News & Commentary

July 2, 2019

Vail Kohnert-Yount

Vail Kohnert-Yount is a student at Harvard Law School.

Yesterday, ProPublica broke the story that up to 9,500 U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents are members of a secret Facebook group in which agents post racist and sexist content, raising questions about public employees’ freedom of speech off the job. CBP employs 20,000 total agents in the United States who are subject to CBP’s Standards of Conduct, which states that “employees will not make abusive, derisive, profane, or harassing statements or gestures, or engage in any other conduct evidencing hatred or invidious prejudice to or about one person or group on account of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability…includ[ing] comments and posts made on private social media sites.” In the group, members confirmed to be current and former Border Patrol agents joked about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility in Texas on Monday, and shared a vulgar illustration of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. CBP issued a statement that called the social media posts “disturbing,” but it remains to be seen what disciplinary action may be taken.

Yesterday was also the first day of California’s ambitious state-sponsored retirement program for private sector workers. The Los Angeles Times.reported that all employers with five or more workers will be required to sign on to the CalSavers program if they don’t already offer their employees a retirement plan. As many as 300,000 businesses must comply over the next three years, providing some 7.5 million workers who currently have no access to a pension, 401(k), or other qualified retirement plan a way to deduct savings from their paychecks. California is the third state after Oregon and Illinois to implement a broad state-sponsored system as it faces an aging population. Meanwhile, Oregon passed a statewide paid family and medical leave bill yesterday, despite an unsuccessful delay tactic by state Senate Republicans.

In the American Prospect, economists Teresa Ghilarducci and Aida Farmand wrote about the drawbacks of the “widely praised” Earned Income Tax Credit, “one of the few policies on which Democrats and Republicans agree.” Although the EITC does put more money in the pockets of low-wage workers, it also effectively functions as a subsidy to employers, who are able to attract workers at lower wages than they otherwise would have to pay. The authors wrote, “In short, expanding the EITC without adding other measures to raise wages directly, such as stronger unions and higher minimum wages, would be a policy blunder.”

The Atlantic investigated the “expectation creep” that has changed the way employers write job descriptions: “More than ever, it seems, hiring managers are looking for extremists: You can’t just be willing to do the job. You must evince an all-consuming horniness for menial corporate tasks.” Even as wages remain stagnant in the U.S. labor market, there has been a noticeable uptick in job descriptions that include words like “ninja,” “sensei,” and “rock star” and ask workers to go above and beyond typical job duties and display a “passion” for their work. But do workers really “want to do the duties of a rock star if they’re not going to get paid like one?”

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