Today’s News & Commentary — August 30, 2018

Published August 30th, 2018 -  - 08.30.184


A new Gallup poll finds that Americans’ support for labor unions continues to remain high at 62 percent approval.  This year’s level of support is the highest since 2003, when 65 percent of Americans approved of organized labor, and is on par with last year’s 61 percent figure.  The same poll indicates that 39 percent of Americans want unions to have more influence, 26 percent want the influence of unions to stay the same, and 29 percent want unions to have less sway.  Support for organized labor divides most clearly along partisan lines.  80 percent of Democrats approve of labor unions, while only 45 percent of Republicans do. 

Bloomberg reports that the U.S. Department of Labor is working to update the agency’s view of “joint employer” liability, changing the standard by which one employer can be held liable for workplace violations committed by a contractually related company.  In January 2016, the Obama-era Wage and Hour Division issued guidance stating that the concept of joint employment “should be defined expansively” under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.  In June 2017, Trump’s Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta announced the withdrawal of that guidance.  The business lobby, especially the International Franchise Association, has been pressing policymakers to go further by clarifying that employers should not be held liable if they do not directly control the workers involved.

Oklahoma teachers who went on strike last spring calling for higher pay and education spending took their fight to the ballot box on Tuesday, purging all but four of the nineteen Republicans who voted against raising taxes on the wealthy and energy companies to fund the teachers’ demands.  The election results mirror political developments in other states where disinvestment in public education has mobilized teachers and parents to get out the vote.  In May, a public school teacher in Kentucky won a Republican primary against Jonathan Snell, the state’s House Majority Leader, after he led an effort to weaken teachers’ pensions.  In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker faces a formidable challenge in the general election from Tony Evers, the Democratic superintendent of the state’s school system.

During last night’s New York gubernatorial debate for the Democratic primary, incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo defended his record of working with the state’s unions, stating that he was “never at war with labor.”  The New York Times reports that when he ran for Governor in 2010, Cuomo vowed to take on organized labor and reign in wages and pensions.  When he ran for re-election in 2014, major unions including the state teachers’ union and the state AFL-CIO declined to endorse him.  The Public Employees Federation endorsed Zephyr Teachout, Cuomo’s then-opponent now running for state attorney general.  This year, Cuomo has the support of organized labor, which many credit to his leftward turn after 2014.  His opponent in this year’s race, Cynthia Nixon, argues that most unions have only backed Cuomo because they need his support to win contract gains given that public sector workers in the state do not have the right to strike.  Cuomo and Nixon then debated the merits of that right.  Cuomo claimed that public employees should not have the right to strike because of the chaos it could wreak on public services, while Nixon, citing the lessons of this year’s teachers’ strikes and the devastating impact of Janus, asserted that the strike is a powerful and necessary tool for public employees.

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