News & Commentary

June 21, 2015

Hannah Belitz

Hannah Belitz is a student at Harvard Law School.

The Los Angeles Times reports that California added 54,200 new jobs in May. The state’s unemployment rate also raised to 6.4%. This is just above April’s rate of 6.3%, but down from last year’s rate of 7.6% and substantially higher than the national unemployment rate of 5.5%. Economists see this as encouraging because more workers entered the state’s labor force last month than at any time in the last quarter of a century. The fastest-growing job sector in the state continues to be the construction industry, which also signals a rebounding real estate market. Other growing industries include professional and technical services, such as architects, engineers, and consultants, and the lower-paying leisure and hospitality sector.

According to the Wall Street Journal, activists at an organization called Make the Road New York have teamed up with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to push unionization. They have drafted a bill that presents car wash owners with one of two choices: either buy a $150,000 surety bond and undergo “moral character” reviews to ensure compliance with labor and environmental regulations, or unionize and pay a bond of only $30,000. Car wash owners are not happy about this development. According to Steve Rotlevi, owner of Zoom Car Spa in Brooklyn and leader of the Association of Car Wash Owners, council members are attempting to “force [the car washing] industry into mass unionization” — and this may, in turn, force many car washes to close.

Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced a new bill to protect retirees’ pensions from cuts, according to the New York Times. The bill, introduced by Sanders in the Senate and by two Ohio Democrats, Marcy Kaptur and Tim Ryan, in the House, would create a guaranteed federal fund to prevent future pension cuts. Sanders spoke at a news conference in Washington, stating that the economic system was “rigged” against working-class retirees, and that “the very least that we can do is to keep our promises to people who worked and earned their pensions.” His speech garnered enthusiastic applause from members of the Teamsters union and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The New York Times also reports that the New York legislature has reached an agreement to more strictly regulate the state’s nail salons. The new law comes in response to Governor Cuomo’s request for action, which followed shortly after the New York Times exposé of the exploitation of nail workers (previously covered here, here, and here). The new law will increase the penalties for running an unlicensed salon, create a new class of worker–a trainee–and codify the emergency regulation requiring nail salons to be bonded. Gov. Cuomo stated that the “legislation will quickly expand the tools and resources at our disposal to bring this abuse to an end,” and warned that it should “serve as a notice to the employers of all other industries: New York will vigorously uphold the high moral principles of this state to protect all workers.”

Union leaders are upset about the Clintons’ back-and-forth over the TPP. Just days after Hillary said that Congress should slow down the trade agreement, Bill advocated for it on the Daily Show. According to Annie Karni at Politico, union leaders said that “after Hillary toggled to the left to appease labor unions…Bill Clinton’s television appearance looked like an attempt to assuage corporate elites.” Meanwhile, the small number of House Democrats who voted on Thursday for a trade promotion authority bill warned that they will only continue their support if Obama upholds his promises to include the strongest-ever labor and environmental protections in the TPP.

At the Washington Post, Lydia DePillis describes franchisor concerns over efforts to make them accountable for franchisee misdeeds. The Labor Relations Board is currently considering who bears liability if a McDonald’s worker has his or her rights violated. The NLRB general counsel says that responsibility lies with McDonald’s and that similar types of companies should be considered “joint employers.” At the International Franchise Expo, small franchise owners expressed their fears that if this is true, they could lose their independence as small business owners and that it could “devastate” their business model. The International Franchise Association, which organized the Expo, is worried about impending change in the current franchise model and has waged a campaign to protect the status quo.

Update: This post previously reported that community organizers in New York had attempted but failed to unionize the city’s car wash industry. While it is true that organizers failed to unionize the industry in a comprehensive manner, successful unionization did take place at a number of individual car washes, including K&P Car Wash and WCA Car Wash.

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