Today’s News & Commentary — November 4, 2015

Published November 4th, 2015 -  - 11.04.1510


Amazon has announced that it will implement new benefits for workers, including 20 weeks of leave for birth mothers and up to six weeks of paternity leave.  The company will also institute a flexible return-to-work program and the possibility to share leave with a spouse who works elsewhere.  Both the New York Times and the Boston Globe note that this shift comes just two months after the Times issued a scathing critique of Amazon’s treatment of its workers.  A spokesman for the company, when asked if the change was a response to the article, stated, “We review our benefit programs annually and began considering our leave policies in early 2015.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that two branches of the Service Employees International Union, the SEIU State Council and the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, have introduced rival minimum wage initiatives.  Both proposals, which aim to be placed on California’s November 2016 ballot, would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.  The State Council’s measure, however, would also raise the number of required paid sick days from three to six and extend sick-leave rights to home healthcare workers.  The existence of two minimum-wage proposals on the ballot is risky — it may cause the kind of confusion that leads voters to simply vote “no” on both.

Yesterday was election day, and as Politico explains, a lot is at stake for labor and employment policies.  Among the issues: a partisan showdown for governor of Kentucky, which happens to be the only southern state with no right-to-work law.  Although the result of the gubernatorial race won’t decide right-to-work issues immediately, it will have implications for the future.  The AFL-CIO and its affiliate, Working America, have invested significant resources into the race to try to ensure the victory of Democrat Jack Conway.  Other issues to watch include $15 minimum wage initiatives in Tacoma, Washington and Portland, Maine and a paid-leave measure in San Francisco.

On Monday, President Obama announced a new Executive Order to move questions about a federal job applicant’s criminal history until later in the hiring process.  As MSNBC reports, it marks a step towards “banning the box,” the effort to eliminate the “infamous box that ex-offenders have to check on job applications.”  At the Washington Post, Lydia DePillis points out that the order signals a victory for civil rights groups, but stops short of their request that Obama ban the box for federal contractors, too.  DePillis explains that President Obama probably prefers to leave it to Congress to pass legislation to “ban the box” for federal contractors, since legislation has a more lasting effect than does an Executive Order.

DePillis also reports that Uber has gone “back on the offensive.”  Speaking at an event in D.C., David Plouffe, Uber’s chief spokesman, made the case that Uber offers workers the opportunity to supplement inadequate wages in other jobs.  “Most people in America say they have too little money and too little time,” Plouffe said.  “Uber and platforms like it helps solve for both of these pain points. In a world where more people than ever before are struggling to balance work, family, and bills they can’t pay, ride-sharing is a way to put money back in your pocket and time back on your schedule.”  To support his claim, Plouffe cited the fact that half of all Uber drivers in the U.S. driver fewer than 10 hours a week.  According to Plouffe, this demonstrates that people driver for Uber only when they need it, and not as a full-time job.

In local Boston news, Ayr Muir, the founder and CEO of Clover Food Labs, has announced his goal to raise worker wages to $20/hour.  He plans to experiment with incremental price increases — $0.25 at a time — and adjust wages accordingly.  In a post to the company’s website, Muir explains that he doesn’t think we can “build a long-term sustainable food system without changing our labor practices,” and asks customers to weigh in with their opinions.  A potential concern brought up in the comments is that increased prices may make Clover no longer affordable to many of its customers.  Both Universal Hub and BostonEaster have also picked up the story.

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