Weekend News & Commentary — August 26-27, 2017

Published August 27th, 2017 -  - 08.27.179


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration erased information pertaining to workplace deaths from its homepage on Friday.  The data has been replaced with information about how companies can make sure they comply with OSHA standards to reduce workplace risks.  In the past, OSHA listed all workplace deaths, regardless of whether or not the company was issued a citation for violations.  The fatality list has been moved to an internal page, and now includes only fatalities that occur at companies that have been cited for violations.  According to Debbie Berkowitz, an OSHA advisor during the Obama administration and a current senior fellow at the National Employment Law Project, the change in policy could result in up to 20% of worker deaths being left off the list.  Worker advocates worry that the new policy may limit access to information that could reduce work related fatalities.  A Labor Department spokeswoman defended the policy, claiming that the change would make reporting more accurate by eliminating fatalities outside of OSHA jurisdiction, that were not work related, or where the employer was not issued a citation in relation to the incident that caused the fatality.

The New York Times reports that the Service Employees International Union plans to launch a 14-month campaign during the 2018 election cycle to elect pro-labor candidates in the Midwest and Rust Belt.  The region seen labor unions’ influence eroded in recent years.  Efforts by conservatives in these states have led to the enactment of right-to-work legislation, opposition to minimum wage increases, and President Trump’s electoral victory in several historically union-friendly, Democratic Midwestern states.  The S.E.I.U.’s efforts may be effective, given the political climate in the Midwest and Rust Belt.  Polling indicates that President Trump has a net negative approval rating in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, three historically pro-labor Democratic states that the president carried in the election.  Republican governors in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin are also increasingly unpopular amongst constituents.  Despite these statistics and the popularity of unions within the region, there is still debate over how popular some pro-labor positions are amongst union members and supporters.  To combat lukewarm support from longtime union members and supporters, the S.E.I.U. intends to appeal to previously untapped voters in an effort to increase voter turnout.  The union will spend approximately $100 million on its campaign; this is more than the union spent on all federal political campaigning in 2012 and 2016.  Some question whether the focus on political campaigns will distract from other important issues unions face as they seek to adopt to an evolving labor landscape.  David Rolf, president of S.E.I.U. 775 and an international vice president of S.E.I.U., wrote about the challenges facing unions and the inadequacy of looking to the federal government to help unions face those challenges in a previous post.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has released a report addressing the hospitality industry’s use of immigrant labor in the Midwest.  The report concludes that increased immigration may be needed to meet the industry’s demands.  Job growth within the industry is expected to continue, while the U.S. born population is both aging and seeking higher skill jobs.  As such, a larger immigrant workforce may be necessary to keep up with the hospitality industry’s continuing growth.  Hospitality jobs are disproportionately filled by immigrant workers, who account for 31% of hotel workers and 22% of food service workers, despite only being 13% of the U.S. population.  About 1.3 million immigrant hospitality workers are working without legal authorization.  The report also points out that the hospitality sector accounts for approximately 10% of all employment in the Midwest.  Sara McElmurry, the author of the report, ultimately concludes that immigration reforms should focus on attracting more immigrant workers, and on creating paths to obtaining legal authorization for those working illegally.  The report comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s aggressive efforts to curb immigration.

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