News & Commentary

November 8, 2017

Melissa Greenberg

Melissa Greenberg is a student at Harvard Law School.

Democrats won the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey yesterday.  Ralph Northam will be the new governor of Virginia, and Phil Murphy will be the new governor of New Jersey.  Read more here.  Bill de Blasio was also reelected and will serve a second term as the mayor of New York City.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3441, the “Save Local Business Act,” by a vote of 242 to 181.  While the House mostly voted along party lines, eight Democrats split from their party to vote in favor of the bill.  If enacted, the legislation would redefine an employer in the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act resulting in a narrower standard than under current law.  While the Committee on Education and the Workforce Republicans argued the bill would provide “provide certainty for local businesses and their employees,” the Education and the Workforce Committee Democrats warned that

under this bill, if two companies claim they are not employers, and if both fail to meet the new, narrower definition of ‘joint employer,’ then the employee could be left with no legal employer to hold accountable. This means a court could find a worker is owed overtime pay, but there is no one left on the hook to pay for it.

The Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke revealed that the United States will end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Nicaragua.  Started in 1990, the TPS program allows immigrants from designated countries to be protected from deportation to their country of origin due to circumstances such as violent conflict or natural disaster.  The Trump Administration action will affect roughly 2,500 Nicaraguans.  The Department of Homeland Security has not decided whether to extend Haiti, El Salvador or Honduras’s inclusion in the TPS program.  Read more here.

In automation news, the New York Times reports that the driverless car company Waymo has begun testing driverless cars on the road without a standby human driver in the front seat although a human sits in the back seat of the car observing the car’s operation.  These tests have occurred in the Phoenix area.  Waymo intends to test the cars with passengers in the coming months, and eventually use its technology to operate a driverless ride-hailing service.

At the Atlantic, Vauhini Vara asks “Can Unions Stop of the Far Right?”  Vara examines the limited support for the Alternative for Germany party focusing on the Ruhr area of the country.  The Ruhr area has historically produced coal and steel, which the author analogizes to some areas of the United States, which favored Trump in the last Presidential election.  While there are multiple rationales for why the right-wing politics that have taken hold in other areas of Europe have not gained nearly as much traction in Germany, Vara points to the low level of inequality in Germany and argues that German workers “feel a sense of security and belonging that serves as a bulwark against the fears of marginalization that have fed right-wing populism elsewhere.”  Vara posits that although unions “have fought similar battles” in Germany as in America, by and large German unions have been much more successful in tamping down inequality and helping to foster a feeling of inclusion.  While there are numerous differences between the American and German contexts, Vara wonders if “[s]een in the context of the German experience, perhaps there’s something heartening for American labor in Trump’s victory” especially if “alt-labor” is successful in following German labor’s example.  Read more here.

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