Today's News & Commentary — December 25, 2015

Published December 25th, 2015 -  - 12.25.152


Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal highlight the fact that the number of claims filed for unemployment benefits fell considerably for the week ending on December 19, nearing a 42-year low (at a seasonally adjusted 267,000).  While the Times views the low number of claims as indicative of labor market strength and a boost to the economy, the Journal warns against viewing the number as a proxy for a robust labor market.  Although claims are down, statistics show that layoffs in 2015 have been at least as common as in 2014 (if not more). Furthermore, of those that have managed to maintain employment, many are stuck in low-paying, part-time positions.

While some New York workers are looking forward to newly promised paid leave, Pennsylvania workers have not been so lucky.  Per Politico, a Pennsylvania state judge struck down a Pittsburgh ordinance that would have required employers to give workers an hour of paid leave for every 35 hours worked.  According to the judge, the city lacks the statutory authority to mandate such a rule.  The Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, which filed suit against the ordinance, lauded the ruling, calling it “a victory on every front.”

The Washington Post reports that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has penned new federal regulations that will increase monitoring of truck drivers.  The new rule, explained here, requires all drivers to install electronic logging devices in their trucks by the end of 2017.  The devices, which automatically transmit speed and location data to shipping companies, will replace manual log sheets as the main method of ensuring drivers’ compliance with hours-of-service rules.  Both safety advocates and industry associations view increased monitoring as a positive measure that will improve efficiency and enhance accountability in an area where the industry previously turned a blind eye to violations.  Drivers, however, are worried that shipping companies will use the technology to harass or pressure drivers to increase productivity at the cost of safety.  The drivers have already petitioned for review of the rule in the Seventh Circuit.

On a more positive note, the Los Angeles Times reports on the latest victory in the driving industry: an order for a port trucking firm to pay out nearly $7 million to 38 drivers that it had previously misclassified as independent contractors.  In a decision released Tuesday, the California Labor Commissioner’s Office decided that the drivers are employees and, as such, are entitled to back wages for illegal paycheck deductions.  Much to the satisfaction of the Teamsters union that has been helping to organize the port drivers, the drivers’ newfound status as employees also means that they are permitted to unionize.  Because many of the port trucking companies currently (mis)classify their drivers as contractors, it looks like this decision could spark a number of similar actions moving forward.

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