News & Commentary

November 8, 2015

When it comes to labor-friendly presidential candidates, Senator Bernie Sanders appears to be at the top of the list. As noted by the Los Angeles Times, Sanders has “promised to push a $15 minimum wage, to resist international trade agreements reviled by labor, [and] to break up the big banks with a revival of the Glass-Steagall Act.” He has also introduced legislation “to replace secret balloting with a system in which workers trying to organize need only get a majority of colleagues to sign cards” and “to protect worker pensions.” Yet only one major union has officially endorsed Sanders for president. So what gives? “It’s a classic tension between the head and the heart,” says Lance Compa of the Cornell University School of Labor and Industrial Relations. “Yes, Bernie Sanders is 100% with labor,” said Compa. “But Hillary is 90%. Then you take all the other things into account,” such as Clinton’s perceived winnability during a time when the Supreme Court appointment stakes could not be higher for organized labor, “and it is better than half a loaf for many of these unions.” However, Larry Cohen, former Communication Workers of America president and current Sanders advisor, criticizes this line of thinking. “There is no incentive for elected officials to support working-class values if union leaders are going to then say, ‘We need someone more conservative because they will win,’” he says. “That is what we are getting here. … Secretary Clinton is fine. But she is a corporate Democrat. That hasn’t worked.”

If child care is so expensive, then why do child care workers make so little? That’s the question that many commentators are asking in response to a new study released by the Economic Policy Institute, which found not only that child care workers — who are nearly all female — “receive very low pay,” but also that they “rarely receive job-based benefits” and “have a harder time making ends meet than workers in other occupations.” In fact, “[m]any preschool and child care workers cannot afford child care for their own children.” The irony is not lost on Gillian White, who writes in The Atlantic about a child care center owner who got into the business precisely because of her struggles to afford child care. “The lower valuation of women-dominated industries can be a factor” in the discrepancy between cost and pay, suggests study author Elise Gould in Vox. So too can relatively high labor costs and strict childcare licensing requirements. As for solutions, “beefing up child care subsidies or expanding universal pre-K” might be a start.

PBS takes a closer look at the growing trend toward contingency employment in an interview with Professor and Dean Richard Greenwald of Brooklyn College. Greenwald, whose forthcoming book The Death of 9–5 details the trend, bemoans the “new normal” of a sizable portion of the “workforce working contingently without any safety net. They’re holding all of the burdens, all of the risks that used to be carried by employers or institutions on their own shoulders. They don’t have defined benefits. They don’t have healthcare. They’re working from gig to gig. And the system that we’re operating under is still geared to a nine-to-five, permanent, full-time job economy. Our political system, our economic system hasn’t caught up.” Greenwald goes on to call for political intervention “[b]ecause right now, there’s very little economic incentive or even social or moral incentive for corporations to continually hire, train and invest in full-time employees when they can outsource whole sectors of it.”

In the continuing fallout from the IRS controversy regarding the targeting of conservative organizations, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina is calling for agency employees to be stripped of their unionization rights. The Federal Times reports that the Republican senator has introduced a bill that would bring the IRS within the scope of a collective bargaining exemption “normally reserved for agencies involved in national security or otherwise require employees to remain apolitical,” such as the GAO, FBI, CIA, NSA, and Secret Service. In a statement, Scott explained the rationale behind his bill: “The American people should be able to trust that the Internal Revenue Service is running as efficiently as possible, and not being used by any president as a blunt force tool to enact revenge on political enemies.” Although the proposed legislation would affect tens of thousands of employees, the senator is apparently most concerned with “the 200-plus employees [who are] currently doing [full-time] union work.” In response, the National Treasury Employees Union decried the attempt to “take away long-held rights from front-line federal employees.” Moreover, given that “all of the independent investigations [into the targeting controversy] found that the processing problems were the result of mismanagement,” the union contends that “[i]t makes no sense to punish rank-and-file employees at the IRS by taking away their workplace rights and leaving them with no protection against retaliation or other potential management abuses.”

A federal judge has thrown out a proposed class-action lawsuit alleging that Apple’s practice of subjecting its brick-and-mortar employees to mandatory bag searches violated California wage and hour law. Bloomberg reports that U.S. District Judge William Alsup dismissed the suit — which sought to certify a class of over 12,000 employees working at Apple Stores throughout the state — because workers could have avoided the searches by not bringing bags to work. One law professor estimated that Apple could have been on the hook for $60 million in unpaid wages had the suit been successful. The U.S. Supreme Court denied a similar claim brought by Amazon workers under federal law in 2014.

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