Labor

Subsidizing Poverty

AP Images/Rich Pedromcelli

Want to know the problem with enterprise zones? Then check out Sunday’s Riverside Press Enterprise, one of the best midsized newspapers in California.

A story in it covers Governor Jerry Brown’s successful campaign to have the legislature put enterprise zones out of their misery. (Brown recently signed the bill abolishing the zones.) Conceived by the late Jack Kemp and other unusually well-meaning right-wingers to bring jobs to the inner-city, enterprise zones have provided subsidies to businesses for creating jobs they might have created in any case. Disproportionately, the jobs created were low-paying.

What Tom Friedman Doesn’t Understand About the Economy, Part 72

AP Images/Charles Dharapak

“Average is over,” New York Times columnist Tom Friedman likes to proclaim, and in at least one particular, he’s right. Friedman no longer writes average columns. With each passing week, his efforts become steadily more moronic.

His latest, in Sunday’s paper, is entitled “Welcome to the Sharing Economy,” and in it, Friedman mistakes economic marginality and desperation for innovation and opportunity. The subject of this particular essay is Airbnb, a website where travelers go to rent bedrooms in other people’s homes.

The Great Detroit Betrayal

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Detroit has filed for bankruptcy. Most of the spot-news coverage has focused on the immediate fiscal crisis of the city, but the immediate fiscal crisis really isn’t what got the city into such deep trouble. Certainly, Detroit’s contracts with its employees and its debts to its retirees don’t really explain anything about how and why this once-great city has come to such grief. Those contracts and retirement benefits are par for the course for major American cities—certainly, no more generous than those in cities of comparable size.

Any remotely accurate autopsy of the city will find that the cancer that killed Detroit was the decline of the American auto industry.

Rhode Island’s Small Victory

AP Photo/Susan E. Bouchard, File

When Governor Lincoln Chaffee signed the Temporary Care Giver’s Insurance law last week, Rhode Island became the third state—along with California and New Jersey—to grant paid time off to care for a sick loved one or a new baby.

Rhode Island’s law, which goes into effect in 2014, will not only provide most workers with up to four weeks off with about two-thirds of their salaries (up to $752 a week), it will protect employees from being fired and losing their health insurance while they’re out.

How to Keep Bad Cops on the Beat

A few states forego a key tool protecting the public from rogue police officers.

AP Photo/Harold Valentine

David Silva died during an arrest in Bakersfield, California on the night of May 8. The Kern County sheriff’s department contends that the 33-year-old was drunk and uncooperative and fought back during the arrest. The sheriff’s deputies on the scene also fought back during the arrest—using unreasonable and excessive force, as the civil-rights lawsuit Silva's family filed charges—allegedly beating Silva with batons while he lay on the ground.

One of the accused deputies has the same name as one charged in the 2010 beating of a man that resulted in a $4.5-million court judgment against Kern County. County sheriff Donny Youngblood declined to tell The Los Angeles Times whether he is the same officer.

Wal-Mart Plays Hardball in D.C.

Flickr/laurieofindy

There's a power struggle going on in Washington right now, not between Republicans and Democrats but between Wal-Mart, which is supposed to open six stores in the District, and the city council, which has a bill pending to require big-box retailers to pay a living wage. As you surely know, Wal-Mart was built on keeping costs as low as possible, particularly labor costs. The model Wal-Mart recruit is someone who has no other employment options and so will take whatever they can get. And the retail colossus isn't going to let some uppity city council tell it how much it can pay its employees:

The State of the Unions

AP Images/Bill Wagner

Gallup and Pew concur: Just over one-half of Americans approve of labor unions.

In late June, the Pew Research Center released the results of its biennial poll on unions and corporations, and reported that 51 percent of Americans had a favorable view of unions—up from just 41 percent in 2011, the last time Pew popped the question. Pew’s new number is almost identical to Gallup’s, which found that 52 percent of Americans approved of unions when it last asked that question in August of 2012. Gallup polls on union approval every year and has reported a 52 percent approval rating each of the past three years. Before then, union approval had hit an all-time low for Gallup surveys, with just 48 percent in 2009.

The Part-Timer Problem

The Obama Administration’s decision to delay for a year the penalty that employers (in firms of 50 or more employees) must pay if they don’t provide health insurance to their workers shines a light on a problem that may be even more profound than getting health coverage for every American: that is, the decline of the American job.

The employer mandate was designed for an economy in which American workers were employed in what had been normal jobs. In firms of 50 or more, all workers who put in at least 30 hours a week were either to receive coverage from the firm or else the firm would have to pay the government a $2,000 yearly penalty.

Progressives' Post-DOMA To-Do List

AP Photo/Alex Brandon, file

Two of my favorite writers on legal subjects, Dahlia Lithwick and Barry Friedman, wrote a piece for Slate earlier this week wondering if the progressive agenda hasn't been exhausted by recent victories on same-sex marriage. "While progressives were devoting deserved attention to gay rights," they argue, "they simultaneously turned their backs on much of what they once believed." I share their sense of frustration, but I interpret the landscape differently. To me, the problem isn't the lack of a robust progressive agenda. The problem is that progressives generally lack power. Last week, I saw strong defenses of progressive goals at every level of politics, from ordinary citizens to the highest offices in the country. From the opposition of activists and state legislators to barbaric attacks on the welfare state in North Carolina and reproductive freedom in Texas, to the President Obama's climate change speech and the eloquent defenses of fundamental values of equality made by Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, a broad progressive agenda directed at urgent problems was seen in a brief window of time. The problem, of course, is that much of this came in the wake of defeat; even the stirring victory in Texas is likely to be merely delaying the inevitable.

Still, an extensive progressive agenda is out there. It's worth trying to define some of the most important issues that the American "left," broadly construed, should be and are trying to address. I do not claim originality or an exhaustive list; my intent is to generate discussion and thought about what problems to focus on and how to move forward.

A Good Day For Hotel Workers

AP Images/Paul Sakuma

UNITE HERE, the union of U.S. and Canadian hotel workers, and the Hyatt chain announced a wide-reaching agreement on Monday afternoon that will give Hyatt employees in currently non-union hotels across the nation the right to choose a union without having to face management opposition. In return, UNITE HERE announced it is lifting its global boycott of Hyatt hotels.

Back to School for Labor

The fight for union recognition at Philadelphia’s Olney High School shows the challenges of organizing charter schools.

Courtesy of greatphillyschools.org

Most people wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to attend a three-hour meeting after work hours. But on May 29, the board meeting of ASPIRA of Pennsylvania, a non-profit that runs four charters schools in Philadelphia, was packed with teachers, students, and other staff members. Holding signs that read “Let’s Work Together,” a group of 30 from the Olney Charter High School quietly sat through the last board meeting of the academic year, waiting to hear if ASPIRA would continue to resist their efforts to unionize.

Enough With the Daddy Wars

AP Images/Melissa Moseley

Last week, in the run-up to Father’s Day, Marc Tracy wrote at The New Republic that we are seeing the beginning of the Daddy Wars. It’s not true. It’s even more a falsehood than the “mommy wars” ever were. But while the title is wrong—and I don’t think it will stick—Tracy did rightly identify a new tenor of discussion that is a very good thing indeed—not just for dads, but for families in general.

The Fourth Circuit's NLRB Smackdown

Flickr/Tim Evanson/Carlos Fernandez

At the heart of the latest feud between business groups and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an 11x17 sheet of paper that blandly recites the basics of a statute. But depending on whom you ask, the future of labor, the First Amendment, and freedom from state interference are at stake.

On Friday, the Fourth Circuit became the second federal appeals court to strike down the NLRB's requirement that employers hang a simple poster advising employees of their right to join a union—the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reached a similar ruling last month. The notice resembled the signs in so many break-rooms and copy nooks that advertise the minimum wage or anti-discrimination and health-and-safety laws. This particular poster, however, enraged groups opposed to organized labor and pulled the Labor Board into extensive litigation. The NLRB had intended the sign to educate workers—most of whom hardly know what a union is or what it means to organize for better conditions. But opponents saw the poster requirement as federal activism and argued both that the Labor Board lacks authority to take such a proactive measure and that the notice tramples upon employers' free speech.

Pacifiers and Pink Slips

AP Images/Joel Ryan

Would you lose your job if, for a few months, you had to run to the bathroom more often than your coworkers? Or your doctor told you to carry a water bottle and drink as often as possible? Or if you were told you couldn’t lift more than twenty pounds for a few months?

The Ugly Side of D.C.'s Corporate Bipartisanship

AP Images

Over the past month, an oceanic divide has opened between European and American retailers on the question of how to respond to the manmade epidemic of deadly disasters in the garment industry of Bangladesh, the world’s second largest clothing exporter. In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza fire on April 24, which killed at least 1,127 workers, a group of roughly 40 European retailers—including H&M, Carrefour, Benneton, Tesco, and Marks & Spencer—signed on to a plan binding them to fund both a regimen of independent factory inspections and the improvements required to make those factories safe.

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