News & Commentary

September 3, 2013

In international news, the Wall Street Journal reports that tensions boiled in Mexico after the country’s lower house of Congress passed a bill calling for teacher evaluations and the possible firing of ones deemed inferior – a priority of new President Enrique Peña Nieto – which has generated major protests in Mexico City by a powerful faction of the country’s teachers union, a dissident group known as the National Coordinator of Educational Workers and its 250,000 members. The vote was delayed for nearly two weeks by the protests, and lawmakers were taken to Congress in buses and under heavy police guard. The bill is likely to be approved by the Senate this week. More protests are planned for Wednesday.

On the border with Mexico, the Washington Post explores the real-world consequences of the immigration debate in the  23rd U.S. Congressional District of Texas, which has about 800 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border – the longest stretch in any House district – and which has switched from a Democratic to a Republican member of Congress, or vice versa, five times in 20 years.  In interviews, local officials generally oppose more border security measures on top of the robust efforts already in place, but predict that substantially more business and jobs would be created if Congress made it easier for guest workers to cross, or if illegal immigrants could come out of the shadows.

In the Northeast corridor, the Wall Street Journal reports on a major issue facing the next mayor of New York City: negotiating new contracts with the city’s 152 employee-bargaining units – representing the equivalent of almost 300,000 full-time workers – including teachers, firefighters, and police officers.  Unable to reach agreements with Mayor Bloomberg, these unions have been working under expired contracts for up to six years. According to labor experts, New York has the potential to become a national model  if it can find cost savings and avoid the protracted labor battles that Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities have experienced.

In major economic news, the Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft announced that it would buy the handset and services business of Nokia for more than $7.1 billion. The chairman of Finnish trade union, Pro, welcomed the news, as he said it would stop the Finnish handset maker’s market share from slumping and he expects most of his 1,500 members at Nokia to keep their jobs.

The newly combined company will enter a world on shaky economic ground: the New York Times reports on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s latest forecast, which predicts that the world economy will continue slowly expanding for the rest of the year, but notes that unemployment, currently at high levels across the developed world, could become entrenched as long-term joblessness becomes structural unemployment with the potential to “remain even as the recovery takes hold.”

On a smaller scale, Allysia Finley writes in the Wall Street Journal that California’s “labor-regulatory complex” threatens to destroy thousands of farm jobs. Finley specifically criticizes the United Farm Workers for petitioning the Agricultural Labor Relations Board to compel Gerawan Farming into binding arbitration to impose a contract under a 2002 state law that allows farmworker unions to sidestep collective bargaining and demand state mediation of first-time contracts, as well as California Senate President Darrell Steinberg’s legislation that would allow farmworker unions to request state mediation whenever a contract expires, thus avoiding negotiating with management and having a worker vote on a final contract under collective bargaining.

In American politics and history, Ed Kilgore of the Washington Monthly highlights Ronald Reagan’s remarks on unions and collective bargaining in the opening speech of his 1980 presidential campaign, where he asserted that “where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost,” and compares it to  harshly anti-union rhetoric by current Republican leaders, such as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who recently said “we kick those unions hard and they will not step foot in the state of South Carolina.”

Finally, in the Washington Post, Lydia DePillis highlights a new analysis from the labor-friendly Economic Policy Institute, which argues that the trend away from defined benefit pension plans – which pay out a fixed amount after an employee retires – and toward 401(k) plans – which require employees to pay into their own accounts, sometimes with and sometimes without a matching contribution –  has resulted in a stratification of retirement savings by education, income, and race, which could deepen inequality among the elderly as the population ages.

Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.