Today’s News and Commentary — January 15

Published January 15th, 2014 -  - 01.15.1410


Although Congress is moving forward with an omnibus spending bill, efforts to extend unemployment benefits for the 1.3 million long-term unemployed stalled yesterday, as two proposals failed to clear procedural hurdles in the Senate. Coverage can be found at the New York Times, Washington Post, and L.A. Times.

The New York Times reports that a year-long lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra ended, as musicians agreed to a three-year contract. The new contract cuts base pay by 15% in the first year, a significantly smaller amount than the 33% cut initially proposed. The new contract also has “an unusual revenue-sharing agreement” tied to returns on the orchestra’s endowment.

The State Budget Crisis Task Force released its final report yesterday, “calling for an end to the longstanding practice of using one-offs and opaque accounting methods that make budgets appear balanced even when fiscal problems are worsening.” According to the New York Times, “[as] pension numbers start to emerge under the new accounting measures, it will be clear that thousands of local governments, especially school districts, have run up debts to their workers that they lack the means to pay in full.”

From the local to the international, the Wall Street Journal reports that South Africa’s biggest platinum union will issue a strike notice to the world’s second largest platinum producer and call for increased wages. Also, Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post has an opinion piece today discussing the relationship between free trade agreements and the loss of U.S. jobs. Meyerson observes that many recent discussions of the 20th Anniversary of NAFTA fail to acknowledge “the agreement’s effect on U.S. employment, wages or trade balance.”

The New York Times The Lede blog discusses recently published estimates that 4.4 to 6.5 million undocumented immigrations could eventually gain a pathway to citizenship under Republican immigration proposals, a figure that is higher than many analysts expected. No specific legislation, however, has yet been proposed.

President Obama is in North Carolina today to “announce the establishment of a manufacturing institute to help create well-paying jobs,” the New York Times and Washington Post report. The institute “will use advanced semiconductor technology to develop a new generation of energy-efficient devices for automobiles, consumer electronics and industrial motors.” It is being funded by “a five-year, $70 million grant from the Energy Department,” which is being matched by members of a consortium made up of eighteen companies and six universities.

The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire blog reports that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka outlined the union’s 2014 job priorities yesterday, calling on President Obama to support an increased minimum wage, paid sick leave, and “a comprehensive strategy to invest in infrastructure and energy innovation” during his upcoming State of the Union address. In other union news, the Wall Street Journal also reports that Tom Wroblewski announced he would resign as the leader of local district 751 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents 32,000 Boeing employees in Washington State.

Two stories today describe the changing nature of the workplace. The Wall Street Journal reports on the trend towards “gamification” of the workplace, in which worker activities are closely tracked and points, achievements or rewards are given to incentivize productivity and certain types of behavior. An article in the Washington Post discusses the decline of clerical workers within the federal government, a phenomenon accelerated by recent budget cuts.

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