News & Commentary

October 8, 2018

Vail Kohnert-Yount

Vail Kohnert-Yount is a student at Harvard Law School.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is facing accusations that he discriminated against Native Americans when reassigning 33 career Interior Department officials last summer. Even though Native Americans represent less than 10% of DOI’s workforce, fully one-third of the senior career officials whose jobs he reassigned are Native American, and several others are Black and Latino. Former government officials told Talking Points Memo that the reshuffling of top Native American staffers is intended to stifle internal opposition to Zinke’s plan to open up more tribal and public lands to the fossil fuel industry. Although making such employment decisions based on political reasons or race would violate federal law, DOI’s Indian Preference rules additionally require the agency to give “absolute preference in employment to American Indians and Alaska Natives” in certain offices.

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded today to American economists William D. Nordhaus and Paul M. Romer for their work on how government policy can foster sustainable economic growth. Dr. Nordhaus is a pioneer in assessing the economic impact of climate change, including advocating for governments to tax carbon emissions. Dr. Romer was honored for his work on the role of policy in encouraging technological innovation.

Gig economy company Handy charges its workers—who are independent contractors who are not considered employees of the company—disciplinary fees for things like being late to work, rescheduling jobs, and leaving a job early. Quartz reports that, in some cases, workers have found themselves indebted to the company, forcing them to work solely to pay off their debt to Handy, which deducts all outstanding fees from their earnings. Not only does Handy use debt to keep members of its workforce bound to its platform, it can modify their contracts’ terms and conditions immediately and unilaterally, and without any substantive form of appeal but private arbitration.

Laid-off Toys ‘R’ Us workers have found a powerful ally in public pensions, the New York Times reports. In the past year, 31,000 Toys ‘R’ Us employees have been laid off without severance after the company declared bankruptcy last September and subsequently closed 200 stores. But former workers have been pressuring the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and other former owners of the failed retailer with the help of the nation’s largest public pension funds, which supply private equity with billions to invest. In June, Minnesota’s state pension fund halted further investments in KKR over concerns about how the Toys “R” Us workers had been treated. The fund lifted the suspension last month after K.K.R. agreed to contribute millions to a hardship fund for the workers, which has raised $20 million so far.

In Essence magazine, Alicia Garza of the National Domestic Workers Alliance wrote about Brett Kavanaugh’s impact on Black women in the wake of his confirmation to the Supreme Court. “Brett Kavanaugh’s judicial track record is anti-woman, anti-Black, anti-worker, anti-immigrant, and anti-reproductive justice,” she wrote. “It is the antithesis of all that Black women have fought hard for, and have paid for with our lives.”

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