Today’s News & Commentary — August 1, 2018

Published August 1st, 2018 -  - 08.01.182


From 2015–2017, companies spent a stunning 60 percent of net profits on stock buybacks, funneling money towards wealthy shareholders at the expense of workers struggling to make ends meet with stagnant pay. In a shocking new report, Katy Milani of the Roosevelt Institute and Irene Tung of the National Employment Law Project demonstrate that restaurant, retail, and manufacturing companies — industries that largely run on low-wage, precarious jobs — channelled the large majority of profits towards shareholders, calling into question claims that corporations can’t afford to raise workers’ wages or improve benefits. Milani and Tun estimate that with the money spent on stock buybacks, Starbucks could have given every single one of its workers a $7,000 raise; CVS and Home Depot could give every workers at least $18,000 a year. As Annie Lowrey points out in the Atlantic, the report looks at the period immediately before President Trump’s tax bill went into effect: the legislation cut the marginal corporate tax rate by fourteen percent, spurring massive buybacks as corporations directed tax savings to shareholders, rather than to workers’ wages. CNBC estimates workers will see just 12 cents of every dollar from corporate tax cuts.

Outdoor workers are forced to work in extreme heat with few breaks — and several people have already died during this month’s heatwaves. As Vox reports, Cruz Urias-Beltran, a 52-year-old migrant farmworker, died after temperatures topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the Nebraska farm where he worked this month. Miguel Angel Guzman Chavez, a 24-year-old farmworker, died when heat reached 105 degrees last month. Postal worker Peggy Frank died in her mail truck after temperatures reached 117 degrees in Los Angeles. In fact, workers died from heat exposure every year. Farmworkers are especially at risk: according to CDC, farmworkers die from heat exposure at 20 times the rate of all non-military employees. Only three states provide limited protections for outdoor workers, like access to water breaks and shade, leaving approximately 130 million workers without any protections from heat exposure at all.

This summer, the UK is debating how to clarify the employment status of gig workers, following a 2017 report concluding that current standards regarding worker classification were creating significant uncertainty. Several key agencies launched an Employment Status Consultation early this year which leans heavily on a three-part test: mutuality of obligation, personal service, and control. Oxford Professor Hugh Collins critiques the proposal a new post on the UK Labour Law Blog, writing that the concept of mutuality is an appropriate test of whether a contract exists (not employment status); independent contractors can provide personal services; and control is an unreliable test of status. You can read the full post here.

Brett Kavanaugh will continue a brutal assault on workers rights, argues the New York Times Editorial Board in a scathing new editorial that casts the Trump Supreme Court nominee as a continuation of pro-corporate bias in the nation’s highest court. As the Editorial Board points out, under the Roberts court, businesses prevailed in 61 percent of cases in which businesses were one party but not both (for example, cases like Wal-Mart v. Dukes, where women challenged gender discrimination at the massive corporation). This far exceeds the rate of corporate wins in other Supreme Courts, even conservative ones. The Editorial Board argues that Kavanaugh will exacerbate this pattern, pointing to his dissent in a case upholding a Labor Department finding that Sea World violated workplace safety laws after a trainer was killed by an orca whale.

In the twilight hours of the state legislative session, the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill to blunt the impact of the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling. S.2644 would allow public sector unions to opt not to provide benefits to non-members or require non-members to “pay for reasonable costs or fees” involved in representing a worker in a grievance or arbitration. It is unclear if the measure will pass the state House to make it to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk.

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