Today's News and Commentary — September 8
In immigration-related news, President Obama has announced that he will delay executive action to halt the deportations of undocumented immigrants until after the November elections. The postponement, the second since the administration announced a review of its deportation policies last March, reflects some Democrats’ concern that deferral of deportations for some immigrants would negatively impact the party this fall. According to the New York Times, Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said of the decision: “Today, we are deeply disheartened that the dreams of hard-working immigrant families who have long contributed to the fabric of the American life remain in jeopardy. The White House’s decision to delay executive action forces countless families to continue to wait in the shadows of fear.” The SEIU, along with the U.S. Conference for Catholic Bishops, had encouraged President Obama to delay the use of executive action last May to give the House times to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Immigrants’ rights groups, including the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the DREAM Action Coalition have expressed outrage over the postponement, according to the Huffington Post.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the California legislature has passed three of four major bills backed by organized labor. Governor Jerry Brown has indicated that he will sign the first, which guarantees three days paid sick leave for over 6.5 million California workers. The legislature also passed Assembly bill 1897, making large companies that subcontract out custodial and factory work jointly liable with their contractors for unpaid wages. In addition, if signed by Governor Brown, the third bill, Senate bill 610 would provide a boon for fast food worker organizing, making it more difficult for franchisors to end contracts with franchisees.
The New York Times profiles the successful organizing efforts of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU). In an industry known for erratic schedules with limited notice of changes given to employees, the RWDSU has negotiated contracts with Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Modell’s and H&M that ensure consistent schedules. In other retail news, Prof. Stephanie Luce of City University of New York and the Retail Action Project released a report today entitled Short Shifted, which surveyed 236 New York City-based retail workers. The report highlights the negative impact of unpredictable scheduling practices on low-wage workers and argues that increases in the minimum wage is insufficient to raise workers’ standard of living if they are not guaranteed steady hours.
The New York Times describes how workplace rules related to drug testing are not keeping pace with legalization of the marijuana. Brandon Coates, a paralyzed customer service representative for Dish Network was fired after he failed a drug test. Mr. Coats knew in advance that he would fail, as he holds a lawful medical marijuana card in Colorado, where medical marijuana is legal. Employers argue that screening for marijuana use, even when it is consumed off the job, creates a safer workplace and lowers their insurance rates. Advocates for marijuana-using employees argue that such screening amounts to discrimination, both against individuals who use medical marijuana to treat a disability and for those who use it recreationally and legally.
According to the Associated Press, Qatar has confirmed that it is holding two members of the Global Network for Rights and Development who had been conducting research on the treatment of migrant laborers in the Gulf nation. The group has focused attention on Qatar’s treatment of low-paid migrant workers, mostly from Asia. Qatar’s treatment of these migrants has come under increasing scrutiny in the lead up to the 2022 World Cup.
Jordan Weissman at Slate calls the fast food workers strikes the “most interesting—and most successful—American labor push in recent memory rolls.” Fast food workers protesting for an hourly wage increase to $15 took to the streets last week. Weissman states that although the campaign has not led to the unionization of fast food industries, it can be seen as part of a “broader living wage movement that has also seen retail workers at stores such as Walmart protest for better pay.”
In commentary, the Washington Post’s Editorial Board questions the demands of the fast food worker organizing movement, conceding that fast food workers deserve a raise, but that $15 an hour is too much. The Board argues that 73 percent of fast food workers are childless and would benefit more from an extension of the Earned Income Tax Credit to single individuals. They state that the government is better situated to provide public goods than profit-seeking corporations and that government-based solutions provide a better alternative to wage hikes that fall on the shoulders of particular corporations.