News & Commentary

November 11, 2014

The employment situation report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells the same story that we have heard many times about the economic environment of 2014. Said simply, while job growth has accelerated, and the recovery continues to pick up steam, there appears to be little indication of wage pressure generating the wage increases that workers have been waiting for, according to the Center of American Progress. As economist Michael Madowitz puts it, “the question is how much longer we will need the economy to keep performing this well before we shake off the hangover from the Great Recession and see the employment growth that is finally reaching all Americans translate into wage growth that reaches all Americans.”

Last week, the Democratic Party suffered a devastating midterm election, losing tight races all over the country and ultimately losing control of the Senate. Voters backed Republicans, despite the fact that under Democrats, job numbers and other economic indicators have been steadily improving, and despite majority support of a minimum wage hike, which passed in several states that went Republican. So, what gives? Why would people support a higher minimum wage, but not the party that wants to pass one? In a Salt Lake Tribune opinion piece, Megan McArdle argues that while workers do want higher wages, what they are most worried about is the stability of their jobs. In the past, she says, layoffs were temporary reductions of staff that would be readjusted once demand picked back up. But today, workers are increasingly likely to be permanently separated from their employers due to structural changes in their industry. McArdle opines that people want to feel like they can stop worrying about losing their job, that they want to feel like their labors are going to lead them to a job that is better, more enjoyable and more stable. McArdle’s argument is that while voters do want a wage hike, that “won’t be enough as long as people feel that their jobs could go away at any minute.” And until voters get what they really want, “they will keep throwing out the bums who can’t deliver.”

Today, nearly 18,000 nurses in Northern California began a two-day strike, NPR reports. Interestingly, their placards and chants will say little about wages or benefits. Instead, nurses are picketing for better protective gear and training to deal with potential Ebola patients outside of 21 Kaiser Permanente medical centers and clinics. The strike was timed to coincide with nurse demonstrations across the country in a “National Day of Action” over Ebola preparedness. The hospital system has tried to flip the script on the union, also leaning on the US Ebola scare to win negotiation points in the public opinion theater. One Kaiser newspaper ad from this week read, “We are baffled by the union’s tactics at this critical time, just as we are entering flu season, and when the nation and our members are concerned about the risk of Ebola, [they] seem particularly irresponsible.” This protest comes in the midst of months of hard bargaining and many unresolved issues, and no economic proposals have even hit the bargaining table yet. The nurses’ proposals include a call to fill more than 2,000 vacate nursing positions, better protections for sick leave use, more flexibility over breaks, and more training and education.

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