Today's News & Commentary – January 5

Published January 5th, 2015 -  - 01.05.151


The New York Times reports that hourly employees across New York City are hoping to see their protests for better hours and wages bear fruit in 2015.  Retail stores, community colleges, and even nonprofit agencies are raising wages.  After five years of decline in the city’s median family income, a recent study by the Fiscal Policy Institute found that it had increased to $58,012 in 2013, up 3.5 percent from the previous year.  However, New york City’s median family income is still lower than it was at the onset of the “Great Recession” in 2008.

In The New York Times, Anand Giridharadas writes that American workplaces are “adverse” to flexible working arrangements.  Because the American economy is always “plugged-in” and expertise of professionals is often indispensable, there are enormous consequences, particularly for women.  Giridharadas writes: “As scholars like Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist, have shown, all-consuming jobs at the top of many professions drive lots of mothers out of the work force, and ensure that those who stay but seek flexible hours are penalized. For many, working fewer hours spells fewer hours to be paid, and a lower per-hour wage for the hours that are worked.”

This week, D.C. federal district court Judge Richard Leon will consider whether to issue a delay of a portion of a new Department of Labor rule that would expand overtime and minimum wage protections to home health care workers.  As previously covered by On Labor, last month Judge Leon awarded “a major win to business groups that claimed the rule would lead to unsustainable costs for employers,” according to Politico.  This latest challenge involves a narrowed definition of the term “companionship services” that would make more workers eligible for minimum wage and overtime.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Warren Buffet is in a “rare pinch” due to labor unrest at NetJets, a private-jet company owned by Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.  Labor unrest is unusual for a company owned by Berkshire Hathaway, where the “prevailing image is that of a conglomerate with well-paid managers who oversee contented workers at more than 70 operating subsidiaries.”  In a December lawsuit, a union representing NetJets’s 2,700 pilots alleged that the company had illegally obtained confidential information posted to a password-protected message board used by pilots.  The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Ohio, also alleges that NetJets executives have unlawfully set up a Twitter account impersonating a pilot that ”allegedly baited pilots to endorse or participate in ‘unlawful job actions,’” according to the lawsuit.

The New York Times Editorial Page Blog calls attention to the Department of Labor’s undue delay in promulgating overtime pay rules.  President Obama instructed the Department of Labor to change the rules over 10 months ago, and the New York Times believes this delay “reflects political differences within the administration about how far it will go to support workers in the face of opposition from employers.”  The old rule’s “outdated salary threshold” lets employers require extra hours for no extra pay simply by giving workers managerial titles like “shift supervisor” and then paying low salaries rather than hourly wages.

In international news, protesters in Dresden, Germany took to the streets on Monday evening “parading their stated fear of Europe’s Islamization along with their emergence as a force of thousands of protesters commanding national attention,” writes The New York Times.  The protests were organized by a group called Pegida, a German acronym for “Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West,” to show disapproval for the influx of refugees from wars and upheaval in the Middle East and Africa.  Dresden’s demonstrators insist they are not against asylum or refugees, but resent abuse of the system and helping “economic refugees” who threaten German jobs or “mooch off Germany’s generous welfare system.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. companies are adding employees at the fastest rate in years, but “workers aren’t filling up office buildings like they used to.”  The vacancy rate stood at 16.7% in the fourth quarter, down only a hair from the 16.9% registered a year earlier and compared with the postrecession peak of 17.6% reached in 2010, according to data from real-estate research firm Reis Inc.  The slow growth in office space demand is welcome news for many employers, who have been able to avoid fast-growing rents that might be more typically seen years after a recession.

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