News & Commentary

September 4, 2013

The Wall Street Journal has provided background on an employment law case on the Supreme Court’s docket in the coming term: Sandifer v. US Steel Corp.  Current federal law requires employers to pay workers for performing both a job’s “principal activity” and “closely related activities which are indispensible to its performance.”  But federal law does not require employers to pay for the time that employees take to “chang[e] clothes . . . at the beginning or end of each workday” if nonpayment has been the “custom or practice” of the employer.  U.S. Steel argues that it has not paid its workers for the time it takes them to change into their protective work clothing for over a half-century, and is not required to do so under law.  The workers who seek payment contend that their protective gear is not clothing within the meaning of the relevant law.  Judge Richard Posner, writing for a unanimous Seventh Circuit panel, agreed with U.S. Steel’s position.

Turning to politics, the Editorial Board of the Washington Post has weighed in on the Larger Retailer Accountability Act, calling on DC Mayor Vincent Gray to veto the proposed legislation.  The Editorial Board concludes that the bill, which requires large retailers to pay their DC employees more than $4 /hr above the District’s current minimum wage, will create “an uneven playing field [that] would likely discourage new businesses from investing in the District,” which, of course, “would mean fewer jobs, fewer retail choices and higher prices for residents.”

Meanwhile, Maryland Democrats are readying for a push to require state employers to pay significantly more than the federally mandated minimum wage.  With an election year looming, the Washington Post notes that Democrat incumbents hoping to win the support of labor unions have an added incentive to support the pay-raise.

In immigration news, the Wall Street Journal reports that an immigration overhaul may have to wait until 2014, as President Obama’s recent request for congressional authorization to use military force in Syria places a major new issue on the House agenda.   The House had been expected to consider immigration bills before addressing the debt ceiling this fall. 

Also on the immigration front, the New York Times examines how the Bush family is working to influence the immigration reform debate.  The piece explores both the personal and political connections of the Bush family to the debates on political issues that are especially salient to Hispanic voters.

New York City’s unionized workers have been much in the news as of late, and a recent study is shedding light on the demographics of this group.  As the New York Times reports, it turns out that this group is comprised mainly of minorities and women.  These demographics reflect the broader story of unions in America, as declining private sector unionization and the shuttering of New York factories has coincided with the decline of white male union membership.

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