The Labor Prospect: Dems Debate

AP Photo/John Locher

Democratic presidential candidates from left, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, Senator Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, and former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee take the stage before the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, October 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. 

Welcome to The Labor Prospect, our weekly round-up highlighting the best reporting and latest developments in the labor movement. 

There were plenty of issues that those in the labor movement were eager to see addressed in last night's first Democratic debate. 

There was the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Clinton recently disavowed, partly in response to Sanders’ labor-friendly trade views, partly to put Joe Biden, who has to support the TPP, in a box. There were Obamacare reforms. Clinton, following Sanders, came out against the Cadillac tax, which is a big sticking point for labor unions. Then there was the minimum wage—Sanders and O’Malley support a national $15 minimum wage, while Clinton will have to articulate why she’s expressed enthusiasm for a proposal to set the national standard at $12 while backing higher increases in more affluent cities and states. 

Clinton pushed back on the notion that she has flip-flopped on the trade deal, which she called "the gold standard" a few years back. She said that she concluded, after seeing the details, that the deal did not meet her personal standards. Minimum wage was not directly addressed, though Sanders called for a national $15 minimum wage and O'Malley boasted of his statewide wage hike as governor of Maryland. Perhaps a bit too in the weeds, the Cadillac tax didn't get any mentions during the debate. Paid sick and family leave, however, did receive some resounding support from the candidates, saying it's a shame that the U.S. is the only major country without such a policy. 

We might just have to wait for the later debates to hear more specific conversations in regards to wages, employment law, and a number of other labor-oriented issues.

A constant argument from those who oppose raising minimum wages is that those jobs are only meant as a entry-level springboard that’ll eventually lead to better paying jobs. But, as FiveThirtyEight’s Ben Casselman explains, more and more low-wage workers are finding themselves stuck in the lowest rungs of the job sector.

“During the strong labor market of the mid-1990s, only one in five minimum-wage workers was still earning minimum wage a year later,” Casselman writes. “Today, that number is nearly one in three, according to my analysis of government survey data. There has been a similar rise in the number of people staying in minimum-wage jobs for three years or longer.”

The Fight for $15 is working to increase the earning power of those who are stuck at the bottom. And now, some labor organizations are calling for even more than $15, arguing that even that isn’t a living wage in most places. Al-Jazeera America’s Ned Reskinoff covers, the Alliance for a Just Society released a report that pushes for a minimum wage of $16.87 based on cost-of-living estimates. As Reskinoff posits, expanding the spectrum of minimum wage proposals to more than $15 could serve to make $15 itself more politically palatable.

For The New York Times, David Segal traveled to South Carolina in an effort to understand why so many voters are abandoning establishment politicians for the conservative insurgent trifecta of Trump, Carson, and Fiorina. The answer? Well, workers are pretty ticked off that they haven’t seen a raise in years.

In North Carolina, the News and Observer has come out with a damning series on the state’s politically ubiquitous labor commissioner, Cherie Berry. The newspaper’s multi-part investigation paints a picture of a “Reluctant Regulator” who is averse to enforcement, and a department that has done an abysmal job of retrieving stolen wages for workers—among a host of other problems.

Philadelphia may soon be joining the wave of localities that are passing ordinances meant to combat rampant wage theft. A bill was introduced in the city council last week that would create a “wage theft coordinator” to root out stolen wages.

The California legislature has been pumping out a lot of progressive policy recently. Last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law what’s being called the strongest piece of fair pay legislation in the country. Earlier this week, Brown signed a bill that works to close loopholes employers use to get away with wage theft.

However, when it came to two bills that had very strong backing from the state’s organized labor lobby and very strong opposition from the Chamber of Commerce, the governor balked. He vetoed both an effort to expand the state’s unpaid family leave law and legislation that would ban mandatory employment arbitration agreements—business groups said the two bills would create outsized costs for local companies. The California Labor Federation called it “a slap in the face of working Californians.”


The UAW has reached a tentative deal—and avoided a strike—with Fiat Chrysler that reportedly includes substantial improvements over the last contract, which workers rejected.

Urban Outfitters will cease on-call scheduling for workers in New York, but hasn’t committed to a nationwide stoppage of the controversial practice.

Seattle’s attempt to ease unionization for app-based drivers is raising the ire, and legal departments, of pro-business groups.

At The Prospect

Last week, the White House held a Summit on Workers’ Voice. Despite some early skepticism from union leaders, the event was seen largely as a glowing endorsement of the need for collective bargaining to address income inequality. As Justin Miller writes, that’s a stark departure from President Obama’s inequality rhetoric stretching back four years ago. Read more…

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