Today's News & Commentary — March 3, 2016
Want to make sure that the employer who just hired you as a day laborer won’t cheat you out of your pay? There’s an app for that. The New York Times reports that day laborers and worker advocacy organizations have collaborated to create Jornalero, a smartphone app that allows day laborers to “rate employers . . . , log their hours and wages, take pictures of job sites and help identify, down to the color and make of a car, employers with a history of withholding wages.” The app will soon begin beta testing in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, New York, with plans to expand the app to the rest of the city and eventually the country (and to all kinds of jobs). “There has always been wage theft, and the truth is we’re going to put a stop to that,” said Omar Trinidad, the lead organizer who worked on bringing the app to fruition. The Times notes that the app, which began as a project of the New Immigrant Community Empowerment workers center, “has been a collaboration of workers, artists, organizers, lawyers, unions and academics.”
Meanwhile, a mere 45-minute subway ride from the 69th Street day laborer stop in Jackson Heights, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton took a “Super Tuesday victory lap” in front of thousands of union members gathered at Manhattan’s Javits Convention Center on Wednesday. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Clinton proclaimed that “[l]abor will always have a seat at the table when [she is] in the White House.” Although the former junior senator from New York refrained from mentioning her increasingly more likely Republican opponent by name, the other speakers at the event weren’t so coy. “The people are going to look at a billionaire who hasn’t done anything for us versus someone who has been a champion of children and families, working people, for years,” said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.
As work continues on Tesla’s $11 billion “gigafactory” in Nevada, questions are starting to rise about whether the car manufacturer — and Panasonic, its partner in the venture — is honoring its commitment to hire local construction workers. Per Lydia DePillis of the Washington Post, the project is required to hire at least half of its workers from Nevada in order to qualify for billions of dollars in tax breaks. Although recent estimates place the percentage of Nevadans working on the project at 68%, that didn’t stop hundreds of laborers from walking off of the job on Monday to protest the significant presence of out-of-state workers on the job site. Notably, one of the contractors working on the massive battery factory is based in New Mexico, as are an increasing number of construction workers. “Tesla got $1.4 billion in tax incentives to promote Nevada’s construction sector, not New Mexico’s,” said Todd Koch, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada. But are there enough Nevadans to do the job? Perhaps not, claimed industry and government officials. “There are more jobs than available construction workers and there is no way we can meet our construction needs without outside help,” said Mike Kazmierski, president of the Economic Development Agency of Western Nevada. Either way, there may be “a long-term issue that’s hiding” behind the scenes, suggested one scholar who, on behalf of the real estate industry, has studied the effect of labor supply on housing costs. “The really big issue is that there’s a massive perception problem that ‘everyone must get a 4-year degree, or you’re not American enough, and only other people swing a hammer,'” said Professor Marianne Cusato of the University of Notre Dame.