News & Commentary

December 10, 2017

Incarcerated men, women and children make up a third of California’s wildfire-fighting force.  Doing dangerous and demanding 24-hour shifts, inmate-firefighters are paid $1 per hour.  Their work and time off are the subject of a photo essay from the Marshall Project.  The Atlantic identifies a tension between California’s need for firefighters and the state’s motivation to reduce its prison population—a motivation that became particularly acute after a federal court in 2009 ordered the state to reduce its prison population by about 27%.  So far this year, firefighting has been fatal for two inmates and one civilian.

Unpaid interns at the Hearst Corporation are not employees, according to the Second Circuit, and that means that they aren’t entitled to minimum wage and other FLSA protections.  The Second Circuit arrived at this conclusion by applying the flexible ‘primary beneficiary’ test laid out in the 2016 case Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures: is the employer or the intern/employee the primary beneficiary of the relationship?  Glatt identifies seven factors that structure a court’s consideration of this question.  Though one of the seven counted against Hearst in the present case, the Second Circuit found that the District Court was right to grant summary judgment for Hearst.  The opinion is available here; the New York Law Journal reports here.

In negotiations around extending the International Longshoreman’s Association contract for dock work at East Coast and Gulf Coast ports, automation is a central issue.  ILA president Harold Daggett has taken a firm stance against fully automated terminals and disagrees with the industry’s permissive definition of ‘semi-automated terminal.’  Negotiations ended earlier than expected on Wednesday, with the ILA walking away from the table. Though the union’s current contract runs until September 2018, employers are motivated to achieve a contract extension sooner so that they can signal stability and compete effectively with West Coast ports.

The Washington Post adds its two cents to the discussion around the Department of Labor’s proposed tip pooling rule.  As we recapped here, the proposed rule would allow an employer to redistribute tips, which means taking tips away from front-of-the house workers and either keeping them or giving them to back-of-the-house workers.  The Post points out that the number of workers impacted may be small, and further observes that a handful of restaurants have chosen to avoid tips altogether and instead charge a service fee.

America Is Getting the Make-Work Jobs It Needs.  The title of Noah Smith’s Bloomberg op-ed says it all: American industries are becoming less efficient in terms of workers required per output, and inefficient industries are drawing greater and greater shares of the workforce.  On Smith’s read, this inefficiency is productive.  It addresses the same need that would be met by guaranteed employment or universal basic income: “Instead of giving a few people obviously useless jobs, this make-work system hides little bits of useless work in everybody’s job.”

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