Today’s News & Commentary — May 25, 2018
A groundbreaking new study confirms that unions help fight economic inequality, finding that union density was a key driver of the “Great Compression,” a period from 1940 to 1980 in which income inequality in America was significantly less severe than today. The authors, economists Henry Farber, Dan Herbst, Ilyana Kuziemko, and Suresh Naidu, write that the results suggest “unions have a significant, equalizing effect on the income distribution.” The study also finds that, starting from the 1940s, unions were disproportionately made up of people of color, and that people of color received a higher premium from union members — adding to the evidence that unions can help close the racial wealth gap.
The UAW filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board yesterday, alleging that recent tweets from CEO Elon Musk violate federal labor law by threatening to yank benefits from workers who join the union. This week, Musk tweeted that Tesla employees who voted union would “give up stock options for nothing,” hinting that Tesla might retaliate against workers engaging in protected union activity by taking away their stock options. This is only the latest in a pattern of alleged retaliation at Tesla: in October, the UAW filed an NLRB complaint alleging that the union supporters were fired, harassed, and unfairly disciplined union supporters.
At the Atlantic, Caroline Fredrickson writes that the problems plaguing the contingent workforce are seeping into the ivory tower, as low-paid part-time teaching jobs replace secure tenure-track positions for college professors. Today, two-thirds of faculty are non-tenure track — and half of those work only part time. Frederickson notes that, according to a recent study, a significant number of universities and colleges limit adjuncts’ teaching hours to avoid providing benefits like health insurance. Contingent faculty can face severe economic insecurity: according to UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, one-quarter of part-time faculty members are enrolled in a public assistance program, like Medicaid or food-stamps.
A top federal official told Congress that the government has “lost track” of 1,475 unaccompanied migrant children placed with sponsors in the United States — raising fears that the children will be exploited for child labor. Two years ago, a Congressional subcommittee released a report showing that federal officials placed eight migrant children with labor traffickers who contracted the minors out to work on an Ohio egg farm. The shocking figure highlights the dearth of federal procedures to protect unaccompanied migrant minors from child labor. In 2016, Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services agreed to establish guidelines to ensure that the agencies don’t leave vulnerable children in the hands of traffickers — but the guidelines were due over a year ago and still have not been completed.
Two women firefighters filed a high-profile EEOC complaint against a Northern Virginia Fire Department on Wednesday, saying that the department retaliated against them for speaking out against gender-based harassment. Gender discrimination is pervasive in fire departments. In 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 3.5 percent of career firefighters were women. A 2008 study found that the majority of female firefighters report harassing behavior, and nearly 85 percent report being “treated differently” because of their gender.
Yesterday, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy signed a powerful pay equity bill into law. The new law bans employers (as well as third parties like recruiting firms) from asking about a prospective employee’s salary history, a practice that exacerbates pay discrimination and compounds the pay gap over time. The legislation, which goes into effect January 1st, also guarantees workers’ right to discuss their salaries and prohibits disciplining workers who do so. Although the NLRA offers workers protections against pay secrecy, state legislation like Connecticut’s can fill important gaps in the federal law, which excludes supervisors and most agricultural workers. Connecticut joins Puerto Rico and five other states that have recently banned employers asking about salary history.