Workers Understand a Boss’s “Hopes”

According to the sworn testimony of former FBI Director James Comey, President Trump pulled him into a private meeting in the oval office and said, about the FBI’s ongoing investigation of former national security advisor Michael Flynn, “I hope you can let this go.”  One question raised by the testimony is whether it was reasonable for Comey to interpret President Trump’s statement as a directive.  While labor law does not have a direct answer, the National Labor Relations Board has held that when a company president expresses his “hope” to a worker, it can be coercive.

In a 1995 case, KNTV, Inc., the company president had a private meeting with a reporter where the president told the reporter, “I hope you won’t continue to be an agitator or antagonize the people in the newsroom.”  The NLRB found that the statement was coercive in large part because it was made by the company’s highest ranking official and it was made in a meeting that the reporter was required to attend alone.  Sound familiar?

In other words, the expert agency that regularly adjudicates disputes about whether particular statements by an employer rise to the level of coercion has held that when the president of an organization expresses his “hopes” in a private conversation with a worker, those comments will likely have a “chilling effect” on the employee.

Today’s News & Commentary — May 26, 2017

Maryland’s governor vetoed a paid sick leave bill yesterday, saying the measure would be  “disastrous to our state’s economy.”  The bill would have required employers with over 15 workers to provide at least five days of paid sick leave.  The bill, which garnered enough votes to overcome a veto, may be overridden in the 2018 legislative session.  Governor Larry Hogan had supported an alternative bill, which would have covered companies of 50 employees or larger.

Tesla announced a new VP of HR earlier this week, on the heels of a new report about unsafe working conditions at the sustainable car company’s Fremont, California factory.  As Buzzfeed News reports, Tesla has recently dealt with revelations about hazardous working conditionsracial and sexual harassment, and unfair labor practices.  (You can find some of our previous coverage about the UAW organizing efforts that led to the unfair labor practice allegations here.)  This was the third Tesla HR executive to leave this year.

The reports about President Trump’s budget continue.  AP highlights the proposed elimination of the Senior Community Service Employee Program, a 50 year-old program that gives unemployed seniors training and part-time minimum-wage jobs.  The New York Times details myriad proposals with implications for undocumented immigrants.

Boston Review published an essay about the right to strike, along with a dozen responses. Its most recent issue also features a series debating a universal basic income.

Do Workers Realize How Much Collective Bargaining Scares Employers?

In February, teaching fellows in eight departments at Yale University voted in favor of union representation.  Rather than bargain with the teaching fellows’ union, Yale has insisted upon first exhausting its appeals, apparently hoping that Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-named appointees to the National Labor Relations Board will come to its rescue.  In the meantime, some of the teaching fellows have embarked upon a hunger strike, generating a great deal of publicity, and inflaming tensions on campus as right-wing student groups have taken to taunting the hunger strikers.

At the same time that this controversy has been brewing at Yale, employer trade associations have been aggressively lobbying Congress to do something to overturn the NLRB’s decision in Browning-Ferris Industries, which makes it easier for workers to bargain with lead firms that exercise power over their terms and conditions of employment.

When I think about the events at Yale and the employer community’s reaction to Browning-Ferris, I find it reassuring that collective bargaining still seems to strike so much fear into the hearts of employers.  And yet, workers don’t seem to realize this.  Instead, the share of the economic pie that workers get continues to shrink, while the percentage of workers in unions is also declining.  And, instead of joining together with their co-workers to bargain collectively, some workers have turned to a billionaire demagogue who tells them they should let him be their voice since he alone can solve their problems.

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Guest Post: Curtis Ellis Considered to Lead the Bureau of International Labor Affairs

Bloomberg/BNA’s Ben Penn is reporting that the White House is considering appointing Curtis Ellis to lead the Bureau of International Labor Affairs at the Department of Labor.  Ellis, a Steve Bannon associate, has written that he believes progressives “literally” want the death of white working people and that the Obama Administration sought to “liquidate” American workers through TPP.  He also called job training for unemployed workers “re-education and extermination.”  As the head of ILAB, Ellis would be responsible for representing the Department of Labor in international forums.  Read Penn’s full report here.

Today’s News and Commentary — May 8, 2017

France voted yesterday to elect Emmanuel Macron as its next President, defeating far-right nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen in a run-off election.  As the New York Times notes, this is good news for the European Union, as Ms. Le Pen’s victory would have threatened France’s future as a member of the E.U.  The E.U., however is, still deeply unpopular in many countries as populist candidates continue to become increasingly popular throughout the bloc.  Although Macron has embraced the E.U., he has stated that “we have to listen to our people and listen to the fact that they are extremely angry today, impatient, and the dysfunction of the E.U. is no more sustainable.”

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Working Families Flexibility Act, a measure which allows employees to offer workers extra comp time rather than extra pay when they log overtime.  While Republicans have championed the bill as a move to protect work-life balance, some fear that the trade-off will reduce the FLSA’s disincentives for employers to overwork their employees.  Additionally, the bill would shift the control over use of overtime to management, as the bill gives employers leeway to turn down requests to use comp time if it “unduly disrupts the operations of the employer.”  According to the the Huffington Post, the White House has indicated that President Trump would sign the bill if it gets to his desk.

A 2015 ordinance raising St. Louis’s minimum wage to $10 per hour went into effect on Friday after a  judge lifted an injunction blocking the ordinance. The proposed increase came at a time when cities throughout the country were raising minimum wage levels, and became the subject of a two-year struggle between the City and organizations like the Missouri Retailers Association, who argued that the wage should be uniform across the State.  The ordinance significantly increases the minimum wage in St. Louis, currently at $7.70, and is expected to result in immediate raises for 35,000 workers.

Infosys, an Indian company that supplies American companies with foreign technology workers, has announced it will hire 10,000 American workers in the United States over the next two years.  But, as this op-ed in the New York Times argues this weekend, the “Hire American” plan may not be the cause for celebration it seems, as such moves by individual companies side-step actual, systematic reforms while creating the appearance of change. What is really needed, the piece argues, is a fair H1-B system, which would require companies seeking foreign workers to prove they tried and were unable to find American workers with the skills needed, require higher wages for H1-B workers so they could not be used as a cheap substitute for American labor, and a more rigorous enforcement system.

 

Today’s News & Commentary — May 3, 2017

Hollywood writers have achieved victory.  As the New York Times reports, the Writers Guild of America reached a “middle-of-the night deal” with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the group that bargains on behalf of studios.  As the Los Angeles Times put it, the deal itself “was a pulse-pounding climax that a Hollywood screenwriter might have conceived.”  Although the union did not get everything it wanted — namely, uniform pay for writing done across platforms — it won major concessions from the studios, including better pay, job protection for paternity leave, and a bailout for the union’s struggling health insurance plan.

The New York Times also weighs in on the “lopsided pay structure in coal.”  While coal executives take home huge sums of money — recent bonuses have been in the $10-$15 million range — pay for the average coal worker has stagnated.  From 2004 to 2016, the average salary of chief executives in the coal industry increased as much as five times faster than the salaries of lower-wage coal workers.  Although this disparity reflects widening income inequality across all sectors of the American economy, pay for coal executives “grew much faster, on average, than that of their counterparts across the wider economy, while the average pay for coal industry construction workers failed to keep up with similar jobs in other fields.”  As the Times also notes, the “yawning gap takes on an added significance” in the coal industry since “Trump has made lifting the fortunes of blue-collar and rural Americans a centerpiece of his administration.”

At U.S. News and World Report, Andy Stern addresses the subject of automation and its effect on jobs.  As Stern posits, “automation is increasingly replacing jobs and leaving too few good new jobs in its wake,” but elected officials have failed to take action. According to Stern, “[i]f we want an economy that allows everyone to be economically secure, we need our economists to get out of their bubble and thinking about how we can rightfully address automation.”

According to CNBC, industries from hospitality to landscaping are struggling to find seasonal help because the government “tightened up on visas” for temporary foreign workers.  At-issue are H-2B visas, which are issued to temporary, non-agricultural foreign workers, with a cap of 66,000 visas per fiscal year.  Although the 2015 spending bill exempted returning workers from the cap, no such exception was passed for 2017. On Monday, lawmakers introduced a government spending bill that would increase the number of allotted H-2B visas to about 130,000, but even if the measure passes, it will take weeks for the visas to be processed.  The result?  Many workers “probably won’t arrive in time for Memorial Day and maybe not until after the Fourth of July.”

To Tweet or Not to Tweet? Public Employee Rights During Free Time

Since President Trump took office, public participation in mass forms of civic participation has increased dramatically. The Women’s March, in Washington, D.C. and sister cities across the country, was the largest march in U.S. history. Thousands gathered at airports to protest the Muslim Ban. Activism generated more protests, like “A Day Without Immigrants,” “A Day Without Women,” and to come, a March for Science. But what role can employees working for the federal government have in speaking out? Mounting public pressure against employees highlights the need to educate public employees on their rights to engage in civic discussion and protect their interest in political speech.

A Park Ranger Started the Movement

The first display of public employee participation in civic discussion around Trump administration actions and policies began on January 20th, when the National Park Service (NPS) retweeted a side-by-side comparison of 2009 and 2017 inauguration crowds. The NPS later deleted the retweet and spokesman Thomas Crosson apologized for “mistaken RT’s.” In the first week of his presidency, President Trump instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interior Department, which oversees the NPS, to cease communicating through social media. But on January 24th, the Badlands National Park, tweeted a series of climate change data, including “Burning one gallon of gasoline puts nearly 20 lbs of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. #climate.” By nightfall, the posts were deleted and a NPS official said that the posts were improperly posted by a former employee.

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