Weekend News & Commentary — February 16-17, 2019


Published February 17th, 2019 - 02.17.198


On Thursday, Illinois state lawmakers passed a bill that will raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025.  The $15 minimum wage was a campaign staple and top legislative priority for Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker, who announced in a statement that he would “proudly sign this historic legislation” on Tuesday.  At present, Illinois’s minimum wage is set at the 2010 rate of $8.25 per hour.  The rate will increase incrementally to $9.25 per hour on January 1 and then to $10 on July 1, 2020, followed by annual increases of $1 each year until January 1, 2025.  The legislation features some exceptions: it preserves the tip credit for gratuity-based industries, which may continue to pay sixty percent of the standard minimum wage, or $9 per hour by 2025, and allows a lower minimum wage, capping out at $13, for minors who work fewer than 650 hours per year.  Illinois will become the fifth state to increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour, after New Jersey passed similar legislation earlier this month.  The successful campaigns for a $15 minimum wage in New Jersey and Illinois may catalyze legislative action in additional states, though a bill for a $15 federal minimum wage supported by 200 congressional Democrats is expected to fail.

In addition to back pay for wages lost due to last month’s partial government shutdown, federal employees will receive a 1.9 percent pay increase, retroactive to January 6, 2019, under the terms of the spending bill President Trump signed into law on Friday.  The 1.9 percent figure falls short of the 2.6 percent introduced in the House, but improves on the pay freeze President Trump ordered in late December.  Political appointees will also get a raise this year.  However, the final bill did not include back pay for hundreds of thousands of federal government contractors impacted by the shutdown.

The U.S. Department of Labor issued updated guidance on Friday that formally rescinded the Obama-era “80/20 rule,” finalizing a change in Department policy announced last November.  The 80/20 rule required employers to pay tipped employees who spend more than 20 percent of their working hours performing non-tipped duties, like folding napkins or washing silverware, the full minimum wage for time spent on those tasks.  In November, the Department reversed its position, declaring instead that non-tipped duties that are “core” to the employee’s tipped position and are performed alongside customer-facing duties may be compensated at the subminimum wage for tipped workers.  Friday’s bulletin affirmed that stance, possibly in response to a federal judge’s ruling last month that the change in direction was not supported by the “abrupt issuance of an opinion letter purporting to change the DOL’s interpretation after years” of employer and employee reliance on the 80/20 rule.  Further litigation as to the validity of the new standard is likely.

Daniel DiSalvo writes in the Wall Street Journal that, contrary to Justice Kagan’s fears of Janus’s “large-scale consequences,” unions “are learning to ‘compete and operate’” without agency fees through savvy political alliances.  He connects the less than one percent post-Janus decline in public-sector union membership to laws passed in many of the twenty-two states affected by the decision.  The legislative efforts he catalogues range from bills regulating unions’ and activists’ access to employee information to laws allowing unions to limit the benefits and privileges conferred on nonmembers.  For DiSalvo, these political maneuvers are evidence that unions “are poised to remain important political players – with help from their friends in state government.”

The NFL and an attorney for former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick announced Friday that the parties have reached a confidential settlement of the collusion grievance Kaepernick filed against the league in October 2017.  Kaepernick claimed that NFL owners had worked together to prevent him from securing a spot on a team after he became a free agent in March 2017 in retaliation for his kneeling during the national anthem in protest against police violence and racial inequality.  The NFL Players Association filed a similar grievance on behalf of his former teammate Eric Reid, who has since signed a three-year contract with the Carolina Panthers.  An NFL arbitrator ruled in August to allow Kaepernick’s grievances to proceed to a full hearing, which was expected to occur some time this year.  The confidential agreement resolves both complaints.

Finally, with spring training now underway and somewhere between 60 and 100 free agents still unsigned, Paul Newberry evaluates concerns that Major League Baseball is headed towards a labor dispute in the Washington Post.  Though the players’ collective bargaining agreement is not set to expire until the close of the 2021 season, negotiations will soon be underway to address players’ concerns about the elaborate system of teams “tanking” for several seasons, accumulating high draft picks, and rebuilding the roster with younger, cheaper players – undermining players’ bargaining power.  Newberry concludes that the stakes for both sides are too high for a strike or lockout to take place this season.

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