Weekend News & Commentary—January 2–3, 2016


Published January 3rd, 2016 - 01.03.1628


The New York Times reports on the plight of a particular group of the long-term unemployed: women over age fifty.  A new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has found that, compared with other demographics, women over fifty have been much less likely to re-enter the workforce and now make up half of the long-term unemployed.  As the Times observes, this finding is particularly noteworthy because recent economic trends, like the decline of manufacturing and expansion of the health-care industry, have been seen as generally bad for male workers and good for female workers.  The authors of the study weren’t able to identify a straightforward cause of the phenomenon, but they and other experts point to a number of possible explanations.  In addition to age discrimination, one theory is that women in this demographic who left the labor force decades ago to take care of children are finding it especially difficult to get back into the labor market.  Or older workers might be choosier about which jobs they’d consider: they might be less willing to relocate for a new job, or might have caregiving responsibilities that demand a more flexible schedule.

California’s Public Employment Relations Board has ruled against San Diego’s aggressive pension cutbacks, which were approved by city voters in 2012, and has ordered the city to create retroactive pensions, adding up to millions of dollars, for the roughly 2,000 municipal employees hired since the cutbacks went into effect.  According to the Los Angeles Times, while labor leaders praised the board’s decision, San Diego city attorney Jan Goldsmith called the ruling “unsurprising” and expressed confidence that it would be overturned on appeal just like previous rulings by the Public Employment Relations Board that would have blocked San Diego’s pension cutback measure.  If the city council authorizes an appeal, as it almost certainly will, it will be heard by California’s 4th District Court of Appeal.

The Boston Globe reports that Northeastern University’s adjunct professor union, which represents about 900 instructors, has filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the school with the NLRB.  Adjunct professors do not have long-term contracts with the university; instead, they are hired on a per-class basis, often on short notice.  In its complaint, the union alleges that the university “unilaterally implemented changes to health insurance eligibility and benefits” and “failed to notify and bargain with the union regarding changes to the parking rates charged to bargaining unit employees.”  According to the union, all but forty of its members are ineligible to enroll in Northeastern’s new health plan, and even eligible members are expected to pay premiums double those required from other employees.  In a statement late last week, Northeastern asserted that it “continues to bargain in good faith and [is] optimistic about finalizing a contract that will include parking and health care costs.”  But after well over a year of negotiation has failed to result in a contract, the adjunct professors have grown increasingly frustrated.  They have threatened a one-day strike if a labor contract is not reached by January 19.

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