Today’s News and Commentary — November 7

Published November 7th, 2013 -  - 11.07.131


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans to announce today a proposed rule that will require companies to file all workplace injury and illness reports electronically for public viewing, the Washington Post reports. While labor and workplace safety groups are expected to support the rule, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has stated that public reports will often be read out of context and lead outside groups to unfairly characterize employers as having bad safety records.

Also according to the Post, the AFL-CIO is beginning a series of new television ads challenging House Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform. The union federation supports immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, as a way to ensure equal conditions in salary and benefits in the workplace.

The New York Times profiles the continuing fiscal crisis of the United States Postal Service, which has experienced a net loss of $41 billion since 2007. While much of the loss reflects the decline in first-class mail shipments due to email and online bill payments, postal unions suggest that an immediate trigger that Congress could resolve is a 2006 law that requires the Postal Service to pay $5.5 billion annually into a health fund for future retirees. The unions claim the retirees are fully funded and that the majority of the Postal Services losses are due to that requirement.

Blockbuster has announced that it is closing the last of its video-rental stores — a dramatic fall from its more than 9,000 stores in 2004, the New York Times reports. The decision reflects the dominance of digital distribution services such as Netflix over the past decade.

The State of Washington is seeking to hold onto its jobs, convening in a special session this week to decide whether to provide billions of dollars in tax breaks for Boeing in order to keep tens of thousands of aerospace jobs in the state. The Washington Post reports that other elements of the tentative legislative package include a long-term labor deal between the company and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which would give up traditional pension plans in exchange for retirement savings plans and higher health care premiums.

In California, Wal-Mart employees have protested for better wages, the Los Angeles Times reports. Roughly 100 people from several stores gathered around a single store Wednesday, accusing the company of paying low wages and manipulating workers’ schedules in retaliation for labor activism.

In political news, Republicans are claiming that new health care rules that exempt “certain self-insured, self-administered plans” from paying fees under the Affordable Care Act would exempt some collectively bargained plans that are jointly administered by unions and smaller employers, the Washington Post reports. Republicans charge that the Obama administration is providing a special deal to unions while labor leaders contend that the rules do not single out union plans, nor will many unions be affected.

The Post also reports that the Senate will likely vote today to approve the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which would outlaw workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. While passage in the Senate would be a major victory for LGBT rights, the measure is not expected to receive a vote in the House. 

In economic news, the Commerce Department will release its first estimate for third-quarter growth later today, according to the Washington Post. Analysts forecast that the economy grew at a tepid 2 percent rate in the third quarter thanks in part to the government shutdown, federal policies, and a slowdown in hiring.

On the New York Times’ “It’s the Economy” blog, Catherine Rampell commends two economics professors at Columbia for outsourcing as much of their personal lives as they can; even when they were on grad student salaries, the couple has hired people to cook for them, build furniture, and even look through old family photographs to figure out which are the “good ones.” Relying upon the principle of comparative advantage, Rampell suggests that it may make economic sense for middle-income people to employ services such as TaskRabbit and Gigwalk and hire others to do household tasks.

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