Weekend News & Commentary — August 2-3

Published August 3rd, 2014 -  - 08.03.14


While government data on hiring statistics released Friday reveals a significant uptick in hiring across a spectrum of industries, The Washington Post reports that low hourly wages leave many workers/consumers feeling as though the economic recovery hasn’t reached their wallets. The average hourly wage in July was $24.45. Some economists argue that wage increases are a long way off, due to the significant amount of slack in the labor market holding down wage growth. But on Friday, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to growing wages and jobs that pay a middle-class wage, saying that, “[t]oo many people are working hard and falling behind.” But pressure is continuing to build and many workers and voters are asking the question: how long until wages go up, too?

Dozens of managers at Market Basket received letters this week notifying them that the company will be withholding their August salaries, the Boston Herald reports. The company has been operating under a “standard procedure” in which they pay managers their salary on the first of the month for the upcoming month. The company argues that the managers that received the letters haven’t been reporting to work, spokesperson for Market Basket’s co-CEO’s stating “if they return to work, they will be paid ahead as per standard procedure.” But labor lawyer Keith McCown told the Boston Herald that Market Basket likely can’t legally withhold paychecks, even for work that has not yet been preformed. “If you have an agreement with the employer that you’re to be paid at the first of the month, that may be enforceable and the employer may not be entitled to withhold that even though the services haven’t been performed yet,” said McCown.

On Thursday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld state Republicans’ signature legislation on voter identification and union restriction, the Chicago Tribune reports. This is good news for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is fighting for a second term, and has placed these measures as the “centerpiece of his campaign.” In a 5-2 ruling, the justices reversed a lower court ruling limiting parts of the 2011 statute that limits collective bargaining and deduction of union dues for public unions. The court also upheld Walker’s voter ID law, holding that the state constitution allowed such a measure. However, the voter ID law will remain on hold because a federal court found it invalid, ruling that the ID requirement puts an unfair burden on low-income voters. Wisconsin’s primaries are scheduled for Aug. 12, and general elections will be held on Nov. 4.

As reports of an economy on the rebound and hiring increases mount, the LA Times reports on California’s “grey economy,” the growing segment of freelance workers in California’s economy. While the state’s official unemployment rate dropped to 7.4 percent in June, the LA Times reports 16.2 percent of Californians are either jobless, too discouraged to seek work, working less than they’d like or in off-the-books freelance jobs. Because many employers hide freelance workers for tax purposes, it is hard to track the ebb and flow of this grey economy. But some experts argue that this segment of the labor market is a barometer for the wider economy. On the fringes of the official economy include nannies, homecare workers, farm laborer, off-the-books vendors and all-cash contractors. This is a risky and unstable employment condition for “shadow workers,” who tend to be underpaid, have no benefits, are more at risk of employer exploitation, and poorly positioned for career development opportunities. A big question is whether this is a cyclical change, a blip or a signal of a more fundamental change in what employment will look like for workers in California and the country. Economic Roundtable researcher Yvonne Yen Liu told LA Times that she sees this current trend in employment to be “pretty dismal,” and fears that it doesn’t bode well for California’s ability to bounce back economically.

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