News & Commentary

December 2, 2015

Hannah Belitz

Hannah Belitz is a student at Harvard Law School.

A coalition of labor and community groups has accused Build Your Dreams (BYD), a Chinese-owned company that manufactures electric vehicles in L.A. County, of various wage and labor violations. According to the Los Angeles Times, the allegations include violations of L.A.’s “living wage” rules, which mandate minimum pay for city contractors, broken promises to hire local workers, and unsafe working conditions at a local plant.  Labor activists have also recently fought with BYD over the possibility of unionizing its workers.  L.A. city officials are investigating the allegations of living wage violations, and have already requested that BYD turn over various documents.

Politico reports that lawmakers are pushing to repeal or scale back the “Cadillac Tax,” which imposes taxes on employer-based health coverage plans whose premiums exceed certain amounts.  Employers can avoid paying the tax if they reduce employee health care benefits, which has led to strong opposition from many unions and lawmakers.  Some of the lawmakers who oppose the tax are seeking to include changes in a broader tax package, but it remains unclear whether President Obama would veto the whole package, which would jeopardize other tax breaks that the lawmakers want to pass.

At the New York Times, Neil Irwin suggests that Federal Reserve officials should look to Shake Shack as an example of how to raise wages without necessarily increasing costs for consumers.  At the popular burger joint, labor costs are going up, “but the price increase the company envisions is small.”  Averaging out 2015 and 2016, Shake Shack’s prices will rise at a rate of approximately 2% annually — the same rate at which the Fed aims.  Other fast food joints, including Domino’s Pizza, Del Frisco’s, Chipotle, and Chili’s all provide similar examples.  Instead of dramatic price raises to offset wage increases, each of these companies is looking at other means by which to manage their budgets.

In local Boston news, three Jamaica Plain restaurants plan to add a hospitality surcharge to every bill in an effort to make wages more fair.  According to the Boston Globe, the restaurants will add a 3% “hospitality administrative fee” to all diners’ bills, in addition to a 7% fee and automatic 15% gratuity for parties of six or more.  The hospitality surcharge seeks to remedy the wage gap between back-of-house employees, like cooks, and front-of-house employees, like waiters and waitresses, who typically make 2.5 times more than their back-of-house counterparts.

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