The fall and possible rise of labor coverage in US media

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Longtime labor reporter Steven Greenhouse (now retired) wrote a piece for The Atlantic earlier this year headlined “Why the Media Started Caring About the American Worker Again,” with some of his reflections on the recent shifts in the media’s coverage of labor issues. Here are a few selected highlights:

I’m still worried about the state and fate of labor coverage—it’s mostly absent on television news, and, as media organizations continue downsizing, it may be one of the first things to go. Nonetheless, I am considerably less concerned than I was eight or so years ago.
[…]
But ever since the Great Recession began in late 2007—thank you, Wall Street—the news media have devoted far more attention to workers. More and more reporters and editors concluded it was important to cover what was happening to workers—how they were being thrown out of their jobs, foreclosed upon, forced into part-time work, strong-armed into accepting wage freezes, relegated to long-term unemployment. The media’s interest in issues like these has remained high long after the recession ended, partly because the downturn opened the eyes of many reporters and editors to the plight of the American worker—and their eyes remain open. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that editors see that these stories often attract a lot of readers.)

Beyond that, three recent movements have helped ensure more coverage of worker issues. Occupy Wall Street pushed the issue of income inequality into the national conversation…

More recently, the Fight for 15 movement has pushed the issue of low-wage work onto center stage…

The other movement that has spurred more coverage of labor is the Republican Party’s offensive against public-sector unions.
[…]
Despite all this, many labor stories remain badly undercovered. To name just a few: how the increasing use of volatile, ever-changing work schedules creates havoc in employees’ lives; the crazy, exhausting, and often dangerous hours that the nation’s truck drivers work…

 

Oct 21, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 147

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: American unions for the Millennial generation; Fortune 500 tax avoidance. People: Bill, Persephone, Nate. Produced: October 18th, 2015.

Episode 147 (49 min):
AFD 147

Discussion Points:

– What is the future of American unions as Millennials come to the fore?
– Fortune 500 firms may have avoided $620B in recent taxes

Related Links

The Atlantic: “Can Millennials Save Unions?”
AFD: “Fortune 500 firms may have avoided $620B in recent taxes”
CTJ/PIRG report: “Offshore Shell Games 2015: The Use of Offshore Tax Havens by Fortune 500 Companies”

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And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video game blog of our announcer, Justin.

Labor Day 2015: America is actually pro-union, finds Gallup

58% of Americans approve of Labor unions. 61% would like to see them have at least as much, if not more, influence in the future. The U.S. media consistently denigrates organized labor and suggests everyone hates them and all problems are their fault. That should stop.

(Source: Gallup, August 2015 via Polling Report)


Recently on this topic from AFD:

The origin story of minimum wage laws, part 1
The origin story of minimum wage laws, part 2
Fair wages are just another operational cost to meet
Key win for workers in the subcontract/franchise economy

Sept 2, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 141

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: A vital ruling by the National Labor Relations Board; the European refugee crisis; Lebanon’s capital protests lack of trash collection. People: Bill, Kelley, Nate. Produced: August 30th, 2015.

Episode 141 (56 min):
AFD 141

Discussion Points:

– Workers’ rights: Major U.S. corporations will no longer be able to shield themselves on labor issues by subcontracting and franchisees will have to face unions.
– Refugees: Is the European Union doing enough to deal with the refugee crisis? Is the world prepared for mass climate refugee situations?
– Lebanon: The people rise up in Beirut as trash goes uncollected for weeks on end.

Related Links

– Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “NLRB ruling could be boost for contract and franchise employees”
The Guardian: “Syrians fleeing war find new route to Europe – via the Arctic Circle”
“Why Al Jazeera will not say Mediterranean ‘migrants'”
AFD: “Real world costs when the Left sells out immigrants”
AFD: Beirut’s Garbage Uprising
AFD: “Lebanon gov’t hastily builds concrete wall, then tears it down”

Subscribe

RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video game blog of our announcer, Justin.

Key win for workers in the subcontract/franchise economy

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

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Vitally important National Labor Relations Board ruling last week — “NLRB ruling could be boost for contract and franchise employees” (Minneapolis Star Tribune):

The National Labor Relations Board on Thursday expanded its joint-employer standard, potentially making it easier for unions to organize employees of franchisees and subcontractors by dragging large corporations to the bargaining table.

The new standard is also significant because corporations could now be held legally liable for workers if franchisees or subcontractors violate labor law.

In a 3-2 decision, the five-member board said that the old standard no longer kept pace with the current workforce where the diversity of workplace arrangements has significantly expanded. For example, in 2014, 2.87 million workers were employed through temporary agencies, more than double from the 1.1 million in 1990.

 
Much more analysis on this is coming in tomorrow’s episode of the Arsenal For Democracy radio show.

The origin story of minimum wage laws, part 1

Part 1: New Zealand, Australia, Massachusetts, the New Deal, and China: How governments took an active role initially, and how they balance economic variability now. || This original research was produced for The Globalist Research Center and Arsenal For Democracy.

More than 150 countries have set minimum wages by law, whether nationwide or by sector. Other countries have no legal minimum, or governments play a different role in wage setting processes.

Where in the world did government-set minimum wages originate?

In 1894, over 120 years ago, New Zealand became home to the first national law creating a government role for setting a minimum wage floor – although this may not have been the initial intention.

The Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act established an arbitration court made up of both workers and employers. It was intended to resolve various industrial-labor relations disputes in a binding manner. The goal was to avoid all labor strikes.

The court was empowered to set wages for entire classifications of workers as part of these resolutions. It did not take long for this to evolve into a patchwork of rulings that effectively covered all workers.

Today, New Zealand’s hourly minimum wage is about equivalent in purchasing power parity (PPP-adjusted) terms to US$9.40.

Which country first adopted a living wage?

In the 1890s, neighboring Australia was still a loose collection of self-governing British colonies, rather than one country. One colony, Victoria, was inspired by New Zealand to adopt a similar board with wage-setting powers. This occurred shortly before the Australian colonies federated together in 1901 to become one country.

In 1907, Australia pioneered what is now known as a “living” wage when the country’s new national arbitration court issued a ruling in favor of a nationwide minimum wage.

That court specified that it had to be high enough to fund a worker’s “cost of living as a civilised being.” While the ruling soon ran into legal trouble from the federation’s Supreme Court, it remained a crucial precedent in future labor cases.

To this day, Australia has a generous minimum wage. The current rate is about equal to US$11.20 in PPP-adjusted terms. This represents about 55% of median pay. However, New Zealand’s minimum wage is actually proportionally higher, at 60% of median pay.

N.B. Purchasing-power currency conversions are from 2012 local currency to 2012 international dollars rounded from UN data.

Which U.S. state had the first minimum wage?

In the United States, a minimum wage mechanism was first introduced in 1912 at the state level — but specifically for female workers (and some child laborers) — in Massachusetts.

The state passed a law to create a “Minimum Wage Commission” empowered to research women’s labor conditions and pay rates, and then to set living wages by decree. For any occupation, the Commission could set up a “wage board” comprising representatives of female workers (or child workers), employers, and the public to recommend fair pay levels.

The Commission’s decreed wage had to “supply the necessary cost of living and to maintain the worker in health.”

1912, the year Massachusetts passed the law creating the commission, was part of a period of major reforms in the United States, which had become the world’s largest economy.

These changes gave government a more active legal role in economic policy. In 1913, the country adopted the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. constitution, which made possible a federal progressive income tax. Also in 1913, the Federal Reserve System was created.

More than a dozen U.S. states followed Massachusetts within less than a decade. However, they had to contend with frequent battles before the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of government-set minimums. Read more

What exactly is Chris Christie’s view on contract law?

A NJ.com headline caught my eye: “‘Contract’ isn’t a magic word in N.J. pension legal battle, lawyers argue”

A claim by public worker unions that they have a right to full pension funding challenges the core of New Jersey’s constitutional structure, attorneys for the state said in a brief filed Friday.

 
I find odd the silence from Republicans (and everyone else?) as Gov. Chris Christie’s attorneys appear to challenge the fundamental supremacy of the rule of contract law that holds together much of Anglo-American jurisprudence and property law.

I mean, I guess there’s a valid question about whether or not the state can make and be bound by contracts in violation of the constitution, but I’m not really sure the contract in question is in violation of the constitution.

To my untrained eyes at least, they’re making some pretty bizarre constitutional arguments (mostly centered on state balanced-budget requirements and the like) to prove that contention.

In principle, it sounds similar to the arguments being raised (on the issue of constitutional tax caps) by moderate tax reform advocates, about not binding future legislators by decisions of current legislators/voters — except that in Colorado’s case, they’re challenging the validity of certain state constitutional provisions (which took away the legislature’s effective authority to raise taxes at all) under the U.S. Constitution, rather than (as New Jersey is doing) trying to void contracts because they conflict with stringent state constitutional requirements.

Moreover, even if the New Jersey contracts are indeed unconstitutional, issuing bad-faith contracts is a pretty big problem as far as governing strategies go…and also tends to undermine the strength of contract law in the country.

I don’t have much else to add on this topic at the moment, but I’m flagging it now in case it develops into a bigger story later.