News & Commentary

June 30, 2015

President Obama announced plans to expand overtime eligibility to nearly 5 million workers in a column published on the Huffington Post.  The proposed change would raise the salary cutoff for automatic overtime eligibility from $23,660 to $50,400 next year.  Framing the proposal as win-win, the president stated said the move was “good for workers who want fair pay, and it’s good for business owners who are already paying their employees what they deserve — since those who are doing right by their employees are undercut by competitors who aren’t.”

The Center for Public Integrity published a comprehensive study on the ineffectiveness of OSHA at protecting worker health.  An 18-month study conducted by the organization found that “the epidemic of occupational disease in America isn’t merely the product of neglect or misconduct by employers. It’s the predictable result of a bifurcated system of hazard regulation — one for the general public and another, far weaker, for workers. Risks of cancer and other illnesses considered acceptable at a workplace wouldn’t be tolerated outside of it.”  CPI compared OSHA and EPA standards, finding that the EPA’s regulations were 10 to 1,000 times more protective.

David Michaels, OSHA’s head, acknowledged the problem, stating, “With a few exceptions, OSHA’s standards to protect workers from chemical exposures are weak and out of date, or simply non-existent.”  Explaining the agency’s powerlessness, he added, “The law under which OSHA operates . . . forces us to go through a very, very complex, onerous process for regulating any individual chemical. . . . It takes many years and millions of dollars in studies to issue one standard. And that’s why we’ve got only a few dozen standards.”

The entire CPI study is available  here.  Other articles focus on the individual stories of affected workers and families as well as the decades-long campaign to render workplace safety regulations ineffective.

On the heels of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, LGBT groups are beginning to ramp up efforts to pass legislation extending Title VII to protect individuals from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the New York Times.  Although legislative efforts have foundered in the past, proponents expressed renewed optimism that they can achieve their goal in the coming years.  “People are going to realize that you can get married in the morning and be fired from your job or refused entry to a restaurant in the afternoon,” Senator Jeff Merkley, a proponent of the legislation, said. “That is unacceptable.”

As Chicago’s minimum wage increase takes effect this Wednesday, workers are greeting the change with excitement while employers seem largely unfazed, according to the Chicago Tribune.  A staffing agency claimed that its number of applicants has tripled as the effective date approaches.  While some business owners reported little concern, others worried about the ratchet effect on the wages of non-entry-level employees and noted that they would pass on the costs to consumers.

The Washington Post‘s Lydia DePillis examined the relationship between the “skills gap” decried by employers and the decline of union job-training programs.  Looking back at the history of such programs dating back to the 1930s, DePillis showed how the decline of unions has left a hole that policymakers and employers have failed to fill through alternatives such as community colleges or collaborative relationships between industries and school districts.  Despite the proven effectiveness of union programs, employers remain reluctant to partner with unions out of fear of escalating labor costs, and unions worry that expansion of apprenticeship programs is a means of undercutting more experienced workers.  National Skills Coalition leader Andy Van Kleunen sounded  a note of optimism, saying, “I do think that as the economy is recovering, and the union movement is realizing that they have something to offer, I think you’re going to see more of them talking as one voice.”

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