News & Commentary

December 7, 2016

Lauren Godles

Lauren Godles is a student at Harvard Law School.

The legal battle over the Obama administration’s expanded overtime rule continues. Last Friday, the Department of Labor filed a motion in the Fifth Circuit, following the District Court’s nationwide preliminary injunction, seeking an expedited briefing schedule. The DOL petitioned that briefs be due February 7, 2017, and that oral arguments be scheduled soon after. On Monday, the state attorneys general who sued DOL over the rule filed their opposition, arguing that the lower court may issue a ruling on their motion for summary judgment “any day.” More background on the overtime rule here and here.

Unions came under further attack by Republicans this week when Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the incoming chair of the congressional panel that oversees labor issues, questioned the need for unions at all in today’s economy. Foxx told Reuters that organized labor has “sort of lost its reason for being,” given the laws that are currently in place to protect workers. Both AFL-CIO spokesman Eric Hauser and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, pushed back on Foxx’s comments, arguing that unions bring large economic benefits to all workers and are vital for economic stability.

The private sector is turning out to increase protections for workers, even when not mandated by law. Yesterday, IKEA announced that it will offer paid parental leave to all employees, irrespective of gender, whether they are hourly or salaried, or the method of becoming a parent (birth, adoption, or foster care). And not only large corporations are adopting such measures. Small businesses are increasingly experimenting with raising wages for workers, including this upscale grocery in Washington, D.C., and several food vendors in Boston. It is still too soon to tell whether the corresponding price hikes will have a negative effect on business. But one of the grocery’s employees reports that “once she explains [to the customers] why the prices have risen, the customers are usually supportive.”

Lastly, what will it take for Donald Trump to help the working people who elected him? The New York Times Editorial Board writes that the President Elect will need to defend the Obama administration’s overtime rule through the appeals process, or else “he’ll be supporting the agenda of establishment Republicans and their corporate allies.” The Editorial Board also suggests that Trump will need to uphold Obama’s labor legacy in three key areas: making the government a model employer, setting clear guidelines for the gig economy, and preserving unions.

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