Weekend News & Commentary — October 14-15, 2017

Over at The Hill, Patricia Smith and Sharon Block have an op-ed in which they argue that Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta must appeal a federal judge’s decision to invalidate the Obama-era overtime rule. The Department of Labor overtime rule, which Block and Smith worked closely on, would have raised the “overtime threshold” to ensure that white collar workers making less than $47,476 per year got overtime, giving 4.2 million workers greater protections. In August, a federal judge in Texas purported to invalidate the rule in what Smith and Block describe as a “far reaching and frankly unworkable decision.” They argue that Secretary Acosta must appeal, or else the Department of Labor will be setting not only bad precedent for future overtime rules, but also “sending a clear signal to the American people that [Acosta] doesn’t value their right to overtime pay when they are required to work long hours.”

The New York Times looks at the life of one woman, Shannon Mulcahy, and what happened when this steel-worker of 17 years was told that her job was being moved to Mexico. Rexnord Corporation announced in October of 2016 that about 300 workers at its Indianapolis plant would lose their jobs. It was called a “business decision.” For Shannon, she was “forced to confront a more sweeping question that nags at many of the 67 percent of adults in this country who do not have a four-year college degree: What does my future look like in the new American economy?”

As a comparison, consider reading about the future of local ironworkers in Maryland who were lucky enough to win a major wind energy project in their neck of the woods. “Two companies had been been approved to construct 77 turbines off the Maryland shore, pending federal sign-off. The Public Service Commission estimated the project would create nearly 9,700 jobs and spur over $1.8 billion in in-state spending. The companies would be required to use local port facilities and invest in a steel fabrication plant. And they would have to fund nearly $40 million in port upgrades at the Point.”

Harvey Weinstein will contest his recent firing from The Weinstein Company based on a kind of reverse morality clause in his employment contract. TMZ reports that Weinstein’s 2015 employment contract “says as long as Weinstein pays [a fine], it constitutes a ‘cure’ for the misconduct and no further action can be taken. Translation — Weinstein could be sued over and over and as long as he wrote a check, he keeps his job. The contract has specific language as to when the Board of Directors can fire Weinstein — if he’s indicted or convicted of a crime, but that doesn’t apply here.” Inc. argues that Weinstein’s biggest enabler in his sexual harassment was his contract. The article looks at his morality clause and asks when exactly the The Weinstein Company knew about the sexual harassment allegations, and whether Weinstein has a case to sue.

In light of the ongoing fires in California, there is a long read from the New York Times from August about the incarcerated women who work – and die – fighting California’s fires. “Inmate firefighters can make a maximum of $2.56 a day in camp and $1 an hour when they’re fighting fires…The Conservation Camp Program saves California taxpayers approximately $100 million a year, according to C.D.C.R. Several states, including Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming and Georgia employ prisoners to fight fires, but none of them rely as heavily on its inmate population as California does.” This reliance on cheap and available labor has stymied efforts to actually further reduce the prison population through sentencing reform.

Additionally, the ongoing construction labor shortage will slow the pace of rebuilding in California. Low and middle income families will be the hardest hit, with little to no savings, potentially no where else to go, and no money to rent in the expensive San Fransisco area housing market.

The Nation explores how ICE detainees are being used as a free labor source. According to The Nation, “[w]hile the White House rounds up and imprisons migrants, claiming deceptively that they ‘take jobs’ from Americans, human-rights advocates say that ICE’s private-prison contractors are running a scheme that employs the same ‘aliens’ as a captive workforce in federal detention centers.”

The legal rationale behind coerced immigrant labor is an esoteric historical artifact. There is a 13th Amendment provision allowing pressed labor in criminal prisons. The $1 daily wage derives from an arbitrary rate set by the Geneva Conventions for prisoners of war. But [opponents] argue[ ] that, since immigrant detainees are held on civil rather than criminal charges, there is no legal justification for forcing them into modern-day chain gangs.

On the heels of the Boy Scouts announcing that they will now accept girls into their ranks, Claire Cain Miller looks at what boys could learn from the Girl Scouts and finds that much of what the Girl Scouts can teach boys may help boys to better succeed in the modern economy. “Boys are falling behind in school and in some parts of the economy. That’s in part because modern-day work relies less on physical labor and more on caregiving and collaboration. Jobs that involve these so-called feminine skills are the ones that are growing, in number and pay, according to research from Harvard.” The Girl Scouts’ badges tend to focus on these so-called feminine skills.

Over half of the graduates of culinary schools in America are women and yet less than 7% of women own restaurant businesses in the U.S. A Fine Line is a new documentary from Joanna James, whose mother, Valerie James, runs Val’s Restaurant and Lounge in Holden, MA. The documentary looks at what it is like to be a woman head chef and features interviews with other female restaurateurs, including Iron Chef star Cat Cora and Barbara Lynch. A Fine Line is the closing night film for GlobeDocs, the Boston Globe’s documentary film festival. See the trailer for A Fine Line here.

An Italian woman was granted family sick pay for the two days she took off to care for her sick dog. The decision is the first of its kind in Italy; the woman’s lawyers cited an Italian law which said those “who abandon an animal to ‘grave suffering’ can be jailed for a year and fined up to €10,000.”

President Donald Trump will nominate Preston Rutledge to be the next Assistant Secretary of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration. Rutledge currently serves as senior tax and benefits counsel for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

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