Today's News & Commentary — October 22, 2015

Published October 22nd, 2015 -  - 10.22.1511


Several UAW locals at Fiat Chrysler plants voted yesterday on the deal that was announced two weeks ago, and so far, the results are a resounding “yes.”  According to the New York Times, locals that rejected the plan earlier this year have turned around; Local 1264, for instance, reported 84% of production employees voting to approve the pact, as opposed to the 57% rejecting the proposal earlier this year.  The main reason for the switch is the “clear path to traditional wages” for entry-level workers.  In the new plan, entry-level workers—who constitute over 40% of Fiat Chrysler workers—earn $16 to $19 per hour, and the new agreement provides that these workers will earn about $29 an hour after eight years.  The UAW hopes to use this deal as a template for negotiations with Ford Motor and General Motors.

According to the Wall Street Journal, this has been a bad year for the gender wage gap.  The latest data marks the third straight quarter that men’s earnings have grown twice as fast as women’s.  The Labor Department reported Tuesday that the median weekly earnings for full-time male workers was $889 in the third quarter, a 2.2% increase from last year, while women’s median was $721, up 0.8% from last year.  In other words, women who worked full time from July-September earned 81.1 cents for every dollar a man earned during that period, down more than one penny from a year ago.  The Journal explains that a driving factor in the disparity is the gap between women and men in higher-wage, professional fields, including engineers, lawyers and teachers, with medians of $1,345 and $970 for men and women, respectively.

Recently, the New York Times editorial board took a look into the profound impact a criminal record can have on a person’s ability to get a job.  70 to 100 million people in the U.S. have criminal records, which often affect basic rights and privileges, including voting, housing, and parental rights, and, very commonly, their employment status.  In May, U.S. District Judge Gleeson, of the Eastern District of New York, expunged the conviction of a woman he’d sentenced to five years of probation over a decade earlier.  Her conviction was for minor participation in an insurance fraud scheme, and in the years since, she had been repeatedly hired for jobs, and then fired after employers ran background checks.  As Judge Gleeson said, “I sentenced her to five years of probation, not to a lifetime of unemployment.”  About half of states allow expungement for some convictions, but the federal government does not.  Some state judges issue “certificates of rehabilitation,” which serve as official assurances to employers that the ex-offender should no longer be judged for his or her crimes, and of course, governors may issue executive pardons.  The Times board writes, “it appears to be the first time that a federal judge has expunged a conviction for this reason. It should not be the last.”

Lydia DePillis at The Washington Post reports a new organization called the Fairness Project, officially launching today, is working to accelerate support for state ballot measures to raise the minimum wage in the next election.  The Fairness Project, backed primarily by the Services Employees International Union’s 80,000 member United Healthcare Workers local in California, is focusing on three jurisdictions: California, Maine, and Washington, D.C.  Since 1996, minimum wage measures have been attempted 20 times in 16 states, and all but two succeeded.  Most recently, in 2014, minimum wage ballot measures passed in Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

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