News & Commentary

February 19, 2015

Today Wal-mart announced that it will raise wages for 500,000 employees to $9 per hour starting in April, Bloomberg News reports. The New York Times notes that this raise will cover approximately 40% of the workforce at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club (which is owned by Wal-Mart). The Washington Post speculates that this wage increase is designed to stave off a unionizing drive or an increase in the minimum wage by demonstrating that employees can fare well without a union or government interference. As the Post reports, the National Retail Federation used this announcement as an opportunity to point out that federal or state minimum wage increases are unnecessary.

The work stoppage in West Coast ports continued on Thursday, following port owners locking out the port workers over this past weekend, the Los Angeles Times reports. The dispute is over the contract between the International Longshore Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which expires in July. The remaining point of contention is over a union proposal to make it “easier for either side to fire an arbitrator when a contact expires.” The Times editorial board argues that this minor sticking point isn’t worth the massive disruption that the ongoing strike has caused, and urges the sides to reach an agreement. Similarly, the Washington Post reports on the details of how ports work to explain why the recent dispute reflects broader difficulties in port operations. Politico reports on the political fallout from the dispute: Labor Secretary Thomas Perez was sent to California earlier this week to encourage the parties to reach a contract. And it’s possible that President Obama could invoke the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act to declare the strike a “national emergency” and require the sides to reach an agreement.

On the other side of the country, the New York Times reports that New York public schools must lower illegal barriers to entry to undocumented immigrant children. The New York Attorney General’s office and Education Department found that twenty school districts were illegally blocking access to schools based on the child’s immigration status. These schools will need to stop engaging in practices such as asking for Social Security cards before enrollment. As the Times explains, a 1982 Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, prohibits public schools from denying access based on a child’s immigration status.

In international news, a major manufacturing company in Bangladesh called the Azim Group agreed to make peace with its labor unions, the New York Times reports. Azim makes apparel for parent companies of well-known brands such North Face, Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger, Gap, and Calvin Klein. Azim faced accusations of that it assaulted union leaders, causing the U.S. companies to threaten that they would cut off orders. The Azim Group, the U.S. companies, and labor officials have agreed that the U.S. companies would resume doing business with Azim, and Azim will recognize and bargain with the union, pay medical bills for assaulted union leader, and provide backpay and reinstatement for fired union members.

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