Category Archives: Labor Laws/Legislation

Five Steps to Implementing the New Federal Home Care Rule

Source: PHI (Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute), New York Issue Brief, October 2015

From the press release:
PHI (Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute) has released new policy guidance to help New York State officials effectively implement the new U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Home Care Final Rule. These considerations — described as “five key steps” — are meant to ensure that New York’s 300,000 home care workers are paid a fair wage in a timely manner, and elders and people with disabilities experience no disruption in their home care services and supports.

The new DOL home care rule — effective today — extends federal wage protections to 2 million home care workers across the nation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), including the federal minimum wage, time-and-a-half pay for overtime, and pay for time spent traveling between clients. Implementation of the rule, which was published in the Federal Register two years ago and scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2015, was delayed by a court challenge from home care industry trade associations….

Eliminating Fair Share Fees and Making Public Employment “Right-to-Work” Would Increase the Pay Penalty for Working in State and Local Government

Source: Jeffrey Keefe, Economic Policy Institute, EPI Briefing Paper #408, October 13, 2015

From the summary:
The U.S. Supreme Court will soon consider a case that may require all states to have public-sector open-shop laws. The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, involves whether Abood v. Detroit Board of Education should be overruled. ….

…..If the Supreme Court overturns Abood and eliminates agency fees, it would essentially make all states right-to-work states (also known as “no-fair-share” states) in the public sector. Such a decision would weaken public employee unions and undermine their effectiveness in collective negotiations, and may push public-employee compensation below market levels in that minority of states where public employees actually make as much as their private-sector counterparts. In the long run, it will reduce public-employee union representation. (In this paper, “public employees” refers to state and local government employees and excludes federal government workers and members of the armed services.)
This report focuses on the effects of collective bargaining and union security on public employees’ wages and compensation and consequently the ability of public-employee unions to close the gap between private-sector and state- and local-government pay.
Following are the main findings of the report:
• State and local government employees earn less than similar private-sector workers, even though their education level (the most important predictor of earnings) is higher; however, they receive better health benefits and pensions. Previous research has found a public-sector compensation “penalty” of 2 percent to 11 percent, with state employees at the higher end of the penalty spectrum. (The penalty is how much less they earn in wages and benefits than private-sector workers with the same education, experience, etc.). Studies alleging that public employees are overcompensated do not control for skill levels and education.
• Public-sector unions raise wages of public employees compared with similar nonunion public employees, which helps to narrow the private-public wage gap in those unionized sectors. The current public-employee union wage boost of 5 percent to 8 percent (Keefe 2013) is rather modest and considerably less than the boost that private-sector unions provide. Thus public employee unions, on average, do not raise wages to meet the wages paid to similar private-sector employees.
• However, public-employee unions in full collective-bargaining states that permit union security (i.e., agency shop clauses) do raise total compensation to competitive market standards set by the private sector. In other words, only public employees in states with full collective bargaining make as much as their private-sector peers. In partial collective bargaining states, right-to-work states, and states that prohibit collective bargaining, public employees earn lower wages and compensation than comparable private sector employees, and this low compensation may impede state and local governments from recruiting and retaining highly skilled employees for their many professional and public safety occupations.
• If the Supreme Court renders agency shop clauses unenforceable for public employees, it will shrink union membership because more people will try to gain services without paying for them (the “free-rider” problem). In RTW states in between 2000 and 2014, free-riders represented 20.3 percent of public-employee bargaining units (i.e., the public-sector unions were certified to represent them but they had decided not to join their workplace’s union nor to pay dues), while public-sector union density (the share of public-sector workers in a union) was only 17.4 percent. In states permitting agency-shop agreements (i.e., non-RTW states) only 6.8 percent of the bargaining units were nonunion members (but in this case not free-riders but agency-fee-payers paying fees equivalent to about 85 percent of dues) and union density was 49.6 percent . This near threefold gap in union density between RTW and non-RTW states underscores the importance of agency fees to the functioning of public employee unions and their ability to provide representation to their members.
• If the court renders agency-shop clauses unenforceable for public employees, it will reduce public-employee compensation by increasing the pay penalty for working in state and local government. Using American Community Survey data, this report finds that the public-sector pay penalty is 1 percent in non-RTW states and 10 percent in RTW states, a net RTW compensation penalty of 9 percentage points….
Press release

Rights On Demand: Ensuring Workplace Standards and Worker Security in the On-Demand Economy

Source: Rebecca Smith, Sarah Leberstein, National Employment Law Project, Data Brief, September 2015

From the summary:
….Regardless of how these businesses characterize their relationships with workers, they should not be allowed to shut workers out of what our nation’s baseline labor standards were intended to convey: the opportunity to achieve and sustain economic security through work. The technology used by these companies and others holds enormous potential to benefit both businesses and workers. To ensure that this potential is met, we must enforce our existing labor standards aggressively and adapt them where and as needed, to ensure they deliver essential labor rights to all, protect law-abiding employers, and secure the safety net and tax dollars connected to employment for the good of us all. Those rights and protections should include the following:
• Rights on the job: Like other workers, on-demand workers should enjoy the protection of baseline labor standards, including the right to the minimum wage for all hours worked and the right to a voice on the job. The label assigned to a worker by an on-demand company should not determine or defeat their ability to have decent jobs. Workers in app-based jobs also need new protections to guard against the misuse of company-held data.
• Social insurance protections: All workers need and deserve the protections afforded by basic social insurance programs. Businesses in the on-demand economy should not get a free pass on making contributions to existing social insurance programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance, on their workers’ behalf. And the social insurance programs now being developed, such as earned leave and supplemental retirement savings, should extend to on-demand workers.
• Broad and equitable access to technology: If the future of work is that we access it via the internet, all workers should have meaningful access to the necessary technologies to secure it.

The on-demand economy covered in this report refers to businesses that use internet-based platforms to assign individuals seeking work to businesses and individuals seeking services, controlling relevant aspects of the work and working conditions. The on-demand economy takes many forms and operates in several key sectors. It includes “ride share” companies such as Uber and Lyft, housekeeping and repair companies such as Handy, computer-based crowdwork companies such as Crowdflower and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and online staffing agencies such as Wonolo. While these companies differ in some respects, they are alike in that they shift risks to workers who deliver the services and concentrate wealth in the online business owners who operate them.

Collective Bargaining and District Costs for Teacher Health Insurance: An Examination of the Data from the BLS and Wisconsin

Source: Robert M. Costrell, Journal of School Choice, Vol. 9 no. 4, 2015

From the abstract:
District costs for teachers’ health insurance are, on average, higher than employer costs for private-sector professionals. How much of this is attributable to collective bargaining? This paper examines the question using data from the National Compensation Survey (NCS) of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the state of Wisconsin. In addition, the impact of collective bargaining on employer costs is decomposed into the impact on total premiums and the employer’s share of those premiums.

The BLS data show that unionization is associated with higher total premiums, higher employer costs, and lower employee contributions in both the public and private sectors. This suggests that the high unionization rate among teachers plays a significant role in districts’ higher average cost. Varying strength of teachers unions across states also helps explain the wide variation in district costs. In states with strong unions, such as Wisconsin, prior to 2011, district insurance costs can be very expensive. It is in those states that the opportunities for district cost reduction are most promising. I examine newly available data from Wisconsin to quantify the impact of that state’s 2011 change in collective bargaining law, Act 10. I find a sharp reduction in district costs from lower-cost policies and higher teacher contributions: 13 to 19 percent in the first year after Act 10, and 18 to 23 percent after the second year, relative to projected district costs.

Labor law highlights, 1915–2015

Source: Graham Boone, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review, October 2015

From the introduction:
“Democracy cannot work unless it is honored in the factory as well as the polling booth; men cannot truly be free in body and spirit unless their freedom extends into places where they earn their daily bread.” This declaration, uttered by Senator Robert Wagner as he introduced the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935, offers a fair summation of the reasoning underlying many of the labor laws enacted during the past century. Equality and the rule of law are considered among the most important principles of democracy—principles that Wagner articulated. This article highlights some of the more important labor laws that have been passed in the hundred years that the Monthly Labor Review has been in publication. All the legislation discussed in this article has, in some way, advanced principles of democracy within the U.S. workforce….

…..Perhaps the benefit of union membership that has the greatest impact on workers is higher compensation—those represented by unions routinely earn more than nonunion members. As figure 6 shows, higher earnings among union members is a pattern that holds among a broad range of demographic groups.
Despite the fact that union membership gives workers more influence in the workplace and yields higher earnings, union membership is on the decline. Union membership rose steadily after the passage of the NLRA but has been declining steadily since the 1960s. In 2014, 11.1 percent of all workers were union members. Many factors likely contribute to the decline. Some people attribute it to changes in the composition of the labor force. Others note a concerted effort by employers to combat unionization, including an uptick in employers’ threats that a workplace will close or move if a union is formed. Regardless of the decline in membership, the fact that most workers have the opportunity to unionize and can choose whether or not to do so by popular vote has expanded democracy in the workplace…..

 Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers, by union affiliation and selected characteristics, 2014 annual averages
View chart data

Careful What You Wish For: A Critical Appraisal of Proposals to Rebuild the Labor Movement

Source: Lance Compa, New Labor Forum, Vol. 24 no. 3, Fall 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Alarmed at declining union density and frustrated with the National Labor Relations Act, many worker advocates want to ditch the NLRA, forsake traditional unions, and start the labor movement afresh. Ideas include making “Alt-labor” a new launching pad; replacing face-to-face union building with high-volume digital organizing; applying the Civil Rights Act to union activity; adopting “members-only” bargaining alongside majority rule and exclusive representation; letting unions make non-members pay for handling their grievances; and even conceding a national “right-to-work” law so unions will try harder to win workers’ support.

Social movements should always examine new strategies. But they should not let novelty overwhelm judgment. Many of these new ideas are clever in theory, but in practice would undermine unions and shift more power to employers and anti-union political forces.

Collective Bargaining 3.0

Source: Erica Smiley, Dissent, Vol. 62 no. 4, Fall 2015
(subscription required)

The first lesson network leaders learn in the Jobs With Justice training is never give your power away. While easier said in a workshop than in the North Carolina General Assembly, it does compel us to remember how change happens. While we need labor law reform, we should not wait for it to build a movement to expand the scale and scope of collective bargaining. Early industrial unions were bargaining long before the Wagner Act codified the practice, leveraging their ability to halt production when necessary. Only through exercising their power, and even breaking some rules, were they able to win the legal protections to back up workers’ ability to bargain equally with employers. ….

… In a recent article for the American Prospect, Lane Windham of Penn State University adds, “in depending on unions to do the negotiating for a social wage, the U.S. had inadvertently given employers in the U.S. a higher incentive than employers in other nations to fight union organizing.”

And fight they have! The corporate class attacked the very power that makes workers equal at the bargaining table—regardless of whether they are attacking a union or a worker center. The Taft-Hartley Act was the first well-known blow, prohibiting jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes, solidarity or political strikes, secondary boycotts, secondary and mass picketing, and more. States could pass right-to-work laws, gutting union membership first in the South, and later throughout the country. Riding this legacy, Scott Walker and the Koch Brothers would have us believe collective bargaining is in its final death throes.

In its current form, it may be…..

Blueprint to Empower Workers for Shared Prosperity

Source: Richard Kirsch, Dorian Warren, and Andy Shen, Roosevelt Institute, October 7, 2015

The Future of Work (FoW) Initiative, a project of the Roosevelt Institute, has been working since 2013 to strengthen the right to organize and collectively bargain, uplift and uphold labor standards, and end racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination in the workplace.

The Blueprint to Empower Workers for Shared Prosperity is the culmination of a two-year process that brought together labor unions, academics, leading thinkers from worker organizing centers, community and policy groups, and attorneys to identify major areas in which to explore new policies. Based on these discussions, the Future of Work leadership team commissioned a set of papers to develop significant policy proposals. This Blueprint synthesizes those papers and a small number of related papers. The result is a set of bold proposals that, taken together, would transform the American workplace, making it more inclusive, dignified, and just.

We believe that in order to challenge inequality and achieve economic justice, we must rebuild the fundamental norms of the workplace. We need to fight inequality at its source, from low wages to lack of bargaining power to systemic labor market exclusion. Doing so will improve economic performance, as workers’ increased incomes drive spending and raise the standard of living. We will build a fair and high-performing economy from the bottom up and the middle out.

Building on this core principle, the Blueprint explores five policy strategies to empower workers and advance shared prosperity: (1) maximizing worker power and voice in the new economy; (2) ensuring local residents receive a fair share of the wealth generated by publicly funded projects; (3) holding all employers accountable for violations of labor and civil rights; (4) promoting worker-centered business models and socially responsible business practices; and (5) valuing care by valuing care workers.

For Republicans, Killing Unions Is More Important Than Improving Education

Source: Dale Hansen, Huffington Post, October 6, 2015

…. The reality is, the issue here is not that teachers unions are bad for education but rather that teachers’ unions are bad for Republican education reform ideas. So instead of falsely claiming data exists to support their errant positions, Republicans have resorted to attacking the unions that stand in the way of the Republican plan to turn America’s children into widgets that their corporate sugar daddies can profit from. For Republicans, education represents the next great opportunity to bilk the federal government out of billions of dollars while pretending to have American’s best interests in mind, much like they have done for decades with the military industrial complex that has the U.S. spending more on defense than the next ten countries combined. If these politicians were being honest they would acknowledge that multiple studies show teachers’ unions have a positive impact on educational outcomes, while another study showed that in areas where union membership was greater, children in low income families were more likely to achieve higher incomes. Since when did increasing test scores and lifting kids out of poverty become destructive? Beyond that, if unions were the biggest obstacle to improving education, then why do so many countries that outperform the U.S. have higher rates of unionization among their teachers? ….
Abolishing Teachers’ Unions Will Not Improve Schools
Source: Walt Gardner, Education Week, Reality Check blog, October 7, 2015

Worker Voice In A Time Of Rising Inequality

Source: Council of Economic Advisers, Issue Brief, October 2015

From the summary:
Over the past six and a half years, the President has put forward his vision for middle-class economics where everyone plays by the same set of rules and if you work hard, you can get ahead. A key piece of his agenda to build a stronger economy for working Americans is to ensure that they have a voice in the workplace through unions and other organizing groups. Today’s Summit on Worker Voice highlights the economic case for strengthening worker representation, and a new CEA issue brief reviews the evolution of unions over time, their impact on a broad range of workplace outcomes, and new forms of organizing that have begun to take shape.