News & Commentary

September 6, 2019

Deanna Krokos

Deanna Krokos is a student at Harvard Law School

The Department of Labor released August job numbers today to mixed response. The report showed that the economy added 130,000 jobs in August, lower than the Reuters projection of closer to 158,000. The report also revised previous-months’ findings by 20,000. The New York Times notes that of the additions, 96,000 were private-sector positions, while 25,000 were government-added positions, likely due to necessary census-worker hiring. Industries that shed jobs include mining, logging, retail, and transportation, while the education and health sector showed the strongest increases. Manufacturing added 3,000 jobs. In light of recent months’ reports, commentators have suggested that household spending and consumption is “propping up” the economy.

The new numbers bring the “3 month average” for job addition to 150,000, down from 230,000 this time last year. It also reinforces the trend showing 2019’s numbers significantly lagging behind 2018 monthly totals and averages. On a positive note, the average hourly wage rose 11 cents to $28.11 and the report shows that many positions went to individuals previously “outside” of the labor force who had not previously been looking for work.

As labor issues reach the forefront of national discussion, Democrats campaigning for their party’s nomination for the presidency have incorporated different approaches into their platforms. This week, Vox compiled all of the candidates’ work and wages plans, accompanied by commentary on their comprehensiveness and possible impact on working people. Candidates fell into one of two groups: “labor reformers” like Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, Castro, Warren and Sanders; and “labor supporters” like Biden, Klobuchar, and Yang. While noting differences in the plans, the report calls the variety of proposals “the most ambitious blueprint to overhaul US labor laws” seen in any recent election.

Those ideas may be necessary, as BloombergLaw notes that as Congress resumes session this month, employment issues will be competing for floor time and political capital amidst other high-profile legislative priorities. Two major pieces of the labor-advocate agenda are set for debate. In July, the House passed the Raise the Wage Act, a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 hour by 2025. Near all remaining democratic candidates have supported the idea. The PRO (Protecting the Right to Organize) Act was also introduced before the recess and promises a wish-list of labor law changes from overriding “right to work” legislation to promising stricter punishments for employers who interfere with union organizing. The PRO Act also includes provisions that would simplify joint-employer status.  However, neither bill is expected to progress through the Republican-controlled senate.

The UAW said Tuesday that members have authorized a strike ahead of planned negotiations with major auto manufacturers after their current agreement lapses on September 14. The Wall Street Journal reports that the union plans on targeting GM first. GM has been criticized by labor advocates and presidential hopefuls alike in recent months for shutting down U.S. plants, including one in Lordstown, OH, and laying off workers despite the outward financial health of the company.  The strike authorization vote count exceeded 95% “yes” among workers at GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler.










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