News & Commentary

February 12, 2014

The Northwestern football players who petitioned to form the country’s first union of college athletes are scheduled to appear at a hearing today with the local office of the National Labor Relations Board, USA Today reports. In a profile of the College Athletes Players Association’s strategy, the paper notes that the athletes might follow the tactics of NYU’s graduate students. In 2000 and 2012, the students argued that they were “employees” because their compensation came from research and teaching, which fell outside their standard academic responsibilities — a good precedent for football players whose own compensation, scholarships, is dependent on playing sports.

The American Federation of Government Employees marched on the Capitol yesterday as part of the union’s annual legislative conference, the Washington Post reports. Now that the three-year freeze on basic federal pay rates is over, the AFGE and National Treasury Employees Union are each launching campaigns to overturn increased pension contributions for new employees and increase their community and political clout. The AFGE, for example, released a “Big Enough to Win” strategic plan, which involves the appointment of legislative and political coordinators by each local designed to change the way politicians and the public view federal employees.

President Obama is set to sign an executive order to raise the minimum wage for workers under future federal contracts this afternoon, USA Today reports. The order will include a provision to address concerns that disabled workers were legally paid subminimum wages. Meanwhile, as Congress takes no action with regard to President Obama’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage, state legislatures are considering passing higher minimum wage laws on their own. The Washington Post profiles Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s plea to his state’s legislature to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2016. In New York, meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo has rejected Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to set a higher municipal minimum wage, saying it was a matter better left to the state.

A new study by the Pew Research Center has found that more adults are graduating from college and graduates are earning higher wages, but their increased earnings have been accompanied by a steep decline in the typical high school graduate’s earnings. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times report that the study, which goes back to 1965, indicates that the “wage premium” for having a college degree is now at a record high, even as the high cost of tuition has made many question whether college is a worthwhile investment.

In international news, Qatar has unveiled a “worker’s charter” that mandates good living conditions, equal treatment of workers, and timely payment of wages, the Wall Street Journal reports. The charter comes as the country sits under growing pressure to improve labor standards for migrant workers building infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

On the opinion pages, Thomas B. Edsall writes in the New York Times that Congress and American businesses should take a page from Russell Long’s book and consider distributing Employee Stock Ownership Plans more widely. Edsall cites a recent proposal from Richard B. Freeman of the Harvard economics department and Douglas L. Kruse and Joseph R. Blasi of the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers, who argue that profit sharing and employee ownership — “the Citizen’s Share” — can reduce inequality and fight links between corporations, political donors, and politicians. Democratic and Republican Senators have co-sponsored the Promotion and Expansion of Private Employee Ownership Act of 2013.

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