Today’s News & Commentary — September 1, 2015

Published September 1st, 2015 -  - 09.01.151


According to The Washington Examiner, a new decision from the National Labor Relations Board means that businesses are now required to collect union dues via payroll deductions even after the expiration of a union contract.  The decision, in Lincoln Lutheran of Racine and Service Employees International Union Healthcare Wisconsin, will boost the ability of unions to financially weather contract negotiations.  Under previous precedent, employers were no longer required to collect dues upon the expiration of a contract.

Also in relation to the N.L.R.B., Timothy Noah and Brian Mahoney of Politico write that the Board’s recent string of six pro-labor decisions in the past week mean “President Barack Obama may end up doing more for the struggling labor movement than any president in three decades.”  The decisions include matters as well-known as Browning-Ferris and the “ambush election rule,” and others relating to drug testing and peer review committees.  Since the National Labor Relations Act hasn’t been significantly revised since the 1950s, the Board is tasked with adopting labor law to the modern workplace.

A new Gallup poll, however, reveals that only 52% of U.S. union members approve of President Obama’s job performance.  The figure is close to the lowest level of support President Obama has received from union workers, and represents the closest his union member approval rating has come to his nonmember approval rating, which has always been lower.  Since the nonmember approval rating has been relatively flat as the union member approval rating declined, the decline may be “possibly in response to the president’s actions or policies on trade and his focus on issues of less direct benefit to union workers.”

Writing for The Washington Post, Lydia DePillis highlights pending legislation before the Seattle City Council that would “grant all for-hire drivers in the city the right to collectively bargain with the companies they contract with to provide services, which they currently can’t do under federal law, setting up an entirely new system.”  The bill targets gig economy companies Uber and Lyft, who categorize drivers as independent contractors rather than employees, thus escaping an obligation to collectively bargain.  Under the proposed system, drivers would vote for a non-profit representative that would negotiate a contract or submit to arbitration enforced through the courts.  DePillis writes that the system could be extended to other independent contractor workplaces, but that it might be successfully challenged in court.

Also in The Washington Post, Antonio Olivo and Lydia DePillis report on widespread labor abuses in the Virginia car-wash industry.  They note that Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is “trying to crack down on labor violations as more businesses, which critics say are often trying to cut corners, rely on contractors and subcontractors.”  While other areas such as New York have increased scrutiny of car washes, Virginia has a weaker union presence and thus wage theft is more difficult to combat.

In response to retailer Gap’s recent announcement that they wound end on-call scheduling for workers, The New York Times in an editorial called for an end to unpredictable scheduling industry-wide.  The Times notes that “on-call scheduling is but one of many dubious pay and scheduling practices.  Workers who show up for a scheduled shift may be sent home without pay if business is slow.  Schedules can fluctuate from week to week, making it hard to manage family life or calculate a budget.”

Michael Hiltzik of The Los Angeles Times highlighted a recent dispute between Pittsburgh area steelworkers and Allegheny Technologies management as evidence of why unions are necessary.  He wrote that “the conditions and pay offered non-union workers gives a glimpse of what conditions would be like in a non-unionized steel industry.”

Good featured the plight of domestic workers in Lebanon and their attempts at unionization.  The story documents the precarious state of foreign domestic workers in the country and their lack of legal protections.

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