Category Archives: Labor Laws/Legislation

Debate: Abolish The Minimum Wage

Source: Intelligence Squared U.S., April 3, 2013

From the summary:
The first attempt at establishing a national minimum wage, a part of 1933’s sweeping National Industrial Recovery Act, was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1935. But in 1938, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law a minimum hourly wage of 25 cents—$4.07 in today’s dollars. Three-quarters of a century later, we are still debating the merits of this cornerstone of the New Deal. Do we need government to ensure a decent paycheck, or would low-wage workers and the economy be better off without its intervention.

For the Motion:
James A. Dorn – Cato Institute Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Editor, Cato Journal
Russell Roberts – Research Fellow, Hoover Institution

Against the Motion:
Jared Bernstein – Former Chief Economist to Vice President Joe Biden
Karen Kornbluh – Former US Ambassador, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

Fight Wage Theft with Direct Action

Source: Aaron Giesa and Kari Koch, Labor Notes, April 17, 2013

Wage theft—the illegal underpayment or non-payment of wages owed—affects workers across all industries, but is especially rampant in restaurants and construction. Low-wage workers are often forced to work off the clock, before and after shifts, and through meal and rest breaks. It’s difficult for unions to win contracts at these small, insecure worksites, so our foremost tool for getting quick victories and asserting power in the workplace is direct action….

Viewpoint: A Strategy Based on Strikes Means Breaking the Law

Source: Joe Burns, Labor Notes, April 16, 2013

It was a welcome arrival on the labor scene late last year: an organizing strategy centered on workplace activism and strikes. Unions set their sights high, taking on the fast food industry in New York, massive warehouse complexes near Chicago and Los Angeles, and even the nation’s largest employer, Walmart.

The strategy focuses on building organization inside the workplace, rather than on a rigged National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election process. By strategically striking, a group of activists can convince their co-workers that fighting back is possible, raise publicity for their struggle, and pressure employers into granting concessions.

It’s a very traditional strategy, reaching back to a time when a union meant people coming together. With the advantages of a fresh perspective and strong community ties, these emerging forms of worker organization represent new hope for the labor movement.

In the long run, however, it is hard to envision this strategy succeeding unless workers challenge and, if necessary, violate labor law…

Domestic Workers Sow a New Global Movement

Source: Michelle Chen, In These Times, Working in These Times blog, April 15, 2013

In Argentina and Brazil, a sector of workers that has long labored invisibly is moving out of the shadows and gaining legal protections. Their counterparts in Jamaica and Uruguay are sparking a new political consciousness from the friction between tradition and globalization. Around the world, private homes are becoming labor’s latest battleground as domestic workers stake out their rights….

…The pushback against domestic workers underscores the need for a two-front approach that combines ground-level agitation and legislative change. Empowerment of workers within the home, coupled with tighter regulation of household labor practices by the state, can dismantle the paternalism that has historically kept domestic workers from establishing equal labor rights.

Even a relatively rich country with established labor laws can be deeply regressive in the way it treats “the help.” The United States has long exempted many types of domestic workers from protections like health and safety regulations or maternity leave. There has been some progress on the state level, with the enactment of New York’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights a few years ago and similar legislation pending in California. But enforcement of the New York bill remains a challenge, as many workers don’t have the resources or legal savvy to invoke their new protections. And without a concrete collective-bargaining system, a one-woman workforce isolated in a private home remains vulnerable to maltreatment and exploitation….

“Comp-Time” in a Real-time World

Source: Jodie Levin-Epstein, Huffington Post, April 10, 2013

…”The Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013” would allow employers to substitute comp time for overtime payments earned by hourly, non-exempt workers. The Fair Labor Standards Act currently requires employers to pay at least a 50 percent premium above the regular wage rates of non-exempt workers on those hours that exceed 40 hours in a week. The extra payment for working beyond the ordinary week serves a dual purpose: it compensates workers with extra income for extra effort, and it is designed to deter employers from imposing too much work. Overtime pay is not just to be kind to workers. It also counteracts the absence of a federal statute that sets a ceiling on weekly work hours. What’s to keep an employer from routinely asking for 70 hours and firing employees if they refuse? A sure check on that imbalance is overtime payments. In contrast, European Union nations operate with a maximum work week that includes overtime hours applicable to all workers, not just non-exempt employees.

While the bill’s title hits all the right soft spots it comes up short on the realities of how workers’ time — particularly low-wage workers’ time — is currently treated.

While many employers abide the law and pay workers their due, too many avoid the existing wage law and escape its consequences. One study of low-wage workers in three cities found that more than 3 of every 4 workers who should have received overtime pay in the prior week did not get it. …
Working Families Flexibility Act undermines 40-hour workweek
Source: Eileen Appelbaum, Hill, Congress blog, April 8, 2013

Unions Matter: How the Ability of Labour Unions to Reduce Income Inequality and Influence Public Policy has been affected by Regressive Labour Laws

Source: Garry Sran with Michael Lynk, James Clancy and Derek Fudge, Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights, March 27, 2013

There is extensive research literature that suggests there are significant social benefits for countries with strong labour rights and a more extensive collective bargaining system. Income inequality is less extreme according to a variety of measures, civic engagement is higher, there are more extensive social programs such as health care and pensions plans, and the incidence of poverty is significantly smaller. This paper adds to the literature by examining the relationship between labour unions, income inequality and regressive labour laws.

The underlying causes of declining unionization rates will be examined for Canada and will be compared to other developed economies.

The paper finds that regressive labour laws in Canada have reduced unionization rates which has led to rising income inequality and reduced civic participation.

Changes in federal and state unemployment insurance legislation in 2012

Source: Loryn Lancaster, Monthly Labor Review, Vol. 135, No. 3, March 2013

From the abstract:
During 2012, two federal legislative enactments affected the federal-state Unemployment Compensation Program. The federal enactments extend and modify benefits under the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program and the Extended Benefits program, as well as provide federal funding to the states to cover costs for these programs. The methodology used to calculate the “on” and “off ” triggers for the Extended Benefits program by providing a “lookback” of 3 years was also extended. Individuals receiving emergency unemployment compensation are now required to conduct active work search, and states are now required to provide reemployment and reemployment eligibility assessment services to individuals receiving emergency unemployment compensation.

Carlos Centeno and the plight of temporary workers

Source: Jim Morris and Chip Mitchell, Center for Public Integrity, WBEZ Morning Shift, December 21, 2012

When a nearly boiling acid solution burned a Chicago factory worker over most of his body, the company didn’t call 911. Carlos Centeno was a temporary worker. WBEZ and the Center for Public Integrity investigated hazards facing temp workers, and found that the government isn’t keeping close track of their injuries.
98 minutes: Text story
Source: Jim Morris (Center for Public Integrity) and Chip Mitchell (WBEZ), December 19, 2012

‘They were not thinking of him as a human being’
Source: Jim Morris, Chip Mitchell, Updated: January 25, 2013

Company: Temporary worker to blame for his fatal burns
Source: Chip Mitchell, WBEZ, January 7, 2013

In Wisconsin, When Bargaining Is Illegal, We Bargain ‘Informally’

Source: Dawn Tefft, Labor Notes, March 20, 2013

…Many state employee locals in Wisconsin have chosen not to bother with recertification. Locals in the American Federation of Teachers are adopting informal bargaining tactics for items that are off the table.

Employers agree to informal “consent bargaining” outside of contracts—through verbal agreements, memorandums of understanding, or changes in policy—when faced with strong locals. In Wisconsin, where dues check-off and even “fair share” are prohibited, strong locals are those that understand organizing at the grassroots level….

The Informal Economy and Decent Work: A Policy Resource Guide supporting transitions to formality

Source: International Labour Organization (ILO), March 19, 2013

From the abstract:
This practical Policy Resource Guide, initiated and completed by the Employment Policy Department, is the first initiative to bring together in one volume, a synthesis of knowledge, policy innovations and good practices facilitating transition to formality highlighting the multiple pathways and the indispensable synergies and coherence amongst the objectives of employment promotion, social protection and upholding rights.
Sections include:
…4. The Regulatory Framework and the Informal Economy
…(B) Specific Groups
4.b1 Domestic Workers: strategies for overcoming poor regulation
4.b2 Homeworkers: reducing vulnerabilities through extending and applying the law …

5. Organization, Representation and Dialogue
5.1 Social dialogue: promoting good governance in policy making on the informal economy
5.2 The role of Employers’ organizations and small business associations
5.3 Trade unions: reaching the marginalized and excluded
5.4 Cooperatives: a stepping stone out of informality …