News & Commentary

January 9, 2015

The president of UAW Local 42 at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga announced planned meetings with company executives yesterday. Politico reports that this would be the “first time the union has conferred formally with executives” under the auto manufacturer’s work councils. A recent audit revealed that at least 45 percent of plant workers supported Local 42. The union had previously lost an election earlier this year. Union president, Michael Cantrell, announced that it would hold a bargaining committee election on Sunday.

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 30 “Save American Workers Act of 2015” yesterday, which would repeal the current 30-hour definition of “full-time employment” under the Affordable Care Act. If signed by the president, the bill would restore the traditional 40-hour workweek. Unions have issued strong statements in support of the bill. The White House, however, opposes the bipartisan bill and argues that there is “no evidence” that the current definition fuels part-time work.

Although health insurance premiums have not risen as much since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, workers continue to struggle with paying health care expenses due to stagnant wages. The effect is felt most strongly amongst workers in the South where median income tends to be below the national average. From 2003 to 2013, insurance premiums rose faster than median incomes for workers in all states. In 2003, average annual premiums represented at least 20 percent of the median income in only two states. Today, that number is 37 states.

In international news, Poland announced that it would close four coal mines in an attempt to shield Kompania Weglowa, Europe’s largest coal producer, from bankruptcy. Labor unions are adamantly opposing the closures. On Thursday, hundreds of workers remained underground after their shifts in protest. The Polish government wants other companies to preserve the “most promising coal mines” and plans to spend $630 million on severance packages in the next two years. Kompania Weglowa has suffered financially due to the falling price of oil worldwide, which has made imports cheaper than domestically extracted coal. The company has about 49,000 employees.

According to The New York Times, falling prices in the eurozone have economists worried about the pace of economic recovery. A recent report noted that consumer prices fell 0.2 percent in December compared to the same time a year earlier, which represented “the first time they have turned negative since the dark days of the global financial crisis in 2009.” Economists predict that consumers will delay purchases in hope of a better deal later and businesses will avoid making products if prices continue to fall. Across Europe, Germany, the bloc’s biggest economy, saw its unemployment rate decline from 6.5 percent to 6.4 percent in December. However, in France and Italy, the second and third largest economies in the bloc respectively, unemployment rates increased. About 25 percent of the population in both Greece and Spain remain unemployed.

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