Today's News & Commentary — September 17, 2015

Published September 17th, 2015 -  - 09.17.152


Two days after Governor Scott Walker announced his proposals to eliminate the NLRB and establish right-to-work nationwide, Democrats introduced their own bill yesterday, called the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy (WAGE) Act.  As Lydia DePillis reports in the Washington Post, the Act “adds hefty monetary penalties for violations of workers’ rights to collectively organize”; “provides for injunctions to force employers to quickly re-hire workers if they were fired unjustly”; and “allows workers to sue in federal court for damages and attorneys fees.”  The bill, developed with the AFL-CIO, seeks to address the union frustration with a system in which employers face little to no repercussions for intimidating or retaliating against workers who try to organize.  It has been almost 60 years since the National Labor Relations Act was amended, and the last attempt in 2009—the Employee Free Choice Act—was narrowly defeated.  Our own Professor Sachs suggests the WAGE Act may draw a larger base of support than the 2009 EFCA, since it is “about workers, not about unions.”  Nevertheless, the odds may be stacked against reform, and DePillis considers this bill’s passage an “improbable challenge.”

Missouri’s right-to-work bill failed in the legislature yesterday, keeping Missouri from becoming the 26th right-to-work state, according to the New York Times.  Republicans in the House were unable to override Governor Jay Nixon’s veto in a 96-63 vote keeping them 13 votes shy of the requisite two-thirds majority.  Governor Nixon called the legislature’s vote “bipartisan” and “a victory for workers, families and businesses here in Missouri and across the country.”

On Tuesday, 203 professors from 88 business schools nationwide signed and submitted a letter to Congress in support of the Family Act, Bloomberg reports.  The Family Act, which would provide partially paid time off for employees caring for a new baby or sick family member, hasn’t been gaining much ground in Congress, despite President Obama’s recent comments supporting the bill, and a few companies coming out to support it, including Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, and Google.  The professors explain their support for the bill, writing: “Sound business practices, data from other countries, our own research with employers, employees and organizations, and our experiences teaching the business leaders of tomorrow compel our conclusion.”  According to the Huffington Post, one group stands in staunch opposition: business lobbyists.

Even without the Family Act, tech companies are choosing to provide paid parental leave for their employees, and TIME Magazine discusses why that might be.  As the tech company workforce ages, the typical tech startup perks—free meals, games, nap pods, etc.—no longer seem as appealing as paid leave.  Now, some startups are skipping the games altogether.  For example, Cover, an app company in New York, doesn’t have ping-pong, but it does offer three months of paid parental leave, followed by a $1,000 per month stipend for those parents when they return to the company.  As small and large companies alike establish these policies, seeking to retain workers as well as increase diversity, the question will be whether they can actually establish a culture in which their employees will take advantage of the policies.

A group of Target pharmacy employees in Brooklyn voted to unionize yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reports.  The NLRB allowed the workers to vote; Target opposed, in light of its pending sale of its pharmacy division to CVS Health.  The pharmacy employees decided to seek union representation when they learned of the CVS sale, afraid of losing their jobs or seeing a decrease in wages.  This is the third time in Target’s history that workers have voted on joining a union, but the first time the vote has come out in favor of unionizing.  Target plans to appeal the NLRB’s decision to allow the vote.

In other Target news, according to Bloomberg, Target is offering Fitbit Zips to 335,000 of its employees.  This makes Target the most recent and largest of Fitbit’s corporate clients, who turn to Fitbit seeking to improve workers’ fitness and reduce healthcare costs.  According to Fitbit CEO James Park, corporate services are one of Fitbit’s fastest-growing areas.  Fitbit offers employers a dashboard where they can view employees’ activity data, including steps taken in a day, and employers often organize competitions for employees.

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