Today's News & Commentary — November 26, 2015


Published November 26th, 2015 - 11.26.153


As thousands of shoppers prepare to flock to Walmart stores tomorrow, they may be greeted by more than just rollback prices and Black Friday deals. Per Politico, two different labor groups — OUR Walmart, which split from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union earlier this year, and the UFCW-backed Making Change at Walmart — are planning protests, organizing food drives, and launching an ad campaign aimed at reforming the conglomerate’s labor policies. And while Black Friday is sure to be good for Walmart’s bottom line, this hasn’t exactly been the best public relations week for the retailer. On Tuesday, Bloomberg Businessweek published an exposé of Walmart’s employee surveillance practices, which have included enlisting defense contractor Lockheed Martin to gather “intelligence” on its workers’ advocacy efforts.

Wage and hour suits are on the rise, says Lydia DePillis of the Washington Post. DePillis describes recent findings by an employer-side law firm that federal wage and hour litigation has increased 358% since 2000 (federal litigation as a whole rose only 7% during the same period). The firm points the finger for this trend at the “increased attention being drawn to wage and hour issues by a Labor Department that’s been cracking down on misclassification of independent contractors, moving to change overtime rules, and promoting minimum-wage hikes on the local level.” The firm further contends that “the Fair Labor Standards Act, originally enacted in 1938, has failed to adapt from an industrial to a service-based economy, creating ambiguities that often have to be litigated to resolve (witness the lawsuits over the employment status of Uber drivers and other ‘gig workers’).” Yet NYU labor law Professor Samuel Estreicher posits a different theory: “As unions have declined, lawyers are suing less under the laws that govern labor-management relations and more over wages and hours, gaining familiarity with the statute as they go.”

“It makes no sense for labor unions to endorse Hillary Clinton,” says Michael Sainato of the New York Observer. Pointing first to Clinton’s hesitancy to support a minimum wage hike, Sainato suggests that the Democratic presidential contender’s eventual endorsement of a $12/hour minimum wage (rather than the $15/hour wage that SEIU, which recently backed Clinton, has set its sights on) illustrates Clinton’s penchant for “political expediency” over “genuine interest” in the causes that she purportedly champions. Sainato goes on to note Clinton’s historical and continuing ties with Walmart, her husband’s rocky relationship with teachers unions while he served as Governor of Arkansas, her initial reticence to denounce the Keystone XL pipeline and the Trans Pacific Partnership, and the Clinton Foundation’s close relationship with corporate donors as additional red flags that should give labor unions pause in their rush to support Clinton’s candidacy.

George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times pulls no punches in his criticism of unions’ campaign to extend “temporary” income tax hikes on the Golden State’s richest residents. Citing California’s growing budgetary surplus, Skelton argues that a 2012 ballot measure known as Proposition 30, which “raised the top income tax rate for the wealthiest Californians from 10.3% to 13.3%,” should be allowed to expire as scheduled at the end of 2018. A number of unions, however, including the California Teachers’ Association and SEIU, are backing proposals to prolong the income tax increases — perhaps permanently. Under one such proposal, “40% of the [additional] revenue would go to K-12 schools, 5% to community colleges, 5% to universities, 40% to healthcare and 10% to child care and development.” That may be why a spokesperson for the measure characterizes the calculus behind extending the tax hikes as “[p]retty simple. It’s a fundamental moral choice. It’s true that many wealthy Californians are doing great. But millions of other California families will have better lives with more resources for their schools and healthcare.”

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