Today's News and Commentary – August 1
The Wall Street Journal reports that thousands of unionized coal miners, electrical workers, and others in Pittsburgh protested against the federal proposal to lower carbon emissions from power plants. The unions, including the United Mine Workers of America, argue that the rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency would raise electricity prices and cause over 65,000 workers to lose their jobs while doing little to improve global warming. The unions seem divided on the issue as several major unions were noticeably absent from yesterday’s protest. The EPA is holding agency hearings over the course of two days in Pittsburgh.
According to The New York Times, President Obama signed an executive order today that would make it tougher for employers who are repeat offenders of employment and labor law to procure government contracts worth at least $500,000. Under the executive order, federal contractors must disclose labor violations that their companies have committed in the past three years. The government then has discretion to withhold federal contracts from applicants and would take into account a number of factors, including the company’s wage and hour violations, job safety violations, discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and hindrance to union formation. The move comes after a 2010 investigation by the Government Accountability Office, which discovered that nearly two-thirds of the 50 largest violators of wage and hour laws were able to procure new federal contracts.
Labor costs saw a record increase yesterday since the third quarter of 2008, indicating wage growth. The U.S. Department of Labor also reported a record low number of initial claims for state unemployment benefits since April 2006, totaling a seasonally adjusted 297,250 last week. While the Federal Reserve remains cautious and says there remains “significant underutilization of labor resources,” economists see hope in the reported numbers.
In immigration news, Governor Jerry Brown of California spoke about the overwhelming migrant flow during his visit to Mexico. Governor Brown, who is a Democrat, told reporters that “whatever can be done by a mere governor [to shelter unaccompanied minors] will be done.” California made national headlines in July when anti-immigration protesters turned away three buses of migrant transfers in the small town of Murrieta. Governor Brown also criticized the plan to increase enforcement at the border while conditions in Central American countries continue to rapidly deteriorate.
In international news, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan has declared that he wants Japanese businesses to increase the number of women in management positions. Prime Minister Abe hopes that women will hold 30% of management positions by 2020 compared to 10% now. However, there may be a cultural obstacle against women entering the workforce in the first place. 57% of women over the age of 15 in the U.S. are “economically active” compared to 48% of their Japanese counterparts. Higher female participation in the workforce would help to spur economic growth.