Today's News & Commentary — January 20, 2015

Published January 20th, 2015 -  - 01.20.151


In tonight’s State of the Union address, the President is expected to give significant airtime to his administration’s labor policy proposals, such as the major initiative to expand paid sick leave (in which the United States trails most developed nations) and overtime pay for federal and private sector workers, Politico reports. Other labor policies expected to get play are the President’s recent plan to extend access to a community college education to millions, worker scheduling reforms, changes to the overtime rule (by raising the minimum salary threshold under which all employees working over 40 hours a week must be paid time and a half), and apprenticeship programs.

Today, The Upshot in The New York Times gave a great review on the topics President Obama is likely to cover—and those he will likely gloss over—in his State of the Union address. As The Upshot put it: “In short: The state of union, while far stronger than when Mr. Obama took office, remains troubled.” Amidst its wide ranging overview of the “state” of things, The Upshot staff contended that two major “dark clouds” continue to hang over American workers. First, despite steadily declining unemployment rates, many of the millions of Americans who dropped out of the labor force during the recession have still not been pulled back in. Second, though job creation has continued to accelerate, wages have not kept pace, the situation called “the great wage slowdown of the 21st century.”

Yesterday, the 2015 Adverse Effect Wage Rates for the employment of temporary or seasonal nonimmigrant foreign farm workers (H-2A workers) went into effect. The rates vary by state but are at least $10 per hour across the country, exceeding state minimum wages, the intended effect being that the mandated higher wages for foreign workers will serve as a deterrent for employers. For example, in Washington, where the state’s new minimum wage is set at $9.47, the adverse-effect wages are $12.42, The Seattle Times reports. The mandated wage floor for these workers is intended to protect U.S. citizens and legal residents from “being undercut” by employers who hire “cheaper imported labor.”

Former Philadelphia union leader Joseph Dougherty was convicted today of extortion, racketeering, and conspiracy after four days of jury deliberations, The New York Times reports. Prosecutors say that Dougherty “led a union that committed 25 acts such as arson, destruction of property and attacks on workers for nonunion contractors at construction sites in the Philadelphia area from 2008 to 2013.” Dougherty, age 73, will face at least 15 years in prison.

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