News & Commentary

February 8, 2015

The United Steelworkers union strike, the first nationwide strike at a U.S. oil refinery since 1980, is pressing forward into its second week. On Saturday night, the union announced that the strike by refinery workers would be expanding to two more plants today due to persistent unfair labor practices by oil companies. WGN-TV reports that, as promised, more than 1,000 of the 1,860 workers at the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana went on strike overnight, as well as hundreds of union members at a BP refinery in Toledo, Ohio. According to union spokeswoman Lynne Hancock, the workers are seeking better health care benefits and limits on the use of contractors to replace union members in maintenance jobs.

Despite recent advances in job creation, wages, especially for blue-collar workers, remain stagnant. Reuters reports that hourly wage rates, which many perceive as a reliable indicator of labor market health, rose 12 cents last month, a mere 2.2 percent increase from a year earlier, whereas salaries grew at 3 – 4 percent per year before the 2007-09 recession. Even professional workers, like engineers and workers, saw only a 3 percent increase in wage growth last year. Some economists perceive the sluggish wage growth as a consequence of Congress’ failure to reauthorize legislation providing long-term benefits to unemployed, forcing job candidates to accept lower wages.

Nearly 2,000 workers at the Izod Center, an indoor sports and entertainment venue located in New Jersey, learned this week that they would lose their jobs at the end of March. Almost all of the workers receiving notice, mostly employed by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and Aramark, the food and beverage service at the stadium, are part-time workers. After facing $8.5 million in losses this year, the sports authority voted in January to close the 34-year-old arena, the former home to the New Jersey Devils and the NBA’s Nets franchise, and give hosting rights to its remaining events calendar to the Prudential Center in Newark.

This week, the Japan Times reported that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration was considering a law that would require workers to take at least five paid days off each year. Workers in Japan typically use less than half of their annual leave and some reports suggest that as many as one in six workers took no paid holidays at all 2013. By contrast, a poll conducted by the Japanese unit of Expedia suggested that workers in France enjoyed 37 paid holidays in 2010 and used 93 percent of them. Some see the widespread underuse of vacation time in Japan as related to cultural norms, perhaps best illustrated by the Japanese term “karoshi,” or “death by overwork,” which entered the lexicon in the 1980s during a spike in work-related deaths. AP reports that the legislation, which would place the responsibility of ensuring that workers take adequate leave on employers, will be submitted during the parliamentary session that began in late January.

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