Equal Pay [for Teens] for Equal Work

Tyeshawn Clark,[1] is a 17-year-old high school student who lives with his mom and 2-year-old brother in Dorchester, MA. Every day after school Tyeshawn works at the Transformative Culture Project, a job placement he found through the Boston Private Industry Council, an employment program at his high school. This is the third job for Tyeshawn, who started working the summer after his freshman year of high school to gain experience. When Tyeshawn first started working he gave half his earnings to his mom to help around the house. Now his mom has a better-paying job and Tyeshawn gets to keep his earnings for things like back-to-school clothes and snacks. With school nearly out and summer quickly approaching, millions of teens will be entering the job market. Should these teens be paid the same wage as adult workers?

The debate about whether teens (16-19 year-olds) should be paid the same as adults has been going on for decades, but it has taken on new importance as more cities and states look to raise their own minimum wage above the federal level. Activists who support raising the minimum wage have, in some ways, undermined the importance of keeping teen wages on par with adult wages. Consider the messaging in Rhode Island: progressive activists argued for a higher minimum wage by focusing on the fact that minimum wage earners are older women trying to provide for their families. Advocates argued that the minimum wage supports adults and their families, not teens in the suburbs, reinforcing the idea that for teens, a high minimum wage is neither critical nor important – rather the most important part of a job for teens is the professional training. This messaging overlooks a number of arguments for why teens should receive the same minimum wage as adults. When states and cities raise the wage, they should do so without a teen wage carve out, and activists should not view a teen wage as a bargaining chip in the debate to raise the minimum wage. Trading away teen wages could hurt all workers in the long run.

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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 4, 2017

The New York Times reports that Apple plans to create a $1 billion fund for the advancement of manufacturing jobs in the United States. In an interview with CNBC, Apple’s chief executive Timothy D. Cook noted, “Those manufacturing jobs create more jobs around them because you have a service industry that builds up around them.” The company hopes to announce its first investment from the new fund sometime this month.

The House Rules Committee will meet this week to discuss an amendment to the FLSA. The Working Families Flexibility Act is a Republican-sponsored bill that would create the option for employers to offer one-and-a-half hours of paid time off in lieu of one hour’s worth of time-and-a-half overtime wages. The bill recommends capping the paid time off hours available at 160. A blog post notes that the House Education and Workforce Committee approved the bill last week.

The Circuit Court for the District of Columbia reversed an NLRB decision last week in the case of Bellagio LLC v. National Labor Relations Board, finding that the Bellagio Hotel and Casino did not interfere with a bellhop’s “Weingarten rights” under the NLRA. Weingarten rights assert that employees have the right under the NLRA to have union representation during any investigatory interviews. This right must be affirmatively requested by the employee, after which an employer may (1) grant the request, (2) end the interview, or (3) offer the employee the option between holding an interview without representation or not having an interview.

Following a complaint from a hotel guest about the bellhop, Bellagio management attempted to interview the bellhop, Gabor Garner, who requested union representation. Bellagio suggest Garner contact a union representative on his own, but he refused. The hotel then attempted to find a representative, but was unsuccessful. Upon returning to the interview room where Garner was waiting, management asked Garner if he would like to make a written statement instead, which he also refused. Management then ceased the interview and placed Garner on paid suspension pending investigation until Garner returned the following day with his union representative to conduct the interview. Continue reading

Today’s News & Commentary — April 5, 2017

Title VII protects LGBT workers from discrimination, a federal appeals court ruled for the first time yesterday.  The plaintiff in the case, Kimberly Hively, alleged that she had been fired from her teaching job because she is a lesbian.  In an 8-3 decision, the full Seventh Circuit held that “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination” prohibited under Title VII.  The decision — which LGBT advocates have called a “gamechanger” — makes the Seventh Circuit the highest federal court to reach this conclusion.  It comes only weeks after the Eleventh Circuit arrived at a contrary ruling, setting up a circuit split for potential Supreme Court review.  The New York Times has more.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka blasted Washington for losing sight of workers’ interests, in a public address on Tuesday.  Trumka criticized the Trump administration for not fulfilling its campaign-trail promises — he called for more drastic changes to NAFTA than the President’s initial plans suggest — and encouraged workers to bargain with their employers for better wages and better working conditions, “whether [they] have a union or not.”  NPR reports.

Yesterday was Equal Pay Day, as noted on the blog.  This year it fell on April 4, meaning that women had to work an extra three months to catch up with their male counterparts — only a slight improvement over last year, when Equal Pay Day was on April 12.  The Christian Science Monitor looks at the numbers, finding that far too little progress has been made on closing the gender wage gap in the last decade, and that the gap is even larger for women of color.

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Birmingham & The Impact of Race on State Preemption Laws

Early last year, Alabama passed a preemption law preventing any city in the state from, among other things, setting their own minimum wage.  The law was perceived to be targeting Birmingham, the only city in Alabama to have enacted a minimum wage ordinance that went beyond the federal minimum wage.  In response, the NAACP filed a lawsuit arguing that the state’s blocking of Birmingham’s minimum wage hike was done “with racial animus” and violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.  Last month, a federal judge in Birmingham dismissed the suit, which is now being appealed to the 11th Circuit.  As states across the country increasingly pursue preemption to nullify or prevent cities from raising their minimum wage, the lawsuit filed in Birmingham is one of the first to raise the prospect of racial discrimination in the use of preemption, prompting the question: what role does race play in state preemption laws?

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Today’s News & Commentary — February 22, 2017

The influx of refugees into upstate New York has helped revitalize previously-suffering communities.  As the New York Times reports, “[t]he impact has been both low-budget and high-tech”: refugees have provided local businesses with inexpensive, willing labor; foreign-born students have enrolled — paying tuition and fees — at upstate schools; and street-level entrepreneurs have opened new shops.  Somewhat ironically, the cities’ struggles made them popular locations to settle refugees.  Because people left, housing prices dropped, and refugees came in and were willing “to put in the sweat equity that a lot of people weren’t anymore.”  That, in turn, “put properties back on the tax rolls.”

The Wall Street Journal also weighs in on the benefits that refugees bring to the economy. In addition to providing a key source of labor, many refugees “bring a resilience and level of expertise that makes them well-suited for learning on the job.”  According to a study from the Migration Policy Institute, roughly 28% of the refugees over the age of 25 who settle in the U.S. arrive with at least a bachelor’s degree.  The Wall Street Journal notes that skills from abroad may not always translate, and some employers have found that refugees need help with translation services, resume writing, American-style management techniques, and tips for navigating their new lives.  Despite potential training challenges, however, refugees can provide companies with  “a strong competitive advantage,” enabling them to better understand, for example, the needs of clients in key markets across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Chief Judge Patricia Elaine Campbell-Smith of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims recently held that the government had violated the FLSA by failing to examine whether it was required to pay employees who continued to work during the partial government shutdown in 2013.  That those workers were later paid for their time was irrelevant. The Washington Post explains that the decision entitles workers to minimum wage pay for the hours they worked between October 1 and October 5, 2013.  Judge Campbell-Smith ordered the government and the plaintiffs to calculate amounts due and report back by April 7.

The New York Times editorial board posits that blaming robots for job loss, “while not as dangerous as protectionism and xenophobia, is also a distraction from real problems and real solutions.”  The Times points out that if automation were rapidly accelerating, labor productivity and capital investment would be increasing as well.  But the data shows the opposite: in the 2000s, labor productivity and capital investment decelerated.  The problem lies instead with “politicians, who have failed for decades to support policies that let workers share the wealth from technology-led growth.”

Weekend News & Commentary — February 4-5, 2017

The weekend started with some good news, with an above-expectations jobs report released Friday.  January saw 227,000 new jobs and modest wage growth; average hourly wages were up 3 cents at $26.  President Trump has already claimed credit for the strong numbers, predicting that job growth will “continue, big league,” under his administration.
Meanwhile, federal workers who want to express dissent against that same administration are turning to incognito forms of communication to do so, POLITICO reports.  In order to avoid rules covering workplace communications, EPA employees — fearing that the President’s incoming appointees will undermine existing policies — are now using an encrypted messaging app to talk strategy.  Similarly, Labor Department employees are using their private email accounts to circulate a letter asking senators to oppose Andrew Puzder’s nomination for Labor Secretary.
Speaking of which, the nominee — still facing delays in his confirmation process — continues to attract criticism.  The New York Times investigates Puzder’s early career as a lawyer, when he represented business owners and battled labor regulators in the courtroom.  In one of his biggest cases, Puzder defended his boss (a famous mob lawyer and casino owner) against allegations of squandering $25 million from union workers’ pension funds.
Puzder’s opposition to raising the minimum wage has also drawn fire, as the “Fight for $15” and related movements continue to build momentum.  Without a doubt, the importance of a “living wage” has become a central tenet of workers’ activism.  But where does it come from?  JSTOR Daily takes a step back from the debate, pointing out that workers’ acceptance of wage labor — a system that was still decried in the nineteenth century as “wage slavery” — is of relatively recent vintage.  Meanwhile, some commentators are of the view that minimum-wage hikes won’t be enough, in an age of automation, to secure the livelihoods of workers.  Writing for Jacobin, Mark Paul, William Darity Jr., and Darrick Hamilton argue instead for a federal job guarantee that would ensure employment for all.