Today’s News & Commentary — September 21, 2018

Published September 21st, 2018 -  - 09.21.182


A new study by Professor Tae-Youn Park of Vanderbilt University finds that unions play a significant role in helping mothers take maternity leave.  According to the study, which will be published in the Industrial and Labor Relations Review, union-represented mothers are at least 17 percent more likely to take paid maternity leave than their non-unionized peers.  The authors argue that unions not only secure paid leave through collective bargaining, but also facilitate the use of that leave by increasing workers’ awareness through workshops, newsletters, and other media.  However, they noted that unions are less effective at combating the negative career effects of taking leave, such as wage penalties when mothers return to the job.

After a nearly two week-long strike, workers at seven Marriott hotels in Chicago have ratified a new contract.  Employees at nineteen other hotels continue to strike.  Nearly 6,000 workers have been on strike since September 7, demanding year-round health care benefits as well as wage increases, job security, pensions, and sick days.  In a statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel confirmed that the new contract with Marriott guarantees workers year-round health care, but did not comment on their other demands.

The Dallas Mavericks and owner Mark Cuban will pay $10 million to women’s and domestic violence organizations to address rampant sexual harassment in the team’s front office.  The National Basketball Association began a months-long investigation into the Mavericks after Sports Illustrated published a story in February documenting a “corrosive workplace culture” in which women were repeatedly harassed, most notably by former president and chief executive Terdema Ussery.  Cuban agreed to the $10 million payment in lieu of a fine, though the sum is much higher than any fine that the NBA has previously levied on a team. The NBA is also requiring the Mavericks to make a number of leadership changes and has recommended that it hire more women and institute a formal complaint process for harassment claims.  In an interview with ESPN, Cuban apologized and acknowledged that he “messed up.”

WeWork is launching a venture capital fund to invest in “the future of work.”  According to the Wall Street Journal, the fund will invest in “technologies for human resources, recruitment, training and education, employee experience and real estate.”  WeWork recently reached a settlement agreement with two state attorneys general to drastically scale back its use of noncompete clauses in its employment contracts, and has been the subject of numerous labor and employment complaints since its founding in 2010.

The Verge reports on FitBit’s new FitBit Care service, which aims to coach customers on keeping healthy.  Employers have reportedly adopted the technology to keep track of their employees’ health habits and connect them with doctors and health-related support groups, presumably in an effort to manage health insurance costs.  Meanwhile, life insurance provider John Hancock announced that it will no longer sell traditional life insurance policies, shifting instead toward “interactive policies” that track data through devices like the FitBit.  The company plans to incentivize customers to adopt healthy lifestyles by providing discounts and monetary incentives for those who log their data and hit exercise targets.  However, critics worry that the provision of data will drive insurance providers to drop their more costly customers.

Italy’s luxury fashion industry is propped up by exploited low-wage workers, according to the New York Times.  Fashion designers are skirting Italian employment regulations by outsourcing work from factories to home workers on irregular contracts.  Home-working garment manufacturers, of which there are an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 in the country, may be paid as little as 1 per hour and work upwards of eighteen hours per day.  Italy does not have a federally mandated minimum wage and unions are generally responsible for negotiating wages on behalf of workers.  Thus, those who lack union representation, like home workers, are easily exploited. The country’s recently elected populist government has promised to reduce the number of irregular contracts and the prevalence of outsourcing, but has yet to take any concrete actions.

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