News & Commentary

July 28, 2015

Senator Mitch McConnell has asked President Obama to appoint G. Roger King to the National Labor Relations Board as a replacement for outgoing Republican Board Member Harry Johnson, according to Politico.  King served as a lead attorney in NLRB v. Noel Canning, in which the Supreme Court found several of President Obama’s recess appointments to the NLRB unconstitutional. Politico noted that although the White House may be reluctant to reward King, this appointment might be necessary in order to convince Republicans to fill a Democratic spot on the Board that becomes vacant next year.  Such support would be necessary to avoid a 2-2 deadlock on the Board.

Already deplorable labor conditions in international fishing have worsened as a result of growing demand for seafood and depleted fishing stocks, according to the New York Times.  The in-depth article interviewed numerous workers who had escaped horrific conditions on long-haul shipping expeditions, where boats sometimes remain at sea for years at a time, far from the reach of any minimal maritime labor laws that might exist.  “Life at sea is cheap,” said Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson. “And conditions out there keep getting worse.”  Many, including the workers themselves, assert that the practices amount to one more form of modern slavery. “You belong to the captain,” said Pak, an individual who escaped from a fishing ship. “So he can sell you if he wants.”  The Times also published a list of proposals to help improve the fishers’ working conditions.

The decision by some unions to push for an exemption to Los Angeles’s new minimum wage ordinance came under scrutiny from the Los Angeles Times.  After discounting claims by a labor leader that the exemption would protect the ordinance from legal challenges and bring it in line with similar ordinances in other jurisdictions, the article explained that the exemption might help the survival of union-friendly businesses by putting them on a more even footing in bidding processes involving other companies that would ignore the new law.  In similar fashion, unions might see the exemption as a means of pitching themselves as a low-cost labor alternative, as Unite Here has done in the past with hotel companies.  Not all union leaders are on board, however.  Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW, noted his union’s opposition to the exemption, saying, “I don’t think we help ourselves by taking positions where we don’t hold ourselves to the same standards as everybody else.”

The New York Times reported on the pay gap in the tech industry.  Although the Department of Labor reports that men make 28 percent more than women nationwide, in Silicon Valley men make up to 61 percent more than women.  Despite this, several large companies have claimed that the problem is not particular to the industry or their companies. While part of this problem may be attributable to women bringing lower salaries to new jobs or a reluctance to ask for higher salaries, these rationalizations likely don’t tell the whole story.  “You can explain away all of the little things and say we have no problems,” said Linda C. Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University. “What you can’t explain away are the average numbers.”

Baseball columnist Richard Sandomir, writing in the New York Times, wondered when the Baseball Hall of Fame will recognize the contributions of that sport’s labor leaders.  The article praised the careers of Curt Flood, who “sacrific[ed] his career for the labor rights that he believed all players deserved” by refusing to report to the Philadelphia Phillies after being traded, and Marvin Miller, who “transformed the baseball players’ union into a fierce labor force.”  Sandomir noted that such honor would not be unprecedented as the Hall recognizes contributions to the sport beyond physical prowess.  “If Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner regularly outmaneuvered by Miller, is among the so-called immortals, Miller should be as well,” Sandomir wrote.

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