Today's News and Commentary – December 17

Published December 17th, 2013 -  - 12.17.133


The New York Times’ Teresa Tritch urges President Obama to issue several executive orders that would make it harder for companies with wage and safety violations to obtain federal contracts. Between 2007 and 2012, 49 federal contractors, including Tyson Foods, Verizon Communications, AT&T, Nestle, and Hewlett-Packard, were cited 1,776 times for serious wage and/or safety and health violations. Nonetheless, those same 49 companies won $81 billion worth of federal contracts in 2012 alone. Tritch, citing a recent congressional report, argues that President Obama could begin to address this problem by issuing executive orders requiring contracting officials to obtain and consider up-to-date data about each prospective contractor’s labor record before awarding contracts, and requiring companies with labor violations to take certain steps in order to continue or renew their federal contracts. Tritch adds that President Obama could reverse the trend of federal contracts increasingly being awarded to companies that pay low wages and provide few or no benefits by issuing an executive order requiring contracting officials to take into account the quality of the jobs the contractors would offer workers.

In the midst of calls for a higher federal minimum wage and fast food workers’ push for $15 an hour, the New York Times rehashes the decades-old debate about the effect of raising the minimum wage on unemployment levels. Citing economists David Card and Alan Krueger’s famous 1992 study, the Times notes that there is reason to believe an increase in the minimum wage would have no negative effect on the unemployment rate. Especially in industries like fast food that have high turnover rates, a boost in the minimum wage could keep workers around longer and increase productivity. Moreover, as Krueger argues, “It helps low-wage workers to raise their family above the poverty line. It has a small ripple effect for people making more than the minimum wage. It particularly helps women.” Still, the effect of increased wages on unemployment remains disputed among economists. In addition, unemployment rate aside, an increased minimum wage does nothing for those below the poverty line who make more than minimum wage or those who are unemployed.

The LA Times reports that recent polls show a decline in public support for organized labor in California. According to the most recent poll, released Friday, 45% of surveyed Californians believe unions do more harm than good (compared to 35% in March 2011). Following several recent BART strikes, 47% of those polled said public transportation workers should be permitted to strike (44% said they should not). Those in the Bay Area are more likely than others to oppose transit workers’ right to strike.

Salon reports that workers at a California warehouse that exclusively services Walmart settled their lawsuit against the Walmart contractor this week. The 568 worker plaintiffs in the suit, Quezada v. Schneider, won $4.7 million for alleged wage theft. The workers claimed that, among other violations, they were forced to sign forms waiving their right to a meal break. A second suit against the contractor, Carrillo v. Schneider, in which Walmart is named as a co-defendant, is ongoing.

Food service workers at two Smithsonian museums – the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of American History, won union representation on Monday, the Washington Post reports. After a series of one-day strikes and protests, Compass Group, the federal contractor that runs the restaurants in the two museums, agreed to negotiate with Unite-Here for a contract for the 220 workers. Negotiations are set to begin next month.

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