News & Commentary

April 3, 2018

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that service advisers at car dealerships are not subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act overtime requirements in Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro et. al.  Justice Thomas, writing for the majority, concluded that service advisors were salesmen based on the word’s ordinary meaning.  The case was originally heard in 2016.  Service advisers sued Encino, an operator of a car dealership, in 2012 for violating the FLSA by not paying them overtime.  The Court originally found the Department of Labor’s 2011 interpretive guidance defining “saleman” insufficient, and remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit.  Justice Ginsburg, joined by four others, dissented.  The dissent claimed that the commission pay exemption at issue struck a balance by exempting higher paid commissioned employees but not lower paid employees.  In extending the exception to lower paid employees, the dissent argues that the Court has upset the balance Congress struck.

In response to the Trump administration’s tariffs, China has announced its intentions to impose tariffs on 128 U.S. products.  The products include pork, a variety of fruits and vegetables, and steel pipes.  Business groups have cautioned that the imposition of tariffs could make it more difficult for American companies to sell their goods abroad.  U.S. agricultural groups have also warned of the consequences of a potential trade war.  For example, the National Pork Producers Council expressed its dismay with the new tariffs.  China is the third largest market for U.S. pork exports.  According to the NPPC, the tariffs put nearly 110,000 jobs in jeopardy.  Other commentators have also suggested that the tariffs could mark the beginning of a trade war.

The New York Times discussed the role of refugees in the poultry and lumber industries.  In a tight labor market, poultry and lumber producers and the recruiters who assist them are having difficulties recruiting employees for jobs that are often geographically inconvenient and low-paying.  In a booming economy where entry level employees have more options, refugees play an important role.  Refugees are willing to enter into industries that, decades before, were occupied by middles class white male workers.  As wages and benefits have decreased, these jobs have become both less stable and less competitive, leading to less interest among American workers.  Refugees in need of stable housing and a steady income fill the gaps.  The Trump administration’s new cap on the number of refugees may make it even harder for industries already struggling to fill positions.  Many recruiters and employers believe that refugees are not stealing jobs, but rather filling low-paying positions that many American workers may find undesirable.

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assasination on April 4th, Wendi C. Thomas penned an opinion piece in the New York Times discussing the continuing fight for a living wage.  Much of Dr. King’s work focused on fair wages and working conditions.  Dr. King was assassinated during one of a series of trips to Memphis to advocate for black sanitations workers who had went on strike.   According to Thomas, Memphis has made little progress in the intervening 50 years.  Memphis, which has a majority black population, is the poorest large metropolitan area in the country.  Its notably low wages have been used as a selling point for businesses.  Even though blacks are graduating from high school and college at much higher rates than in 1968, the median black household income remains at half of white households.  Thomas argues that Dr. King’s dream of a society free from racial injustice and economic inequality cannot be fulfilled while those who benefit from low-wage or unpaid labor continue to do so.

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