News & Commentary

August 7, 2018

Today, Missouri voters decide the fate of the state’s “right-to-work” law by referendum.  If the ballot initiative fails, the law would prevent unions from requiring their members to pay the agency fees that fund union representation.  While the Supreme Court recently held in Janus that public sector unions cannot compel their members to pay agency fees, private sector unions are still governed by state law.  Supporters of the Missouri bill argue that “right-to-work” laws create more jobs and give workers more freedom and flexibility.  Opponents counter that they inevitably produce a free-ride problem that undermines collective bargaining, lowering wages for unionized workers in the short term and for all in the long term.  Both sides have spent millions of dollars lobbying for their respective positions ahead of today’s vote.  For more on the Missouri referendum and “right-to-work” laws generally, OnLabor’s Sejal Singh has written an in-depth analysis here.

New York City may cap the total number of Uber and other ride-hailing vehicles allowed on the road at any time.  Tomorrow, City Council will vote on a set of new regulations that would place a one-year hold on the issuance of new for-hire vehicle licenses and empower the city to set minimum rates for drivers across the industry.  The regulations were proposed amidst complaints about increasing traffic, declining driver earnings, and a spate of recent suicides among taxi drivers.  Taxi and app drivers are reportedly united in their support for the regulations.  Uber and Lyft, on the other hand, have vocally opposed the proposals, with Uber arguing that it provides a vital public transportation service in light of the city’s failing subway system.  While Uber defeated a similar initiative three years ago, Council speaker Corey Johnson expressed optimistic that the current proposals will pass.

Yesterday, New York state filed suit against the U.S. Department of Labor in an effort to compel the Trump administration to disclose information about a new program that would permit employers to resolve inadvertent wage and hour violations without penalty by promptly paying any wages owed.  New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood accused the federal government of giving predatory employers a “get-out-of-jail-free card” and called for more transparency. While the Department of Labor claimed that the program would allow employees to more easily collect unpaid wages New York and nine other states wrote a letter expressing skepticism that the program was developed to benefit workers and warned that employees may be forced to waive their right under state wage and hour laws, which can be more protective than federal law.

The Associated Press reports that an increasing number of companies are introducing programs that give employees the option of receiving salary or wage advances in times of need.  In lieu of such programs, cash-strapped workers are often forced to take out high-interest payday loans or run up credit card debt.  Now, however, Walmart and other companies are partnering with flexible pay services that pay workers on-demand, sometimes in return for a fixed monthly fee.  While proponents of flexible pay programs argue that the traditional fixed pay period system is arbitrary and unnecessary, some warn that fast access to cash could incentivize employees to pick up more shifts, increasing the supply of labor and driving down wages over time.

Jacobin published an article examining the recent labor strikes in France and the declining effectiveness of the “strike by proxy.”  A “strike by proxy” occurs when a minority of workers—often in vital sectors like public transportation or energy—strike against employment conditions or policies that effect the majority of a country’s workforce, often with the support of that majority.  While “strikes by proxy” have historically been among French labor’s more successful strategies, recent federal policies aimed at undermining or outright repressing the right to strike of workers in important sectors have made that minority hesitant to act on behalf of the majority.  For more on the ongoing strikes in France, see Tristan Bird’s analysis for OnLabor here.


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