News & Commentary

November 1, 2015

Are wages stagnating? It depends who you ask. The Wall Street Journal reports the employment-cost index, which measures workers’ wages and benefits, rose 0.6% this quarter. But even with the slight rise in wages and benefits, Americans’ personal income has barely inched and the employment rate remains steady. The New York TimesSteven Greenhouse presents an even bleaker picture: companies rather than paying higher wages across the board, companies give bonuses to top-star performers and managers who constrain labor costs. Labor economist Lawrence Katz tells the Times, “The Labor share has declined more than you would think in light of the tightening of the labor market…. It suggests we’re seeing a decline in worker bargaining power.”

A California judge issued a temporary restraining order against Alliance College-Ready Public Schools to prevent the charter group from interfering with unionization efforts, reports the Los Angeles Times. Union leaders allege that Alliance intimidated employees, conducted surveillance on teachers and blocked organizers at school sites. The charter organization and a group of teachers at the school have been in a battle since March, when the teachers announced a drive to unionize.

The Department of Labor found that J&J Snack Foods Corp and two staffing firms cheated hundreds of temporary production line workers out of more than $2.1 million in wages and liquidated damages. Like many companies, the manufacturer and distributor of food and beverages contracted with temporary staffing agencies, and it is now being held as a joint employer. Relying on contracted agencies exacerbates risks for workers. According to Dr. David Weil, “as profit margins get squeezed along the labor supply chain, there is a greater likelihood of wage violations.”

Taxis may be driving toward unionization. Lydia DePillis at the Washington Post explains the NLRB’s recent decision on classifying taxi drivers in Tucson, Ariz. as independent contractors. Under the NLRB’s new test, which emphasizes entrepreneurial opportunity, a regional director found that the cab drivers are not independent contractors. Unlike in more urban areas, Tucson drivers rely on centralized dispatches to find customers, and struggle to cultivate clients to survive independently. With the legal question resolved, the next is political: now the 200 drivers in Tucson may hold an election to decide to unionize.

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