Weekend News & Commentary — April 25-26

Published April 26th, 2015 -  - 04.26.151


According to Reuters “truckers who haul freight from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will vote on Saturday whether to go on strike, organizers said, in a move that could revive labor tensions at the nation’s busiest cargo hub as it recovers from a crippling dockworkers dispute.”  Truckers are demanding to be allowed the right to collectively bargain as employees, not independent contractors exempt from protections, and the outcome of the dispute has widespread implications for the trucking industry in Southern California.  The dispute comes after an agreement in February, previously covered by OnLabor, to resolve a longstanding dispute between ship owners and dockworkers at the ports.

French construction company Vinci and its Qatari subsidiary QDVC are being investigated by the French government for using forced labor to build facilities for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Fusion reports.  The investigation follows allegations that the companies are “guilty confiscating the passports of its largely foreign workforce, providing living and working conditions well below the legal standard, and making threats to workers who sought improvements to their low salaries or attempted to get out of their contracts early.”

Writing in The Washington Post, Lydia DePillis analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to evaluate the composition of the 3 million people who made the minimum wage or less in the United States in 2014.  She found that they are “disproportionately young, female, part-time, Southern restaurant workers without a high school degree.”  DePillis also followed up on the deadly Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh two years ago that that killed 1,129 people and concluded that workers still haven’t been fully compensated, inspections have only increased in factories that sell to Western brands, and the government isn’t carrying out all of its commitments.

Computerworld reports that the U.S. Department of Labor is resisting a request by 10 senators to investigate the use of H1-B visas at Southern California Edison, “telling lawmakers that it can’t initiate an investigation in the absence of a complaint by an employee” and suggesting that it is legal to replace American workers with H1-B workers under the visa program.

According to The Associated Press, in Connecticut “organized labor is marking Workers Memorial Day by calling on the [state] legislature to pass bills intended to improve employee safety.”  Proposed measures would require reporting of bullying or abuse among state employees, help provide workers’ compensation to firefighters who contract cancer due to work, and require reporting hospitals to state prospective nursing staffing plans.

Sarah Horowitz, writing for Fast Company, asks if the decision of Gawker editorial writers to unionize is the latest indication that unionization as a concept is making a comeback with younger Americans.  She argues that the Gawker campaign, previously covered by OnLabor, could be a sign young workers feel they aren’t getting their fair share and are turning to institutions lime unions that can help bring them together.

The New York Times has initiated a series of articles on how robots change the way we conduct business and our daily lives with a piece on the automation of work in China.  The report concludes with the observation that “although building robots to replace workers is seldom cheap, a growing number of companies are finding it less costly than either paying ever-higher wages in China or moving to another country.”

The Los Angeles Times reports on significant pay gaps between public- and private-sector workers in Los Angeles, and that the beneficiaries include city workers considering a strike later this year.  According to The Times, “city employees’ comparatively high pay is partly the result of an across-the-board 24.5% raise the coalition secured during the last round of contract negotiations in 2007. Those raises — which took effect as private-sector workers began seeing their pay stall or slip in the recession — have loomed over the current contract talks and stiffened city officials’ resolve to hold the line on new pay hikes.”

An editorial in The Wall Street Journal criticized Wisconsin Governor and Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker’s position on the labor economics of legal immigration.  While Governor Walker asserted that the H-1B visa program allows skilled foreign workers to get jobs at the expense of Americans, The Journal cites data from the pro-immigration National Foundation for American Policy and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco that refutes his claims.

In an opinion piece also published in The Wall Street Journal, Robert Alt calls on Ohio Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate John Kasich to “stand up for employees and against antiquated labor laws that have made Ohio uncompetitive against its Midwestern neighbors.”  Alt encourages changes to state labor laws such as Wisconsin’s changes to its public sector labor laws and right-to-work laws passed in Michigan and Indiana.

“The common tale that worker productivity and wages are going in opposite directions may be wrong,” Chris Matthews argues in Fortune.  He believes statistics purporting to represent productivity and wages oversimplify economic trends, and that using different measures of inflation and other data complicates the measurement of the conditions faced by the average worker.

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