News & Commentary

June 18, 2015

Hannah Belitz

Hannah Belitz is a student at Harvard Law School.

The California Labor Commissioner’s decision that an Uber driver is an employee continues to attract widespread media attention, including in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere.

The Treasury Department has created a new program that will permit certain pension plans to scale back retirees’ benefits if reductions are the only way to keep the pension plans from running out of money, the New York Times reports. Until now, federal pension law allowed companies to make cuts to active workers’ retirement plans but protected retirees from pension cuts. Although the change applies only to multiemployer plans in the private sector, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation estimates that around 10 million Americans earn or receive multiemployer pensions. Proponents of the new program explain that it is better to reduce retirees’ benefits now than wait for pension funds to run out of cash, but the New York Times notes that the new program “seems likely to widen the gulf between have and have-not retirees.”

According to Politico, the GOP has “declared war” on the Obama Labor Agenda. The House has put forward an appropriation bill cutting funds for the Labor Department and the NLRB. Specifically, the bill would stop DOL funding for its proposed fiduciary rule and bar NLRB funding to implement the union election rule that took effect in April. Although appropriations bills are seldom used now to fund the government, the bill “signals strong GOP opposition to Obama’s labor agenda” and is likely to become part of a larger negotiation.

The Boston Globe reports that the average millennial worker in the Boston area would need to make $4,394 more in order to afford the median Boston-area home price. This phenomenon is not limited to Boston. According to Bloomberg, there are 13 U.S. metropolitan areas where the typical millennial does not earn enough money to purchase a home. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the five least affordable cities are all in California: San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sacramento. The average young adult in those cities makes less than half of what would be necessary to buy a home.

At the Washington Post, Lydia DePillis explains “why NAFTA passed and the Trans-Pacific Partnership failed.” Although the anti-NAFTA and anti-TPP coalitions had the same players (the AFL-CIO, Sierra Club, Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, the National Farmers Union, and assorted religious and immigrant advocacy groups), put millions of dollars into ads opposing the deals, and made many similar arguments, a key procedural difference exists this time around. In the case of NAFTA, Congress was arguing over just the trade deal, whereas now, Congress is also arguing over fast track. This means that the NAFTA deal was more open and public than the TPP is. Moreover, today’s political climate is different: people are more aware of economic inequality, and some evidence exists that trade deals exacerbate it. The big question now is how the labor movement will use the momentum from its triumph. As DePilllis explains, “[a] trade win was more than just a win on trade — for the unions that pushed hardest, this year’s fast track fight was a dry run for collective efforts in the future.”

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