Category Archives: Labor Laws/Legislation

Comparison of Student Views on Minimum Wage, Unions, Income Inequality at York & Cornell

Source: David Doorey and Wilma Liebman, Doorey’s Law of Work blog, September 26, 2013

How do undergraduate business students in Canada and the United States feel about employment regulation, unions and collective bargaining, and income inequality? Do they see the world of work law differently?…

…We both distributed an anonymous, 5 question survey at the beginning of the term, before we had started teaching any substantive material on the law. Therefore, we were interested in the student opinions that they bring to the class. The survey asked about three substantive areas: (1) the appropriateness of minimum wage regulation; (2) the value (or lack thereof) of unions and collective bargaining; and (3) whether income inequality in the two countries is a cause for concern necessitating a legal response.

Here is the survey, with the comparative results from the students in the two countries. Obviously the sample size is too small to draw any big conclusions, but the results are nevertheless interesting. …

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination in Employment: A Legal Analysis of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)

Source: Jody Feder, Cynthia Brougher, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report for Congress, R40934, July 15, 2013

Introduced in various incarnations in every congressional session since the 103rd Congress, the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA; H.R. 1755/S. 815) would prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity by public and private employers in hiring, discharge, compensation, and other terms and conditions of employment. The stated purpose of the legislation is “to address the history and persistent, widespread pattern of discrimination, including unconstitutional discrimination, on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by private sector employers and local, State, and Federal Government employers,” as well as to provide effective remedies for such discrimination. Patterned on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the act would be enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Inflation and the Real Minimum Wage: A Fact Sheet

Source: Craig K. Elwell, Congressional Research Service (CRS), CRS Report for Congress, R42973, June 21, 2013

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 established the hourly minimum wage rate at 25 cents for covered workers. Since then, it has been raised 22 separate times, in part to keep up with rising prices. Most recently, in July 2009, it was increased to $7.25 an hour. Because there have been some extended periods between these adjustments while inflation generally has increased, the real value (purchasing power) of the minimum wage has decreased substantially over time….The peak value of the minimum wage in real terms was reached in 1968. To equal the purchasing power of the minimum wage in 1968 ($10.70), the current minimum wage’s real value ($7.90) would have to be $2.80 (or 26%) higher. Although the nominal value of the minimum wage was increased by $5.65 (from $1.60 to $7.25) between 1968 and 2009, these legislated adjustments did not enable the minimum wage to keep pace with the increase in consumer prices, so the real minimum wage fell.

Economic Growth and Right-to-Work Laws

Source: Michael J. Hicks and Michael D. LaFaive, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 2013

From the summary:
This study aims to measure the impact of right-to-work laws on states’ economic performance. It uses average annual growth rates in employment, real (inflation-adjusted) personal income and population to measure the economic well-being of right-to-work states. On the whole, the results of this analysis show that right-to-work laws have a statistically significant and economically meaningful positive impact, although the results vary.

There are research challenges to studying the impact of right-to-work laws. One such problem is timing. For instance, it may take a significant period of time, perhaps more than a decade, for the impact of certain policies like right-to-work laws to generate any demonstrable impact on a complex state economy. For these reasons, this study analyzes data from a 64-year period — from 1947, when federal law changed to allow for right-to-work laws, through 2011, the most recent year for which data are available.

Another challenge related to timing is that the effect of right-to-work laws may change as economies and government policies evolve over time. For instance, most would agree that the economy of the 1991-2011 era is different in many ways than that of the 1971-1990 era. For this reason, this study analyzes the effect of right-to-work laws over the entire aforementioned 64-year period, but also in three distinct periods: 1947-1970, 1971-1990 and 1991-2011….

The Rise and Fall of Radical Civil Service Reform in the U.S. States

Source: Robert J. McGrath, Public Administration Review, Volume 73, Issue 4, July/August 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Initiated by a 1996 Georgia statute, “radical” civil service reform quickly swept the United States. This article explains the wax and eventual wane of state efforts to increase the number of at-will employees at the expense of the population of fully protected merit system employees. Using an event history approach to explain this policy diffusion with state-level variables, the author shows that electoral competition and gubernatorial powers are the most significant determinants of this kind of policy diffusion. Whereas previous literature concluded that these reforms ceased spreading because the new programs were failing to create the promised governmental efficiency, this article argues that the institutional conditions for these human resource management policies have been less propitious in recent years. The article signifies an important contribution in that it brings civil service reform back into the scope of policy diffusion literature and identifies political insights into a perpetually important question….

Commentary: Does “Radical Civil Service Reform” Really Abandon Merit?
Source: Doris Hausser, Public Administration Review, Volume 73, Issue 4, July/August 2013
(subscription required)

“Opportunities for Defiance”: Embracing Guerilla History and Moving Beyond Scott Walker’s Wisconsin

Source: Beth Robinson, Thomas Adams, Joe Walzer, Jacob Glicklich, John Terry, Staughton Lynd, Dawson Barrett, LaborOnline, August 16, 2013

This long submission is an essay submitted originally to Labor: Working Class Studies of the Americas from graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who are seeking to grapple with lessons and issues they took from battles in Wisconsin. Editor Leon Fink suggested that it was better suited to a dialog format of our blog and I agreed. We encourage readers to make their way through both the essay and the commentaries, one by Thomas Jessen Adams, a young scholar who is grappling with these issues himself, and one by Staughton Lynd, noted historian and activist. Then, please post your own comments about these issues. – Rosemary Feurer, Editor

There is a lot going on in this lengthy article. We have compiled a table of contents for your convenience.

Beth Robinson, “We Are Wisconsin
Joseph Walzer, “We Are Scholars
Jacob Glicklich, “We Are Workers
John R. Terry, “We Are Graduate Students
Dawson Barrett, “We Are Teachers
Response by Thomas Jessen Adams
Comment by Staughton Lynd

The History of Labor Day

Source: United States Department of Labor, 2013

Labor Day: How it Came About; What it Means
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. …

The Federal Minimum Wage: In Brief

Source: David H. Bradley, Congressional Research Service (CRS), CRS Report for Congress, R43089, May 30, 2013

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), enacted in 1938, is the federal legislation that establishes the minimum hourly wage that must be paid to all covered workers. The minimum wage provisions of the FLSA have been amended numerous times since 1938, typically for the purpose of expanding coverage or raising the wage rate. Since its establishment, the minimum wage rate has been raised 22 separate times. The most recent change was enacted in 2007 (P.L. 110-28), which increased the minimum wage to its current level of $7.25 per hour.

In addition to setting the federal minimum wage rate, the FLSA provides for several exemptions and subminimum wage categories for certain classes of workers and types of work. Even with these exemptions, the FLSA minimum wage provisions still cover the vast majority of the workforce. Despite this broad coverage, however, the minimum wage directly affects a relatively small portion of the workforce. Currently, there are approximately 3.6 million workers, or 4.7% of all hourly paid workers, whose wages are at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Approximately three-quarters of minimum wage workers are age 20 or older and nearly two-thirds work part time.

Proponents of increasing the federal minimum wage argue that it may increase earnings for lower income workers, lead to reduced turnover, and increase aggregate demand by providing greater purchasing power for workers receiving a pay increase. Opponents of increasing the federal minimum wage argue that it may result in reduced employment or reduced hours, lead to a general price increase, and reduce profits of firms paying a higher minimum wage.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): An Overview

Source: Gerald Mayer, Benjamin Collins, David H. Bradley, Congressional Research Service (CRS), CRS Report for Congress, R42713, June 4, 2013

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides workers with minimum wage, overtime pay, and child labor protections. The FLSA covers most, but not all, private and public sector employees. In addition, certain employers and employees are exempt from coverage.

Provisions of the FLSA that are of current interest to Congress include the basic minimum wage, subminimum wage rates, exemptions from overtime and the minimum wage for persons who provide companionship services, the exemption for employees in computer-related occupations, compensatory time (“comp time”) in lieu of overtime pay, and break time for nursing mothers.

Basic Minimum Wage
• The FLSA requires employers to pay covered, nonexempt employees at least the minimum wage. In 2007, the basic minimum wage was raised, in steps, from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour. The basic minimum wage was raised to $7.25 an hour effective July 24, 2009. As of January 1, 2013, 19 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wage rates that are higher than the federal minimum wage rate.
• Basic minimum wage rates in American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) are lower than in the continental United States. In 2007, Congress passed the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 (P.L. 110- 28), which mandated annual increases of $0.50 an hour in the minimum wages of American Samoa and CNMI. In 2010, Congress temporarily suspended these increases. The minimum wage in CNMI increased by $0.50 an hour to $5.55 on September 30, 2012. In July 2012, Congress delayed the increases in American Samoa. The next minimum wage increases in American Samoa are scheduled for September 30, 2015.

Subminimum Wage Rates
• Tipped employees may be paid less than the basic minimum wage, but their cash wage plus tips must equal at least the basic minimum wage of $7.25. Employers may pay tipped workers $2.13 an hour in cash wages, provided the employees receive at least $5.12 an hour in tips. The latter amount is called a “tip credit.”
• Employers may pay special minimum wages (SMWs) to workers with disabilities. The purpose of the SMWs is to provide persons with disabilities the opportunity to work.

• The FLSA requires employers to pay at least time-and-a-half to covered, nonexempt employees who work more than 40 hours in a week at a given job.
• The FLSA allows covered, nonexempt state and local government employees to receive compensatory time off (comp time) for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. Comp time is time off with pay in lieu of overtime pay.

• The FLSA exempts certain employers and employees from the minimum wage, overtime pay, or child labor standards of the act.
• Certain employees in computer-related occupations are exempt from both the minimum wage and overtime standards of the FLSA if they meet an hourly wage or weekly salary test and a job duties test.

Domestic service workers who provide companionship services in private homes are exempt from both the minimum wage and overtime requirements of the FLSA. Under regulations proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), minimum wage and overtime coverage would be extended to companions employed by a third party. Overtime pay would be extended to live-in domestic service workers employed by a third party.

Why Critics of State and Federal Workplace Safety Systems Might be Right

Source: Jonathan Walters, Governing, August 2013

The fatal explosion earlier this year at a Texas fertilizer plant that hadn’t been inspected since 1985 brought attention to the nation’s dysfunctional and ineffective system of keeping employees — both in the public and private sectors — safe…

…Two revelations in particular caught the attention of the public and press. The first was that the plant hadn’t been subject to a safety inspection since 1985. The second was that a key player seemed to be missing in the safety equation: the Texas Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In fact, the two revelations are directly related. Texas doesn’t have an occupational safety and health administration. The responsibility for workplace safety in Texas falls to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is stretched pretty thin these days.

The country, in short, has a bifurcated system of oversight. The federal OSHA is responsible for workplace safety in some states, while in others, state-run OSHA offices handle the job themselves. The questions, then, for states on either side of the bifurcation are: How effective is the oversight of workplaces — from oil rigs and fertilizer plants to office buildings and beauty salons? Who’s in charge? How well are they doing their jobs? These are surprisingly complicated questions with no easy answers….

…It gets even more muddled. U.S. OSHA doesn’t cover state and local employees, only private-sector and federal workers. So five states operate their own bifurcated systems whereby the feds cover private-sector and federal workers and the state covers state and local employees. Twenty-two states have programs that cover all workers — private and public. The remaining 32 states are covered by U.S. OSHA. (Most state programs were put in place in the 1970s, soon after passage of the federal law; few states have elected to take over responsibility for workplace health and safety since then, although Illinois did extend oversight to state and local employees in 2009.)…