Today's News & Commentary — July 15, 2015

Published July 15th, 2015 -  - 07.15.15


Employees have filed a class action suit against Walmart for discriminating against gay employees, Bloomberg reports, by not providing health insurance to same-sex spouses.  According to named plaintiff Jacqueline Cote’s statements in the complaint, Walmart failed to provide health insurance to her wife for years, in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Massachusetts fair-employment law.  Although Walmart changed its policy in 2014, Cote’s wife already had $150,000 in out-of-pocket expenses battling ovarian cancer.  The complaint argues Walmart’s actions amount to sex discrimination, since benefits would have extended to Cote’s spouse, and others, but did not because of their sex.  As Carisa Cunningham, of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, explained, “Benefits provided as a matter of grace, not right, are not secure.  Walmart’s policy change was voluntary, and we seek a court order to ensure that the change is permanent.”  The case is Cote v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 1:15-cv-12945, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts.

Almost half of the staffers working on Capitol hill get paid less than $50,440, according to Politico.  Nevertheless, the Obama administration’s proposed overtime rule would not apply automatically to congressional staff.  The Office of Compliance, the congressional agency that enforces work rules under the Congressional Accountability Act, will draft a regulation to make Capitol Hill compliant, but legislators will need to sign off on it in order for it to take effect.  Even though the CAA was a product of the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” and Republicans’ pledge to “hold congressional Democrats accountable to whatever rules on others,” today’s congressional Republicans oppose the overtime rule.  Under the current rule on Capitol Hill, staffers only qualify for overtime pay if they make less than $8,060 a year, about one-third the decades-old national standard.

Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times reported that California legislators are considering a bill that would grant work permits to farmworkers living in the US without authorization and working in agriculture.  Three years ago, a similar effort failed, as immigrant rights groups and labor unions pushed national immigration reform instead of state-by-state programs.  “Here we are three years later, and we can’t wait any longer,” said Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who introduced the current bill.  The bill would grant permits for farmworkers and their immediate families, with the exception of those with felony or three misdemeanor convictions.  California farmers are supportive of the bill, which passed in the Assembly and is pending in the state Senate.

The Department of Labor is planning to propose a set of rules to help states create private-sector retirement savings programs by the end of the year, Politico reports.  President Obama unveiled the plan as Congress has been stalling on a bill to create a federal plan that would enroll private-sector workers into IRAs automatically unless they opt out.

The New York Times, in response to Jeb Bush’s comment last week that Americans “need to work longer hours” in order to meet his target of 4% real annual economic growth, debates the benefit of working longer hours.  Although Bush explained he was only referring to the 6.6 million Americans who are working part-time and would like to work full-time, economists say many more would need to work more hours in order to meet his 4% goal.  Even though Americans work longer workweeks than most high-income countries, working longer isn’t impossible.  Some countries, like Ireland and South Korea, have workweeks that are even longer.  Some economists suggest tax incentives–such as taxing not only labor, but leisure, too–could encourage Americans to work longer hours.

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