News & Commentary

June 15, 2015

President Obama’s Trade Agenda is in danger of dying in Congress, reports the New York Times.  Without backing from key democrats, Trade Adjustment Assistance, an integral part of the bill, lacked the votes needed to carry it through the House. Authorizing the program would have provided assistance to U.S. workers displaced by global trade.

Prior to the vote, President Obama pleaded with Congress in his weekly address to “stand up for American workers” and choose to provide “vital support, like job-training and community college education, to tens of thousands of American workers each year who were hurt by past trade deals.”  Nancy Pelosi, indicating that the program’s emphasis on job-support rather than jobs was not enough, voted against the bill, saying, “We want a better deal for America’s workers.”  The Times now predicts that the death of Trade Adjustment Assistance might spell the end of Obama’s trade agenda.

Off the hill, global trade continues its race to the bottom as child labor in India continues to be a center of debate.  BBC News reports that the Indian government is considering a new law that would allow children, aged 14 and below, to work in family enterprises.  Politicians say that the law will help poor families to survive, but labor activists fear that the law will only exacerbate an already entrenched problem in the country.  Currently, according to Washington Post, there are already 4 million children at work in India.

In the workplace, farm workers win big.  Last Wednesday the United Farm Workers union settled a suit brought on behalf of five farm workers against the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, reports the Los Angeles Times.  After several workers died of heat-related illnesses on the job, the union accused the agency of neglecting its duty to enforce laws protecting laborers from heat exposure.  The union alleged that the agency failed to conduct inspections of almost two-thirds of the workplaces that were the subject of union complaints in 2011.

Under the agreement the agency will maintain a task force to audit employers’ heat exposure prevention plans and to increase inspections during bouts of high heat.  The agency also agreed to conduct reviews of its own inspection activities and to allow the union to access those reviews.  Regulations that the agency passed this year already require employers to have water on-hand for workers, provide shelter from the heat and, when necessary, a ten-minute break every two hours of work.

The new-economy workplace is also rallying for change. Millennials at Gawker Media breathe new life into the labor movement by voting to form a union at the online newspaper, reports the New York Times.  Workers told the Times that they hoped their efforts would lead to more job security: something not easy to come by in an ever-changing media industry and a still-recovering economy.

Gawker’s union, however, might not look like those of the past.  As employees begin preparations to negotiate the collective bargaining agreement, workers told the Times that there would be, “No pricey pension plans . . . No promotions based solely on seniority.  No set hours for a given workweek. No prohibitions against layoffs.”  Rather, organizers highlighted the need for severance pay, the right to approve changes to the healthcare policy, salary minimums, and the right to discuss performance, pay, and promotion with supervisors.

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