Weekend News & Commentary — July 11–12, 2015

Published July 12th, 2015 -  - 07.12.152


The New York Times Opinionator Blog examined the efforts of domestic workers to win labor rights.  When passing the Fair Labor Standards Act and other employment-rights statutes, Congress excluded domestic workers, who were often African-Americans working in the South.  Currently, only New York, Hawaii, California, Massachusetts, Oregon and Connecticut have enacted domestic workers’ bills of rights.  Even with these statutes, enforcement remains a problem as many domestic workers are unaware of these protections.  Remedying this problem has been difficult given the fragmented nature of the domestic workforce and the unlikelihood that domestic employers would provide such information.  To combat this information deficiency, advocates have launched campaigns to apprise domestic workers of their rights and improve their employment conditions.  “The traditional models of organizing haven’t been an easy fit,” said Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “This movement is made up of a lot of women of color who are invisible in our social strata. There’s no registry of domestic workers, no collective to bargain with, so we had to be creative in terms of how this work force can come into its own voice and power.”

The Detroit Free Press reports that the Big Three automakers and the UAW begin negotiations this week.  Although the American auto industry is doing well and labor costs appear to be a shrinking piece of the companies’ cost structures, added pressure created by right-to-work laws in Michigan and Indiana combined with perennial pressures to move production to Mexico promise to be key points of tension in the negotiations.  Additionally, union leaders plan to emphasize the concessions made by labor during the financial crisis.  “Our members over the last two contracts made a lot of sacrifices, and we think it’s our time,” said UAW President Dennis Williams said. “Our legacy employees haven’t had a raise in eight years.”

At the New York Times, Noam Schreiber explains how the current gig economy is a natural outgrowth of employment trends that began in the 1970s.  The article highlights David Weil’s The Fissured Workplace, adopting its depiction of businesses focusing on “core competencies” to reduce expenses by outsourcing nonessential functions.   In the new economy, according to Schreiber, some freelancers have thrived while many others have experienced anxiety and depressed wages.  “The economic argument is that those who have power in the labor market do better, and traditionally it’s been higher-skilled workers,” said Sara Horowitz, founder of the advocacy organization the Freelancers Union. “Today, it’s unclear who has the skills necessary to remain relevant amid all the disruptions.”

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