Weekend News & Commentary — January 5-6, 2019
The government shutdown rolls on, and with it the suffering of federal employees, who completed their first period without a paycheck yesterday. As previously reported, the shutdown effects some 800,000 federal workers, none of whom will be paid until they are allowed to return to work and many of whom are now filing for unemployment benefits. The standoff has left the furloughed workers feeling like “political pawns,” though Trump himself has yet to mention them. And while more than half of those employees affected by the shutdown are classified as “essential” and thus required to report to work without pay, many are reportedly calling in sick in what appears to be a coordinated protest, leaving massive staffing gaps. If the shutdown lasts another week, it will be the longest in United States history.
Despite a strong December jobs report, the New York Times reports that President Trump’s tariffs are driving factories to lay off American workers and relocate overseas. U.S. manufacturers are reportedly struggling to absorb the costs arising from the administration’s double-digit taxes on imported components and materials like steel and aluminum. One executive stated that the tariffs “incentive you to move out of the United States and build either in Canada or Mexico” and warned that it could lay off its 230 employees if the administration makes good on its threat to raise tariffs by 25 percent. U.S. and Chinese officials will meet tomorrow in an attempt to negotiate an end to the ongoing trade war.
In California, incoming governor Gavin Newsom wants to increase state parental leave from six weeks to six months. Newsom’s plan, which would allow parents to divide up their six months as they like and to transfer leave time to other family members, would be the most generous family leave policy in the nation. While several states have recently passed or proposed family leave policies, none exceed 12 weeks. It is as yet unclear how Newsom intends to pay for the policy: California’s leave program is currently financed by a one percent payroll tax, an increase to which may face opposition from businesses and the California legislature. Still, the policy will likely receive broad support. According to a study by Pew Research Center, the overwhelming majority of working Americans support paid family leave, which has been shown to benefit working women and improve the health of parents and children without significantly effecting employee productivity or turnover.
Meanwhile, teachers in Los Angeles may go on strike for the first time since 1989. United Teachers Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District have been at odds since negotiations between the two parties broke down in October. The union is seeking a 6.5% pay raise, reduction in class sizes, and the hiring of additional nurses, librarians, and counselors. In response, the school district has offered with a 6% raise over two years, but maintains that fulfilling the union’s demands would result in insolvency. Earlier this week, a federal judge rejected the school district’s attempts to prevent a strike by seeking a court order to force teachers and support staff to continue to provide services to students with disabilities regardless of a work stoppage. Union leaders and school district officials will meet tomorrow for last minute negotiations.
In Hungary, protests erupted on Saturday after union leaders called for a national strike. At issue is a new law that would revise the country’s labor code to allow employers to require their employees to work up to 400 hours of overtime each year without immediate compensation. Union leaders have called the legislation a “slave law” and have demanded its repeal. The unions are also calling for increased wages, a better retirement system, and increases in workers’ rights. For its part, the right-wing populist government accused “[t]he pro-migration Soros network” of funding the protests. Hungary is currently facing a labor shortage, but has largely refused to admit foreign workers, preferring instead to demonize immigrants. The national strike will take place on January 19 if the government refuses to negotiate.