Post-COVID, Americans Don’t Want to Return to Lousy Low Wage Jobs

From today’s New York Times:

The hopes for a booming pandemic recovery — growth led by jobs gains in the millions every month — were dealt a blow in recent weeks by a disappointing April jobs report. Perhaps we will see better when results for May are released this week, on Friday. But, for weeks, many in Democratic policy and political circles have been queasy about addressing the connection between federally supplemented unemployment insurance benefits and the slowing pace of re-employment at this stage of the recovery from the pandemic. There is almost certainly a common sense connection: If you were a low-wage worker, why aggressively attempt to go back to work at a lousy, low-paying job, when you can make more money collecting unemployment benefits.

Still, Republican politicians are getting it wrong too. They are citing countless news reports that businesses are struggling to fill certain positions as both a reason to end federal unemployment benefits and as evidence that the extra benefits were too generous in the first place. They worry that the ability of some workers to stay on the sidelines of the labor market, unless employers offer wages that trump jobless benefits, could result in dangerous “wage inflation” — a potential increase in labor costs that, they believe, consumers will pay for in the form of higher priced goods and services.

That argument simply does not hold water either: Over the coming weeks and months as this aid for the jobless phases out, there will be a flood of anxious job seekers pouring into labor markets. Even if a significant share of workers are temporarily avoiding taking low-paying jobs while benefits remain generous, then there is no true “labor shortage,” as many economists and market commentators are calling it.

When Congress passed the CARES Act last May and the American Rescue Plan Act this March, it was hard, even impossible, for policymakers to forecast the demand for labor or the pace of the economic recovery. The pandemic was still stubbornly lurking. The economic (and humanitarian) risk of doing too little far exceeded the risk of being generous. And in spite of some recent comments from Democrats facing political pressure, the entire point of the enhanced unemployment checks, at least originally, was to tide Americans over until it was safe for more people to work again.

Now enhanced benefits are ending every day for the millions of Americans who have benefited from the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, program, which extends unemployment insurance for 13 weeks to those who exhausted their conventional state and federal unemployment benefits. All extra federal supplements for the unemployed will end on Sept. 6, including the general $300 weekly benefit, as well as the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, program, which provides aid to those who were self-employed. (Some states are in the process of cutting them early.)

Republican-controlled states, as well as some more politically mixed states, are doing this because they presume there is a macroeconomic upside to millions of workers returning to lower-income jobs. They shouldn’t be so sure.

Read the complete article here.

A proposed California law, AB 257, could transform fast-food work for the better

From today’s Fortune Magazine:

A new policy strategy emerging in California holds the potential to transform fast-food work from some of the lowest-paying jobs in the state into good jobs, with solid wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Workers, employers, and policymakers in the state and around the country should pay close attention to this model, because setting and enforcing high standards in the fast-food industry is notoriously challenging—due to the industry’s franchising model, its numerous small employers with little ability to profitably raise standards, and its largely non-union workforce.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 16: Flags are flown at a car caravan and rally of fast food workers and supporters for passage of AB 257, a fast-food worker health and safety bill, on April 16, 2021 in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. The rally was held outside of a McDonald’s location where a worker lodged public health complaints and a wage theft complaint. Some fast food workers are on strike in Los Angeles County today in support of the bill. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Fast food workers earn some of the lowest wages in California—$13.27 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—with only farm workers earning less in the state. Benefits are also meager: Researchers have estimated that just 13% of fast-food workers receive health benefits through their employer. A 2021 study found that more than two-thirds of the families of fast-food workers in California were enrolled in at least one public-safety net program, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid, at a public cost of $4 billion a year.

Compounding these problems is that nearly 9 in 10 fast food-workers, say they are subject to illegal working conditions—refused overtime pay, forced to do off-the-clock work, denied breaks, or placed in unsafe situations.

At the heart of the strategy to improve conditions for fast food workers in California is a “sectoral council,” which would bring together representatives of workers, employers, and public-sector regulators to make recommendations regarding minimum compensation, safety, scheduling stability, and training standards for the industry.  A hearing on the FAST Recovery Act—a bill that would establish the sectoral council—was held on April 22, and some think the bill could pass this year.

Sectoral councils and similar bodies have succeeded in helping raise working standards in a number of industries and regions. The state of New York used a wage board to bring together representatives of workers, employers, and the public to raise wages for fast-food workers;  the city of Seattle Domestic Workers Standards Board provides a forum for domestic workers, employers, private households, worker organizations, and the public to improve conditions for that sector; and a number of countries, including Australia and Britain, have used similar bodies in labor relations.

A fast-food sectoral council could form the backbone of fundamental change in the industry: It could not only raise standards for workers but also provide a way for workers as well employers—both franchisees and franchisors—to have a strong voice on the standards in their industry, while helping ensure standards are actually implemented and complied with.  These features are critical, because the structure of the fast-food industry makes it difficult to improve working conditions with traditional measures that have succeeded in other industries, such as actions by high-road employers that want to provide good compensation, the push of collective bargaining, or stand-alone legislated standards.

Read the complete article here.

Labor Secretary Says Gig Workers Should Be Converted to Employees

From today’s Forbes Magazine:

President Joe Biden positioned himself as the champion of the American worker during his campaign, as well as an ardent proponent of unions. On Thursday, Biden’s Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh, told Reuters that gig workers should be treated as employees.

This simple statement could become an existential threat to app-based technology companies, such as Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash and dozens of others that heavily rely upon gig-economy workers.

The tech companies are basically built on the backs of contract workers. However, these gig workers are not classified as employees. Without the designation, contractors don’t qualify for traditional benefits, rights and privileges that are afforded to full-time permanent employees.

This sector represents a significant part of the economy. About 55 million Americans work in the gig economy, comprising around 36% of the workforce. If the Biden administration decides to take action based upon Walsh’s plan, it could have devastating consequences. 

Walsh seeks to rectify the situation by reclassifying contract workers as “employees.” The labor secretary said, “We are looking at it, but in a lot of cases, gig workers should be classified as employees…in some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not and I think it has to be consistent across the board.” Based upon this news, shares of Uber fell as much as 8%, while Lyft took a dive by 12%. Doordash fell nearly 9% and Grubhub was down 3.3%.

There are concerns raised by opponents of the gig-economy structure who say, similar to Walsh, it doesn’t seem fair to workers. Venture capitalists, institutions and wealthy individuals have flooded capital into this sector. When the tech companies went public, the investors, CEOs and top executives reaped vast fortunes. Contractors serve as cheap labor. If they acquiesce to critics like Walsh, they risk losing multimillions or billions of dollars. 

While many people earn a livelihood driving cars, delivering food and offering creative services through on-demand companies, there is a dark side. The contractors work long, hard hours for little pay and no real benefits. Near-monopolies have been created that crush or drive out the competition. Look at what happened to the once-ubiquitous yellow taxi cabs when Uber came to New York City. 

Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Grubhub and other similar gig-based companies are highly dependent upon independent contractors. They have a financial self-interest in classifying drivers or workers as contractors. This model enables corporations to avoid paying payroll taxes, FICA (Social Security and Medicare), disability, federal and state-level unemployment and health insurance benefits. They are not required to comply with minimum-wage laws nor offer vacation days. 

Read the complete article here.

California pays homage today to another American hero with a complex legacy

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Let me tell you about an American hero whom the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education might find, um, troublesome.

Cesar Chavez stands surrounded by reporters.

He opposed undocumented immigrants to the point of urging his followers to report them to la migra. He accepted an all-expenses-paid trip from a repressive government and gladly received an award from its ruthless dictator despite pleas from activists not to do so.

He paid his staff next to nothing. Undercut his organization with an authoritarian style that pushed away dozens of talented staffers and contrasted sharply with the people-power principles he publicly espoused. And left behind a conflicted legacy nowhere near pure enough for today’s woke warriors.

A long-dead white man? A titan of the business world? Perhaps a local politician?

Try Cesar Chavez. The United Farm Workers founder is the first person I always think about whenever there’s talk about canceling people from the past. He’s on my mind again, and not just because this Wednesday is his birthday, an official California holiday.

On Jan. 27, the San Francisco school board voted to rename 44 schools that it felt honored people who didn’t deserve the homage. Some of the condemned make sense — Father Junipero Serra, for instance, or Commodore John Sloat, the Navy officer who conquered California in the name of Manifest Destiny. Others are worthy of debate. Should we really champion Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence who also fathered multiple children with his slave, Sally Hemings? Or John Muir, the beloved naturalist who didn’t think much of Black and Indigenous people?

The board’s move was rightfully met with disbelief and derision. In a year when parents are clamoring for schools to reopen, this is what board members spent their time on? And are kids really harmed if they attend a school named after Robert Louis Stevenson or Paul Revere?

Which brings us back to Chavez, the revered labor leader whose bust President Biden recently put on prominent display behind his desk in the Oval Office. On Wednesday, First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Delano, Calif., to celebrate the state holiday with the Cesar Chavez and United Farm Workers foundations, her office announced over the weekend.

Read the complete article here.

The Unionization Vote at Amazon

From today’s New York Times:

The most closely watched union election in recent history is underway in Alabama, where almost 6,000 workers at an Amazon warehouse near Birmingham are voting on whether they want to form a union. The election has attracted attention from President Biden, N.F.L. players and Hollywood actors, making it a high-stakes test of whether a union has a role in one of the country’s biggest employers.

The unionization effort, which began last summer, is the largest and most viable organizing campaign among Amazon workers in the United States. Here is what you need to know about it.

The unionization push came from a group of largely Black workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., which is just outside Birmingham. Late last summer, they approached a local branch of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which has grown in the South, particularly in poultry, an industry with traditionally dangerous jobs and many Black employees.

The union deployed organizers who worked at nearby warehouses and poultry farms to focus full time on talking to workers at the Amazon warehouse. By late December, more than 2,000 workers signed cards indicating they wanted an election, the union said. The National Labor Relations Board determined that those signatures signaled “sufficient” interest in holding a vote.

Two big forces have helped drive the unionization effort: the pandemic’s focus on essential workers and the racial reckoning brought on by Black Lives Matter protests.

Amazon opened the Bessemer warehouse in March 2020, just as the coronavirus was taking hold in America. The pandemic made clear the critical role essential workers, many of whom were Black and paid hourly, played in serving customers and the economy broadly. Amazon had extraordinary growth last year, as people turned to online shopping instead of venturing into stores. It went on a huge hiring spree, ending the year with 1.3 million employees and $386 billion in sales.

In early summer, George Floyd’s killing prompted calls for racial justice, and the union has focused its organizing on issues of racial equality and empowerment. It has a decades-long history of working on civil rights and labor issues in the region. Around the same time, Amazon ended the extra pay it had given workers earlier in the pandemic. The workers who started the organizing said their pay was not commensurate with the risks they took and the productivity they must maintain.

Read the complete article here.

Senators who voted against $15 minimum wage represent three-quarters of workers who would benefit

From today’s Business Insider:

Of the 32 million workers who would receive a raise under a $15 minimum wage, 24 million are in states where senators voted against it, according to a new report from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

That works out to 75% of all the workers who would benefit from a higher federal minimum. The 32 million workers who would be impacted represent 21% of the overall workforce, according to the report.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ push to include a provision for raising the wage to $15 by 2025 was voted down on Friday. Seven Democrats — including the moderates Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — joined Republicans in voting down the measure. Also voting against was independent Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with the Democrats.

The EPI report found that increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 would also benefit America’s essential and frontline workers. It would be a wage hike for 19 million of them, around 60% of all workers impacted. 

As Insider’s Grace Dean previously reported, almost a third of Black workers would get a raise under the policy; EPI also found that 26% of Hispanic workers would benefit from the bump.

A $15 minimum wage has broad support. In an Insider poll, over 60% of respondents said they would definitely or probably support a $15 minimum wage. Respondents were more split on when an increase should come into effect: 39% said that, were the increase to go into effect, a “$15 minimum wage should be implemented immediately.” Conversely, 50% would “prefer a phased rollout, gradually raising the minimum wage annually to $15 in 2025.”

Sanders’ Raise the Wage Act would have raised the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025. Even that schedule wasn’t quick enough for some minimum wage workers.

Cynthia Murray, a Walmart associate and member of United for Respect, testified at a Senate budget committee hearing on the proposed increase

Read the complete article here.

In Biden, Labor Leaders See a President Who ‘Is Not Playing’ Games

From today’s New York Times:

As Richard Trumka stepped out of the Oval Office last month after meeting with President Biden and a group of his fellow labor leaders, he had an unfamiliar feeling.

“He got it,” Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said of Biden.

“Many times you go into meetings like that and you have to start with the basics about why collective bargaining is important, and then you get to the end, and they still really don’t get it,” Trumka, whose organization represents the largest federation of labor unions in the United States, said in a phone interview today. “None of that was necessary with him. He already had that going in. So we talked about solutions.”

As the Biden administration kicks into gear, it is putting organized labor at the heart of its push to rebuild the economy to a greater degree than any president — Democrat or Republican — in well over half a century.

The administration has indicated that a sweeping infrastructure bill is likely to be its next major focus, after Biden signs the $1.9 trillion relief package that appears on its way to passage in Congress. The president has repeatedly said that “good-paying union jobs” will be at the core of his infrastructure plan, a commitment that he reiterated during his meeting with labor leaders last month. He has also thrown his support behind the PRO Act, which would represent the most comprehensive piece of federal labor reform in a century.

And last week Biden turned heads when he released a short video announcing his support for Amazon workers’ push to unionize in Bessemer, Ala. He did not name Amazon, but he expressed support for “workers in Alabama,” and insisted that the right to unionize was essential to a healthy work force throughout the country.

“That’s something very new: No president since Harry Truman has made a statement as forcefully in favor of unions,” Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former labor secretary under President Bill Clinton, said in an interview.

Biden “didn’t just say workers have a right to unionize — he went beyond that,” Reich said. “He reiterated that the National Labor Relations Act puts responsibilities on employers not to interfere in an election, not to intimidate, and he went through a list of employer responsibilities. And that really struck a new note.”

Certainly the Biden administration is facing headwinds as it pushes against longstanding trends. Labor union membership has eroded across the country since the middle of the 20th century, when one-third of the private-sector work force was unionized. Nowadays, that number is well below one in 10. And even within Biden’s administration, there are officials with close ties to corporate interests who have a history of fighting to keep organized labor out of emerging industrial sectors as Big Tech revolutionizes the job market.

And last week Biden turned heads when he released a short video announcing his support for Amazon workers’ push to unionize in Bessemer, Ala. He did not name Amazon, but he expressed support for “workers in Alabama,” and insisted that the right to unionize was essential to a healthy work force throughout the country.

“That’s something very new: No president since Harry Truman has made a statement as forcefully in favor of unions,” Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former labor secretary under President Bill Clinton, said in an interview.

Biden “didn’t just say workers have a right to unionize — he went beyond that,” Reich said. “He reiterated that the National Labor Relations Act puts responsibilities on employers not to interfere in an election, not to intimidate, and he went through a list of employer responsibilities. And that really struck a new note.”

Certainly the Biden administration is facing headwinds as it pushes against longstanding trends. Labor union membership has eroded across the country since the middle of the 20th century, when one-third of the private-sector work force was unionized. Nowadays, that number is well below one in 10. And even within Biden’s administration, there are officials with close ties to corporate interests who have a history of fighting to keep organized labor out of emerging industrial sectors as Big Tech revolutionizes the job market.

Read the complete article here.

Biden throws support behind Amazon workers holding milestone union vote

From today’s CNN Online:

President Joe Biden on Sunday night lent his support to Amazon workers who are pushing to unionize — and appeared to warn Amazon (AMZN) not to deter them.

In a video posted on Twitter, Biden didn’t mention the company by name, but he did reference workers in Alabama, where a milestone union election is underway at an Amazon facility in Bessemer. Eligible workers at the facility are currently voting by mail to decide whether to form Amazon’s first US-based union.”Today and over the next few days and weeks, workers in Alabama, and all across America, are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace,” Biden said in the video.

“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” Biden continued. “No supervisor should confront employees about their union preferences. You know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice.”

Biden’s remarks reflect the high profile of the Amazon vote, which has garnered national attention and support from prominent Democrats including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as well as Stacey Abrams. A group of 50 Congresspeople sent a letter last month urging Amazon’s outgoing CEO, Jeff Bezos, to “treat your employees as the critical asset they are, not as a threat to be neutralized or a cost to be minimized.”

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is conducting the union drive for Amazon workers at the Bessemer facility, thanked Biden “for sending a clear message of support” for the workers.

“As President Biden points out, the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is by organizing into unions. And that is why so many working women and men are fighting for a union at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama,” Appelbaum said in a statement.

Read the complete article here.

Biden to sign executive orders boosting workers’ rights and pushing for $15 minimum wage for federal staff

From today’s Business Insider Online:

President Joe Biden has planned a series of actions aimed at raising the minimum wage for federal staff to $15 and boosting workers’ rights, Brian Deese, his National Economic Council director, told reporters on Thursday.

This includes two executive orders Biden is set to sign on Friday. With one order, the Department of Labor would be asked to clarify that people seeking employment can continue to claim jobless benefits if they turn down a job because it puts their health at risk.

White House officials said the order would provide workers “a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that will jeopardize their health, and if they do so, they will still qualify for unemployment insurance,” The New York Times reported.

Biden is set to ask agencies to review which federal workers make less than $15 an hour and to develop recommendations to boost them to that wage. That order would overturn three executive orders that President Donald Trump signed in 2018 that limited job protections for federal employees and weakened their labor unions.

Biden has asked his team to prepare another executive order to ensure that federal contractors offer a $15 minimum wage alongside emergency paid leave. Biden plans to sign this order in his first 100 days in office, Deese said.

The two executive orders Biden is set to sign on Friday also include measures to bolster food aid for people struggling with hunger during the coronavirus pandemic and to push for improved delivery of stimulus checks.

Read the complete article here.