street Journaland USA Today report. The order bars federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their salaries and instructs the Labor Department to collect statistics on pay for men and women from such contractors. In related articles, the Times and Greg Sargent of the Washington Post suggest that the order is intended to recast the midterm election focus away from healthcare and toward the issue of gender pay equity, as women have driven Democratic victories in a series of recent elections. The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, profiles restaurants and other businesses that have already responded to the other national wage issue — the minimum wage — noting that some businesses have reduced employment in response to increasing local minimums but others have offset the costs in other ways. Today the Senate will vote on whether to take up the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would expand the scope of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by, among other changes, requiring employers to justify any decision not to pay male and female workers equal wages for doing substantially equal work.

After decades of declines, the number of stay-at-home mothers in the United States has risen from a historic low of 23 percent of mothers in 1999 to 29 percent in 2012, a report released yesterday by the Pew Research Center shows. The New York Times notes that about 49 percent of mothers stayed at home in 1967, but that number decreased until 1999.

Northwestern University faces a Wednesday deadline to appeal the regional NLRB ruling that its football players are employees of the school and entitled to unionize, the Washington Post reports. Northwestern has said it would file such an appeal. Meanwhile, in Ohio, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has amended a state budget bill that clarifies that college athletes are not employees under state law, the Post also reports. If passed, the provision could ensure that student athletes at public universities such as Ohio State would not be able to unionize, regardless of the outcome of the federal NLRB ruling. In USA Today last week, the commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference, Larry Scott, strongly criticized the NLRB decision.

The UAW has expanded its complaint before the NLRB regarding February’s unionization drive at a Chattanooga Volkswagen plant, alleging that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was prepared to offer VW $300 million in tax breaks and other incentives if the union vote failed, the Wall Street Journal reports. The filing comes after Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 uncovered emails that allegedly show that the governor’s administration put pressure on VW while coordinating a campaign with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund against the union, in violation of federal labor law. Benjamin Sachs covered the development in detail yesterday.

Chicago has long had problems paying for its workers’ pension funds, and Illinois responded yesterday by approving a plan that would require some city workers to pay more for their retirement benefits and by granting smaller increases in those benefits, the New York Times reports. Illinois follows the example of Michigan, which approved a similar plan for state employees in 2011, although unions are currently challenging Michigan’s action in state supreme court as unconstitutional.

Also in Illinois, protestors rallied at the state capitol yesterday to denounce 11 bills that would, among other things, limit where charter schools can be located, ban them from marketing themselves to students, and abolish a commission that has the power to overrule local school boards and grant charter licenses, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Journal also profiles the large portion of the young teachers hired in a 2007 hiring wave who are still teaching seven years on.

In international news, more than 2,000 workers in Rio de Janeiro have gone on strike from venue construction sites for the 2016 Olympic games, USA Today reports. The strike has been driven by a dispute over which union represents the construction workers, as well as benefits and working conditions.

In the opinion pages, Joseph Perella and Peter Weinberg — founding partners of Perella Weinberg Partners, a global financial-services firm — lament that an increasingly activist but fringe minority of investors are disrupting annual shareholders’ meetings instead of working with the management of large corporations to make the companies better. Suggesting that the activist-investor debate is reminiscent of the McCarthy Era in the 1950s, Perella and Weinberg call for a constructive public forum, hosted by equity research analysts, that would allow investors to share ideas with management in a civil manner.


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