Today’s News & Commentary — July 11, 2017

As reported by the New York Times, the Trump administration (the Department of Homeland Security) announced that it would delay, and likely forgo altogether, implementing a federal rule which would have allowed foreign entrepreneurs to come to/stay in the United States to start companies.  According to the announcement, the International Entrepreneur Rule was delayed in order to “provide DHS with an opportunity to obtain comments from the public regarding a proposal to rescind the rule.”  The announcement was not well-received by many business leaders.  The president of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) called the announcement “disappointing,” and described it as “represent[ing] a fundamental misunderstanding of the critical role immigrant entrepreneurs play in growing the next generation of American companies.”

As we mentioned last week, on July 5, 2017, Washington State’s Governor, Jay Inslee, signed SSB 5975 into law.  The law guarantees paid family and medical leave, providing benefits of up to 90% of the employee’s income (matching D.C. in providing the highest percentage of income benefits of any state or district).  Under the law, employees who have worked at least 820 hours in the past year will be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a new child or sick family member.  Employees will also be entitled to up to 12 weeks of paid leave to manage their own serious health issues.  Employees will be able to, under certain circumstances, combine family and medical leave to receive up to 16 weeks of paid leave.  Finally, employees who experience pregnancy-related complications will be able to receive up to 18 weeks of paid leave.  Washington’s program, which will take effect in 2020, will be funded by both employers and employees.  Upon enacting this law, Washington became the fifth state to enact a state paid family and medical leave act.  D.C. has also adopted a paid leave program in its jurisdiction.  OnLabor has covered similar state enactments in the past (see here and here).

Today, oral argument takes place in Amanda Frlekin et al v. Apple.  The case is on appeal to the Ninth Circuit.  In this class action, plaintiff-employees argue that they should be paid for the time they spend at the end of their shifts undergoing anti-theft bag searches.  The employees lost below—U.S. District Judge William Alsup (in the U.S. District Court for Northern California, San Francisco) rested his ruling in part on the fact that employees could choose not to bring a bag to work, and thus obviate the delay of a bag search.  In a similar case, Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, 135 S. Ct. 513 (2014), SCOTUS held that bag checks were not compensable activity because they were not an “integral and indispensable” part of the employees’ job responsibilities.  However, in Miranda v. Coach, Inc., 2015 WL 1788955 (N.D. Cal. 2015), the court held that Busk did not apply to California labor law.  Thus in Frlekin, the favorable outcome to Apple was based on the judge’s finding that employees were not “suffered or permitted” to work during bag checks.

The New York Times profiled economist Michael Mandel’s (Progressive Policy Institute) view that the rise of e-commerce is creating net jobs.  That is, that as e-commerce surpasses brick-and-mortar retail in the economic landscape, it is creating more jobs than it is displacing.  What’s more, Mandel’s “unorthodox” position asserts that these new jobs are higher-paying than traditional retail jobs.  As the profile points out, other economists are skeptical of Mandel’s position.  At the very least, the tension captures the existing anxieties, which we’ve previously covered, about the future of jobs as automation and other labor-saving technologies become increasingly prevalent.

Politics and the DOL Website

I reported on Saturday that at the very moment Donald Trump was at the Capitol delivering his Inaugural Address promising a better life for the working class, a staffer was inside the Department of Labor taking information off the DOL website.  The first to go was a report on efforts to promote LGBT inclusion in the workplace.  After a furor on social media about the deletion of the report, it was briefly restored to the site, but now it is gone again.

Other things have also disappeared. For example, if one searches “Paid Leave DOL” on Google, or on the DOL site, one gets the following:

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Paternity Leave – a Win-Win-Win for Dads, for Companies, and for Women

Mark Zuckerberg is changing diapers, Democratic Presidential candidates are stumping on family friendly policies, Marco Rubio is the first GOP hopeful with a (conservative) paid leave tax credit program, and even new mom Ivanka Trump is blogging with pro-tips for negotiating paid maternity leave.  In the last few weeks, New York passed the most progressive statewide program in the nation and San Francisco became the first U.S. city to mandate fully paid parental leave.

Paid family leave is hot on the list of progressive priorities, but despite this uptick in conversation and incremental changes in the private sector, the U.S. is still the only industrialized nation on earth that doesn’t offer paid maternity or paternity leave.  Only 12 percent of US companies offer some paid leave, down from 17% in 2010, and only 5% of low-wage earners receive such benefits.

Though the Family and Medical Leave Act requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave, it’s just that – unpaid.  Additionally, the FMLA only covers 60% of American workers (in good news, it now includes same-sex couples, after a long battle).  The consequences for those not covered by either the FMLA or employer policies are stark, with a quarter of women either quitting or being let go when a new child arrives.  Of those who get only partial or no pay, a third borrow money or dip into savings and 15% go on public assistance.

While feminists and economists have repeatedly pushed for paid maternity leave, paid paternity leave might actually be one of the most effective ways to decrease the gender wage gap, shift the gender balance in the home, and keep women in the workforce.

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An Update on Paid Sick Leave and Family Leave in 2016

In recent years, we’ve seen progress in the battle for paid leave. However, such progress has occurred almost exclusively at the state and local government levels, and almost all of the advances have been on the sick leave front.  The family leave front, by contrast, lags significantly behind.  OnLabor examined the state of sick leave (here) and family leave (here) in 2014.  This post will serve as an update, examining where we are now, how that compares to other developed countries, and why it matters.

Sick Leave

San Francisco was the first locality to pass a law guaranteeing workers the ability to earn paid sick days.  Its 2006 Paid Sick Leave Ordinance required employers to give paid sick leave to all employees (part-time and temporary included) working in San Francisco.  Under the ordinance, employees began accruing leave after 90 days of employment at the rate of one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked, subject to a 5- or 9-day cap, depending on the employer’s size.  The District of Columbia followed suit with similar legislation in 2008 (and expanded access to more employees in 2014).

In 2011, Connecticut became the first state to pass statewide legislation guaranteeing workers access to paid sick days (1 hour for every 40 hours worked; 40-hour carryover).  The city of Seattle followed suit the same year (at rates of 1:40 or 1:30 depending on the employer’s tier).

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Weekend News & Commentary — December 19–20, 2015

Per the Los Angeles Times and Arts Technica, Uber’s new driver agreement will not apply to drivers covered by the class action lawsuit currently pending in federal court. The new agreement prohibits drivers “from participating in or recovering relief under any current or future class-action lawsuits against the company, unless they opted out of that specific provision” — a move that Shannon Liss-Riordan, attorney for the plaintiffs, characterized as “a clear attempt at limiting the size of the class.” In an emergency motion filed in response to the new agreement, Liss-Riordan contended that “[d]rivers receiving the agreement would not realize that they are class members in this case, or that by agreeing and failing to opt out of the arbitration agreement, they may be giving up their right to participate. In effect, Uber is trying to substitute its own notice and opt-out mechanism for court-approved notice and supervision of the opt-out process, and has created substantial confusion among class members in the process.”U.S. District Judge Edward Chen seemed to agree, telling Uber’s attorney that regardless of the company’s “intent,” he “had no intent to say go ahead and issue [such] notices.” Judge Chen further mandated that the company refrain from “communicating with the class without some authorization.” Arts Technica also reports that Liss-Riordan has filed a new motion requesting a bench trial (rather than a jury trial) and a bifurcation of the proceedings into liability and damages phases.

Of the many slogans that Coca-Cola is known for, “Don’t Drink Coke” and “Coke Is a Joke” don’t really stand out at the top of the list. Yet as the Wall Street Journal reports, unionized workers at two of the beverage manufacturer’s bottling plants in Chicago are embracing these new slogans amidst a two-week-long labor dispute. The workers are striking over hikes in health-care premiums as well as claims of “intimidation tactics” during contract negotiations, including allegations that managers walking the shop floor with baseball bats. The Journal notes that although Coca-Cola has typically enjoyed relatively stable relations with its workers — the last strike to affect the company was in 2012 — the strike comes as the company is seeking to cut $3 billion in costs in the face of declining soda sales. For its part, Coca-Cola says that the intimidation allegations are false, and that pay raises and enhanced retirement benefits will “more than offset higher health-care premiums.”

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Today’s News & Commentary — August 12, 2015

“2015 has been a banner year for work family policy,” Eileen Appelbaum, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research told the Huffington Post.

Sure enough, Adobe Systems Inc. is the latest company to announce a new parental leave policy, less than a week after Netflix and Microsoft announced their expansive policies. As The Wall Street Journal reports, Adobe will offer 26 weeks of paid maternal leave, an increase of 17 weeks, going into effect on November 1. Fathers who aren’t primary caregivers will get four weeks of paid leave, an increase from two. The change is set to affect about 6,000 employees. As the Journal writes, changes like these in the tech industry may be an attempt to address the fact that the industry is predominantly male, with very few women and people of color in leadership roles.

Following Netflix’s announcement last week that it would offer most of its employees paid parental leave of up to one year, Alizah Salario at the Washington Post writes that the company’s policy change and the resounding approval in response illuminates how far behind the United States remains compared to other developed nations in its parental leave policies. Even if top-tier tech companies like Netflix, Facebook, and now Adobe offer expansive policies to retain their skilled employees, the Family and Medical Leave Act, which only covers about half of American workers, guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Furthermore, as Salario explains, a corporation offering policies beyond the law’s requirements is not the problem; the problem is that the parental leave policies are being advertised as “perks” or “unique job benefits” on lists between “on-site spa service” and “drink fridge.” Salario writes, “Clustering luxurious job perks with extended parental leave blurs the distinction between privilege and what should be guaranteed by public policy.”

In political news, the National Nurses United has become the first national union to endorse Bernie Sanders, according to Politico. The 185,000-member NNU is notoriously liberal, whose history includes opposing the Affordable Care Act for not being single-payer, and its predecessor union supporting Ralph Nader in 2000. The NNU is the second AFL-CIO union to endorse a presidential candidate, following the AFT’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton in July. Continue reading