News & Commentary

April 17, 2019

According to data analyzed by the Wall Street Journal, black workers have benefitted the least from the United States’s recent economic boom.  While inflation-adjusted weekly earnings for the median American rose 5.3% in the first quarter of 2019 compared with the beginning of the 2007 recession, the median wages of black workers rose only 1.6%, or $11 a week.  Meanwhile, Hispanic workers experienced an 11.8% increase in their earnings over that same period of time, equivalent to a raise of $73 per week.  Among all U.S. workers, median wages in the first quarter of 2019 were $900 per week, but black and Hispanic workers each earned only around $700 per week.  Valerie Wilson, an economist and the Director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy, suggested that structural issues like racial discrimination, criminal background checks, and geographic segregation might explain why black workers have not seen better gains.

In Kentucky, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear is threatening to sue Republican Governor Matt Bevin if his administration does not rescind a series of subpoenas demanding the names of public school teachers who used sick days to attend pro-labor rallies at the state house in February and March.  Bevin has 10 days to rescind the subpoenas, which he recently sent to several school districts.  Beshear accused the governor of attacking, coercing, and intimidating the state’s teachers and violating their free speech rights.  Kentucky is among the many states over the past year that have seen mass collective action by teachers to protest budget cuts.  While Kentucky’s teachers did not technically go on strike, many used their sick days to shut down their schools.

The European Parliament passed a law that will give “gig economy” workers, including Uber and Lyft drivers, a set of minimum rights.  Those rights include the right to know about conditions of work such as hours and pay at the time of hiring, the right to refuse tasks or “gigs” outside of predetermined hours, the right to work for competing companies, and the right to free training.  The laws will apply to those who work at least three hours per individual week and an average of 12 hours over a four week period, and will include short-term workers, trainees, and apprentices.  In the United States, gig economy workers and other independent contractors are still not covered under many—if not most—federal and state employment laws.

OnLabor’s own Sejal Singh co-authored an article on forced arbitration clauses and Harvard Law School’s Pipeline Parity Project in The Nation.  Singh and co-author Andre Manuel highlight the plight of thousands Chipotle workers who filed a class action alleging rampant wage-theft but were ultimately forced to arbitrate their claims individually because they had signed mandatory arbitration agreements.  Such agreements preclude workers across the country from pursuing all manner of civil rights, discrimination, and wage claims in court, subjecting them to an arbitration process that favors employers.  Singh and Manuel argue that the Supreme Court has extended the Federal Arbitration Act’s reach well beyond what Congress initially intended and call on readers to support the FAIR Act, a proposal that would ban forced arbitration clauses in employment, consumer, and health-care contracts.

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