News & Commentary

July 21, 2015

Jon Weinberg

Jon Weinberg is a student at Harvard Law School.

According to The Wall Street Journal, New York is poised to raise the state minimum wage for fast-food workers to $15 an hour.  Sources say a state wage board will recommend the raise tomorrow, and the state labor commissioner will approve the recommendation.  It remains to be announced how the wage board will define fast food, and industry-specific minimum wages are unusual.  The announcement represents a significant victory for the Fight for 15 movement covered extensively by OnLabor.

In a step forward for university faculty seeking to unionize, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that Point Park University will end its 11-year opposition to full-time faculty unionization efforts and begin collectively bargaining with the elected union.  The National Labor Relations Board previously certified the union formed after a vote of full-time faculty in 2003, and the university had appealed.

For the sixth time in two years truck drivers at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports will go on strike in their struggle to be recognized as employees, The Los Angeles Times notes.  The company, Pacific 9 Transportation, classifies the drivers as independent contractors but other competitors have begun to offer employee status.  The Times also highlights that Pacific 9 faces 40 wage claims totaling $6 million and has yet to comply with a National Labor Relations Board order to allow drivers to unionize and post notice of that right.

Writing for Business Insider, Maya Kosoff looks at gig economy firms that have transitioned workers from independent contractor to employee status to explore how such a move would affect Uber.  Kosoff concludes that the implications for Uber would be much greater for that those for the other companies because of its comparative scale.  She also notes potential increased costs for Uber and its ability and willingness to litigate expensive lawsuits to preserve its business model.

Also related to the gig economy, Nancy Cook profiles efforts to create a social safety net for freelance workers in a National Journal story.  She notes the growth of the Feelancers Union and how it offers members perks like insurance that they would receive with full-time employment.  Citing how the gig economy offers flexibility but fewer protections and no security when things go wrong, Cook concludes that “rethinking the social safety net would blur the distinction between full-time employees and freelancers, so it’s no longer an all-or-nothing proposition.”

The Times of Israel reports that Israel’s labor union has called off a general strike in protest of conditions faced by contract workers.  Per the agreement reached following negotiations “15,000 public sector contract workers will become full government employees within two years.  Another 2,000 private sector contract workers will also receive employee status.”  Workers groups continue to call for further reforms.

According to The Wall Street Journal, companies are responding to the recently-announced changes to the federal overtime rule by tracking hours their employees work.  While the rule has yet to be finalized, companies are installing software and evaluating staffing needs to mitigate potential increased costs.

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