Daily News & Com­men­tary — June 21, 2017

Yesterday, Travis Kalanick resigned from his post as chief executive at Uber following a series of scandals concerning the company’s workplace culture and legal problems.  Earlier on Tuesday, a group of investors insisted Kalanick step down in a joint letter.  Kalanick will continue to serve on Uber’s board.  Read more here.

The White House announced that President Trump will nominate Marvin Kaplan to the National Labor Relations Board.  Kaplan currently serves as independent counsel at the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.  Previously, he served as counsel on the Republican staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.  With two vacancies at the Board and Democrats controlling two of the three filled seats, this announcement puts President Trump on the path to creating a Republican majority at the NLRB.  A Republican controlled Board could rollback many Obama era decisions.  President Trump will also nominate Patrick Pizzella to fill the role of Deputy Secretary at the Department of Labor.  

In international news, the New York Times reported that Laurent Berger, the leader of the French Democratic Confederation of Labor, might be willing to work with the French government to update the country’s labor code.  Berger suggests that President Emmanuel Macron’s victory may provide an opportunity for reform.  Macron has championed “flexible security,” an economic model originating in Denmark.  The system aims to foster agreement between management and labor and reduce unemployment.  While some of Macron’s proposed reforms are likely to face stiff opposition from unions, Berger’s belief that “‘in a globalized world, the economy must be able to adjust” provides hope for the reform effort.  Read more here.     Continue reading

Today’s News & Commentary — June 20, 2017

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, youth in Illinois face an unemployment rate of 70% nearly 16 times the state-wide average. These job disparities widen when considering race, as 85% of African American youth and 81.5% of Latinx youth are unemployed as compared with 73.4% of Caucasian youth. Moreover, a recent analysis suggests this level of unemployment will cost the state over $9 billion in lost tax revenue.


After President Macron’s victory in France and his majority in the French parliament, unions have lost many of their allies in government. Unions are unsure whether they will still have a voice in government or whether President Macron will simply ignore their demands. One looming question is whether various unions can mend their differences and work together to achieve policy reform.


Google has revamped its search tool to include job posts from Monster and LinkedIn. Users can now search for “jobs near me” and filter through jobs based on various criteria. Google product developer Nick Zakrasek commented: “With this new experience, we aim to connect Americans to job opportunities across the U.S.” Importantly, Google will not allow companies to directly post jobs on its platform; instead, it will simply pull job posts from other websites.

Sign of the Times?

Notable that as commentators in the U.S. call for a move from enterprise to sectoral-level bargaining, relying in part on the the French example, France’s new President wants his country to move from sectoral to enterprise-level bargaining.

The Right to Disconnect

In the digitally connected workplace, it’s not easy to be “off the clock.”  Email — coupled with the widespread use of smartphones — has made many employees available at a moment’s notice.  In the United States, one in three full-time workers check their work email “frequently” outside of normal working hours.  Many report checking their inbox at the dinner table, or even in the middle of the night.  The 9-to-5 job is becoming more like 24/7.

This breakdown of work/life boundaries has led to strong calls for reform.  France recently enacted a new law establishing “the right to disconnect” outside of work hours.  And some companies have already banned the use of email when workers are off-duty.  These efforts signal an important shift in attitudes toward work-life balance.  But the problem of workplace technology is more complicated than these solutions might suggest.  “Work-life balance” looks different for different individuals.  In an attempt to strengthen the boundaries between the professional and the personal, policies insisting on a “right to disconnect” could be making those boundaries too rigid for workers who seek flexibility instead.

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Weekend News & Commentary — Nov. 26-27, 2016

In the wake of the recent election, unions — which spent over $100 million campaigning against Donald Trump — now have some tough questions to face.  Republicans are eager to build momentum on right-to-work legislation (a conservative Supreme Court pick will no doubt help), and President-elect Trump is expected to roll back much of the Obama administration’s labor-related reforms — including the Department of Labor’s overtime rule, which a federal court blocked earlier this week with a nationwide injunction (read more here).  Steven Greenhouse, writing for The New York Times, speculates that with a White House that is more hostile to labor, unions will have to focus on local battles (for example, state minimum-wage referendums) while workers experiment with new methods of organizing (taking their cue, perhaps, from the Fight for 15 movement).

Meanwhile, President-elect Trump has not forgotten his campaign promises to keep American jobs from moving overseas.  Over Thanksgiving he reached out to air conditioner manufacturer Carrier, which plans on shuttering two factories in Indiana and moving over 2,000 jobs to Mexico.  “I am working hard, even on Thanksgiving, trying to get Carrier . . . to stay in the U.S.,” Trump tweeted (“MAKING PROGRESS,” he added).  If negotiations succeed, it’ll be a big political win for the President-elect.  Read more here.

Local governments are stepping up efforts to give part-time workers more predictable, more remunerative schedules.  Seattle, New York City, and other cities are considering “fair scheduling” legislation that will provide workers with more notice of their schedules, The Wall Street Journal reports.

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Today’s News and Commentary — August 2, 2016

While the fashion industry remains good at disguising labor, at least some fashion workers will now be part of organized labor.  Buzzfeed reports that more than 1,000 “store workers at Zara, the flagship brand of Inditex, the world’s largest fashion retailer, have voted to form a union in New York City.”  The workers will be represented by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU).  The company agreed to card check recognition.

An Iowa court became the latest to express skepticism about the National Labor Relations Board’s general ability to seek injunctive relief.  According to Bloomberg BNA, the District Court for the Northern District of Iowa held last week that “a National Labor Relations Board official couldn’t obtain an injunction against a corn products processor because the company’s alleged labor law violations haven’t caused a union to lose any of its members.”  Since ” the NLRB’s evidence didn’t show that irreparable harm would likely occur without a federal court injunction, [the judge] denied the board’s petition for injunctive relief.”

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French Lessons: Why Labor and Laborism Need One Another

The 2008 election produced the only institutional arrangement seemingly able to break legislative logjams in our age of polarization: consolidated party control over the entire federal government, alongside a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.  Union leaders and their allies saw an opening for significant labor law reform, a goal that had proved elusive for over half a century.  Combined with the hard-earned lessons learned by an increasingly diverse and creative leadership rank, organized labor looked to a new legal framework as a way to catalyze organizing drives and finally, at long last, staunch the steady loss of membership.

The excitement proved short-lived.  Labor’s signature piece of legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) stalled in the Senate in the summer of 2009, meeting the same fate as prior efforts to rebalance the legal playing field governing labor and management.  The 2010 midterm wipeout of Democratic officeholders in the House and Senate ensured another presidency would pass without reform.  Many analysts – myself included – believed that absent a fundamental change in the legal framework governing collective bargaining in this country, the labor movement would continue to recede into the background of the nation’s political economy.

By certain indicators, we were right.  Roughly 1 in 20 private sector workers belongs to a labor union today, 1/7th the rate during labor’s heyday, and the recent past has revealed the fragility of labor’s public sector power, spared a further legal setback only by the death of Justice Scalia.

Yet as we enter President Obama’s final months in office, it’s clear the prediction missed something important.  Yes membership remains at historic lows.  But, to borrow from Richard Yeselson, “laborism” is ascendant, in spite of the little actual labor to keep it afloat.   The Fight for 15 – begun as a small organizing battle in the town of Seatac, Washington – is transforming the lives of millions of low-wage workers.  Fast food protests and OUR Walmart’s spotlight on the retail behemoth pressured employers to improve working conditions.  President Obama’s recent executive orders and a newly-emboldened NLRB demonstrate what can be accomplished in the face of Congressional gridlock.  And the surprising success of Bernie Sanders’ campaign is pushing a worker-friendly agenda into the Democratic Party platform – and into Hillary Clinton’s policy program.

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