Today’s News & Commentary — February 20, 2015
Politico reports that the mega corporation Walmart, the largest private employer in the U.S., will increase its starting hourly wage beginning in April. Walmart plans to raise the starting hourly wage to $9 and hopes to increase it to $10 by 2016. The company will also introduce a training program to help employees to move from entry-level jobs to those that pay $15 an hour or more. According to The New York Times, only about 6,000 of Walmart employees currently make the federal minimum wage. Protesters have long urged Walmart to pay its workers more. Christine L. Owens, the executive director of the National Employment Law Project, argues that the changes are still inadequate “compared to the $16 billion in profit that the company rakes in annually.”
Five Indian guest workers were awarded $14 million in damages this week when a federal jury found that a Gulf Coast maritime services company had lured the men to the U.S. The men were falsely told that they would have permanent residency in the U.S. and were forced to live in abject conditions. The company, a lawyer, and an India-based recruiter are said to have engaged in labor trafficking, fraud, racketeering, discrimination, false imprisonment, and retaliation. The company, Signal International, has recruited nearly 500 Indian workers through the H-2B guest worker program since 2006. More than 200 other workers’ claims remain pending against the company.
In international news, Canadian Pacific Railway workers returned to the tracks after a weekend strike that eventually resulted in an arbitration. The union representing the company’s locomotives engineers and conducts, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, says that scheduling and number of rest hours for train crews are among the main labor issues. The federal government will choose an arbitrator. In May 2012, workers at Canada’s second-largest railway, CP, went on strike and ended after the government introduced back-to-work legislation after a week. Canada is increasingly using legislation to end strikes, especially those that may potentially affect global supply chains.
The New York Times reports that Western companies have agreed to resume business with the Bangladeshi apparel maker, the Azim Group, after the manufacturer clashed with labor unions and workers last year. The companies include VF, which makes North Face and Nautica, PVH, the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, and Gap. Many of the companies had moved to penalize Azim last year after camera recordings outside an Azim factory in Chittagong showed that a female union leader was beaten to the ground and a male union activist was chased away and punched.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the European Union has extended its joint coastal border control mission with Italy, known as Triton, until the end of this year due to the surge of Libyan migrants. Hundreds of migrants are estimated to have died in the Mediterranean just this month while making the perilous journey. The mission comes after Italy abandoned the Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue mission last year, which had rescued more than 150,000 migrants close to the Libyan coast. More modest in scope, Triton allows rescue operations to take place only within 30 nautical miles off the Italian coast.