Weekend News & Commentary — February 13-14, 2016

Published February 14th, 2016 -  - 02.14.16


On Thursday, West Virginia governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a right-to-work bill and a bill repealing the prevailing minimum wage in the state.  However, the Senate and the House swiftly voted by a majority to override both vetoes on Friday with solely GOP support, reports the Charleston Gazette-Mail.  The state will become the 26th right-to-work state on June 1, 2016 and the minimum wage will be repealed within 90 days.  While Republicans in the legislature say the bills will stimulate the economy and promote job growth, the bill was passed over vociferous objections from the state’s employees and labor unions.  State Democrats believe the bill will ultimately undercut workers within the state by weakening unions and threatening worker safety and compensation.

Meanwhile, according to the Montgomery Advertiser, the Alabama House of Representatives voted 60-24 on Thursday to defeat the introduction of right-to-work laws into the State’s Constitution.  Alabama has been right-to-work since 1953, however advocates of the bill were hoping to introduce the language into the State Constitution to “send a message to the business community.”  Alabama, meanwhile, remains the most unionized state in the South, with 10.2% of workers represented, although this number is down from 10.4% in 2014

Meat-packing plants owned by Tyson were recently found to have an average of one worker injury resulting in amputation per month in the first 9 months of 2015 according to  Iowa Public Radio. The information comes from  a Freedom of Information Act request made by Celeste Monforte, a professor of occupational health at George Washington University. Professor Monforte says she made the request to follow up on the results of a new OSHA regulation which became effective at the start of 2015 and requires companies to report occupational injuries within 24 hours.  Meanwhile, similar issues arose for Kia, a Korean auto company operating in Georgia, which has received recent OSHA citations for sourcing parts from a company which “leav[es] workers vulnerable to amputation, electrocution, damaged eyesight and hearing, burns, falls and being struck by flying parts,” reports  the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

A recent op-ed from the New York Times draws attention to the situation of Afghan interpreters, who were hired as part of a program started in 2009.  The program originally allowed Afghans who worked as interpreters alongside the American military to apply for a visa after one year of employment. However, Congress implemented a change to the program this fall which requires two years of employment, a requirement that is now being applied retroactively. According to immigration attorneys, retroactive implementation could affect over 3,000 Afghans awaiting approval from the United States Embassy in Kabul.

Sheltered workshops, not-for-profit entities which employ workers with a range of disabilities for low-skilled jobs may soon lose their exemption from federal minimum wage requirements, according to an article from the Washington Post. In Maryland, the legislature heard arguments this week on a bill which would phase out the federal minimum wage exemption for sheltered workshops. Companies running the workshops, as well as Labor Secretary Tom Perez, have opposed such measures, arguing that on they may have the perverse effect of eliminating jobs for people with disabilities rather than increasing wages. Some workers in sheltered workshops may make less than a dollar per hour, although the Post reports that the number of disabled workers making less than minimum wage is likely under-reported.

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