Today’s News & Commentary — December 7, 2017

Published December 7th, 2017 -  - 12.07.173


The Trump Administration has sided against public-sector unions by filing a brief in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees in support of a constitutional challenge to fair-share fees. While 28 states already have right-to-work laws, this case could outlaw fair-share fees and thereby impose right-to-work laws on public-sector unions in all 50 states. The Office of Solicitor General’s brief argued that “in the public sector, speech in collective bargaining is necessarily speech about public issues [and that] compelling employees to subsidize speech on politics and public policy imposes a severe burden that even highly restrictive prohibitions on speech in the workplace do not.” The brief calls on the Court to overturn decades of First Amendment precedent.

Two Harvard Law students argue that Harvard University’s opposition to graduate student unionization could weaken unions both within and outside universities. In preparation for the union vote earlier this year, graduate students asked Harvard for an Excelsior list, which provides unions with the names of all employees eligible to vote. Harvard, however, left off 500 names from the list, which is especially significant given the election was decided by 185 votes. While the regional labor board ordered a new election, Harvard appealed the decision to the N.L.R.B. If the N.L.R.B. sides with Harvard and weakens the requirements around the Excelsior list, it “risks making the uphill battle of unionizing an even steeper task for all American workers.”

In another strong employment month, U.S. businesses added 190,000 jobs in November. Manufacturing, health care, restaurants, and hotels led the way in job growth. While this number was slightly below October, when 235,000 jobs were added, economists were still optimistic about the November data. In fact, Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, believes the unemployment rate could fall below 4% in 2018.

General Electric’s (GE’s) stock is down 44% this year, and CEO John Flannery announced that GE will cut 12,000 jobs in the electrical power division. GE has limited cash reserves and is seeking to cut costs not only by slashing jobs but also by offering portions of its company for sale. These job cuts come at a time when the U.S. economy as a whole has a historically-low unemployment rate of 4.1%.

According to this Bloomberg View op-ed, workers have lost bargaining power and the ability to demand wage gains because union membership has declined. In fact, the article notes that unionized workers earn 22 percent more than non-unionized workers. The author identifies globalization and policy changes such as the Taft-Hartley Act, which outlawed certain union tactics, as the key drivers for falling union membership. The piece offers policy ideas to expand unions including: (1) organizing at the city level as opposed to company level and (2) allowing unions to offer more services such as job-search assistance.

 

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