Weekend News & Commentary — December 27-28
The New York Times takes a shot at predicting the economic fortunes of 2015 (or at least asking the right questions). Among the future unknowns the article poses: How much slack remains in the labor market? Will the Federal Reserve treat its target for 2 percent inflation as a goal or a ceiling? What will be the consequence of lower oil prices? How fast does the American economy need to grow to stay healthy, and can that growth be sustained without help from the rest of the world?
The Wall Street Journal reports on a growing number of protests led by aging Chinese migrant workers, who left their farms years ago to work in urban manufacturing jobs and are now nearing the retirement age. “Such workers have until recently focused on securing higher wages. But with an aging workforce, a frayed social-safety net and a tightening labor market, calls for benefits such as pensions and health-care and unemployment insurance have grown louder.” Following prolonged strikes, several large companies have made concessions on benefits, including higher cost-of-living allowances, increased pension benefits, and overtime wages. According to the article, recent laws requiring companies to sign employment contracts and pay social benefits have emboldened workers, leading to almost four times the number of strikes and labor protests this year compared with 2012.
The New York Times covers one high profile labor dispute in New York City between James Dolan, the head of Cablevision and owner of the New York Knicks, and the Communications Workers of America, which represents 270 Cablevision technicians in Brooklyn (a fraction of the company’s overall workforce). Mr. Dolan is eager to hold a decertification election to oust the union, yet the NLRB has insisted that Cablevision has violated labor laws so many times that it has poisoned the atmosphere and made a fair vote impossible. For example, “[l]ast month, a board judge ruled that Cablevision had unlawfully discharged 22 pro-union technicians. The board has also accused Mr. Dolan of illegally threatening to deny the Brooklyn workers a raise and valuable training if they voted to keep their union.” With the list of accusations and counterclaims runs deep on both sides, the battle appears likely to continue.
The US has given a $1 million grant to the Philippines to improve compliance with its labor and employment laws. The award is expected to help the Philippines transition to a more cooperative approach to enforcing labor law, one that encourages voluntary compliance and labor-management dialogue.