Weekend News & Commentary — Aug. 11–12, 2018
U.S. workers’ real wages fell last year, the Labor Department reported Friday, as scant wage gains were wiped out by inflation. Between July 2017 and July 2018, average hourly pay increased 2.7% — but with cost of living increasing by 2.9% in the same period, workers’ purchasing power actually decreased. Workers’ wages have been stagnant since the Great Recession ground to an end in 2010. For years, some economists and policymakers argued flat wages were due to weak growth and labor market slack, claiming that when unemployment fell, employers would raise pay to compete for workers. But now the economy is booming, unemployment is at an 18-year-low, some industries are facing historic labor shortages — and wages still aren’t rising.
The Trump Administration’s Department of Labor issued a new enforcement directive on Friday that could undermine the Obama Administration’s 2014 executive order barring government contractors from discriminating against LGBTQ and women workers and applicants. The new directive issued by DOL’s Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs calls for investigators into workplace discrimination at federal contractors to consider a recent executive order and Supreme Court cases — specifically including Masterpiece Cakeshop, in which a same-sex couple sued a baker who declined to bake a cake for their wedding under a state anti-discrimination law, and Hobby Lobby, in which the Supreme Court expanded religious freedom protections to corporate entities and hobbled the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. LGBTQ-rights advocates characterized the decision as an attempt “to turn the notion of religious liberty into a weapon of discrimination.” The cases the order cites implicate LGBTQ and reproductive rights and anti-LGBTQ employers are already arguing in court that non-discrimination laws violate their religious liberty. The directive’s language appears to warn OFCCP’s investigators not to aggressively enforce non-discrimination protections against employers who might claim that their discrimination is religiously motivated. Acting OFCCP Director Craig Leen also announced that there will be upcoming rulemaking on religious freedom and OFCCP enforcement.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley announced that confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will begin on September 4th, before lawmakers have time to receive and review records from Judge Kavanaugh’s years in the Bush White House. Read OnLabor contributors’ analysis of Kavanaugh nomination here, here, and here.
Last month, four unions representing Disneyland employees forced Disney management to raise Anaheim workers’ minimum wages to $15 an hour. Now, Disneyland is also raising the minimum wage for non-union workers — to $15.75 an hour in Dec. 30. Disney is just one of many examples in which unions have set a pay standard that also benefits non-union employees.
Teamsters union leaders approved a new contract with UPS, the union announced Friday, sending the proposed contracts to union members who work at UPS for a vote. The national contract covers over 260,000 workers at UPS, including drivers, package loaders, and dock workers, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The new deal would create a new category of drivers to handle weekend shifts, which are on the rise due to increases in online shopping, and aims to protect jobs from automation. But the deal is facing significant opposition from within the union: more than 5,000 UPS Teamsters participated in a Vote No [on the contract] telephone town hall on Saturday.
Striking workers can now get unemployment insurance in New Jersey, thanks to a laws signed Friday by Democratic Governor Phil Murphy. The bill was first proposed and passed in 2016, prompted by the nationwide 2016 Verizon workers’ strike — but former Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, vetoed the legislation. Murphy reversed course and signed the bill, which applies to any strike beginning on or after July 1, 2018.