Today's News & Commentary — August 6, 2015

Published August 6th, 2015 -  - 08.06.15


The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board has come out swinging in the wake of the newspaper’s recent report on exploitative working conditions in immigrant detention centers (see OnLabor‘s discussion of this issue here). The board strongly suggests that a nefarious motive is behind the employment scheme, which pays migrant detainees pennies per hour to perform manual labor in the very detention centers that imprison them: “According to one estimate, the private contractors and local governments that run most of the facilities shave at least $40 million off their annual operating costs by having work done in-house for which they otherwise would have to pay minimum or market wages.” Accordingly, the board calls upon the Obama administration to “treat the job-holding detainees like the workers they are” by paying them the federal minimum wage or, better yet, extending the Fair Labor Standards Act to cover immigration detainees.

Locally grown vegetables. Pasture-raised beef. Happy workers? While that last consumer label might not be making its way to supermarkets anytime soon, one MIT professor has created a tool for consumers to learn more about how grocery store chains treat their workers. The Boston Globe reports that Professor Zeynep Ton and several of her students have “developed an index that they hope will empower shoppers to ‘vote with their wallet’” by ranking stores according to, among other factors, employee satisfaction. Costco tops the list, with Whole Foods not far behind — although, apparently, the index does not account for the workers who manufacture the products themselves.

Do Democrats need their own Scott Walker? Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal apparently thinks so. And he’s not talking about a progressive rival to challenge Walker’s antiunion rhetoric. Instead, Jenkins suggests that to truly undermine unions — which he characterizes as, among other things, “the main political obstacle to just about every kind of reform” and the driving force behind the “high-risk experiment for low-skilled workers,” i.e., the Fight for $15 — there needs to emerge a stronger antiunion voice within the Democratic Party. “An antiunion Republican candidate is practically a redundancy these days,” Jenkins insists. “Too bad we don’t have a Democratic Scott Walker yet. We’ll need one.”

Chances are that the senior U.S. senator from Washington won’t be answering Jenkins’s call anytime soon. Lydia DePillis of the Washington Post takes a closer look at the “workers’ wish list” of legislation recently introduced by Democratic Senator Patty Murray. The bills include the Raise the Wage Act, which calls for raising the federal minimum wage to $12 by 2020; the Paycheck Fairness Act, which takes a shot at the gender-based pay gap by mandating that employers demonstrate that any such wage disparities “are justified by the requirements of the job”; the Healthy Families Act, which follows the lead of similar local and state measures in requiring employers to provide adequate paid sick leave; and the Schedules that Work Act, which seeks to ensure that employers are advised in advance of their work schedules. Although DePillis calls the proposals “dead on arrival” in the Republican-controlled Senate, she suggests that the real purpose behind their introduction is “to put a bow around a workers-rights agenda that now exists as a ready-to-go template for when the winds change in Congress — as well as a set of talking points for the next Democratic presidential nominee, and a to-do list for state legislatures and city councils that might be able to act on issues the current Republican majority won’t touch.” Indeed, DePillis suggests that the bills outline a “basic framework that Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has [already] gotten behind.”

Los Angeles’s largest charter school network may have illegally interfered with its workers’ rights to organize, reports the Los Angeles Times. California’s Public Employment Relations Board has filed a complaint alleging that leaders of Alliance College-Ready Public Schools ran afoul of state labor laws by “denying pro-union organizers access to school buildings after work hours, distributing documents that criticized unionization efforts and blocking emails to employees.” Elana Goldbaum, one of the nearly seventy teachers and counselors at Alliance who had recently sought to organize under the auspices of United Teachers Los Angeles, stated that the board’s action provided “an element of hope for [her] and other teachers as well that [they] can get a fair and neutral process so [they] can just have an open conversation” with school officials. A spokesperson for Alliance said that although the organization “believe[s] [their] teachers have the right to decide if they want to form a union,” the organization “will continue to share ‘facts, opinions and experiences’ about efforts to organize teachers.”

The State Journal-Register examines the current state of SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana after the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Harris v. Quinn. The union, which was at the very center of the controversy in Harris, has experienced a two-million dollar drop in revenue since the decision came down. Yet SEIU officials contend that the damage wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, noting that “[t]housands of the almost 37,000 home-care workers, personal assistants and child-care providers who no longer had to pay fair-share or ‘agency fees’ after the ruling decided to join the union and pay full dues.” Indeed, just because a worker had previously been paying agency fees doesn’t necessarily mean that that worker is opposed to joining the union. Professor Robert Bruno of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign contends that “most workers paying fair-share fees are trying to get the most benefit from a union at the lowest cost,  so they may [nonetheless] be receptive to paying full dues.”

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