TODAY’S MUST READ
The government shutdown spotlights a bigger issue: 78% of US workers live paycheck to paycheck
January 9, 2019
The shutdown has left approximately 800,000 federal workers in financial limbo. Around 420,000 “essential” employees are working without pay, while another 380,000 have been ordered to stay home, according to calculations provided to CNBC by Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University. In some cases, the furloughs have forced government employees to tap into their savings, rely on credit cards or crowdsource funds to make ends meet. Government workers are far from alone in feeling stressed about not getting paid. Nearly 80 percent of American workers (78 percent) say they’re living paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2017 report by employment website CareerBuilder. Women are particularly vulnerable: 81 percent of them report living paycheck to paycheck, compared with 75 percent of men. Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, tells CNBC that the group has heard from hundreds of frantic federal employees. “They’re scared,” he says. “They don’t know how they’re going to put food on the table.”
EMPLOYMENT AND LABOR LAW/NLRB
Chipotle may have outsmarted itself by blocking employee lawsuits
January 9, 2019
Fast-food companies accused of nickel-and-diming their workers through wage theft? That’s become almost a dog-bites-man story in today’s workplace environment. The same companies forcing the workers to bring their claims in arbitration rather than taking them to court? Ditto. But one fast-food company appears to have outsmarted itself in fending off thousands of wage-theft claims. That would be Chipotle Mexican Grill, which owns more than 2,300 restaurants nationwide. Chipotle has been fighting claims of wage theft lodged in federal court by current and former workers since July 2013, with the army of plaintiffs having grown to about 10,000 strong. Back in August, the company won a major victory by persuading a federal judge in Denver to eject more than 2,800 of those workers from the court proceedings because they had signed an agreement to bring their claims only through arbitration. But was it really a victory? As a result of the ruling, Chipotle could face thousands of individual arbitration cases spread across the country, almost all the expenses of which it may have to shoulder itself — potentially tens of thousands of dollars per case. Already 150 arbitrations have been filed by workers.
GENERAL WORKPLACE/THE ECONOMY
Who Gets Hurt When the Government Shuts Down?
January 9, 2019
If the shutdown continues into February, the food assistance that 38 million Americans rely on could run out. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is administered by the Department of Agriculture, has funding only through the end of this month. USDA’s contingency fund, if tapped, would cover only part of February. The agency has kept mostly quiet about the threat to food assistance and has not said when exactly the money will run out or what would be done in that event. But according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, families could see their benefits reduced in February and then “virtually eliminated” in March. Federal funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has already been cut off, with states left to paper over the gap. People living in public housing are also at risk. Ninety-five percent of employees at the Department of Housing and Urban Development have been furloughed, and mandatory health-and-safety inspections of housing units are on hold until the government reopens. Funding to fix leaky roofs, boilers, and other crucial repairs may be delayed, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. More than 1,000 contracts for low-income housing have expired, with HUD unable to renew them while the shutdown lasts. That means that landlords aren’t getting paid. According to Diane Yentel of the NLIHC, that puts 80,000 renters—mostly seniors and people with disabilities living on less than $13,000 a year—in danger of eviction if the shutdown lasts. Another 500 contracts will expire later in January, and 550 more in February. Meanwhile, thousands of janitors, food-service workers, security guards, and others who work for government contractors are not being paid. Unlike federal employees, who recouped back pay after previous government shutdowns and expect to do so again, contractors aren’t usually paid for the lost workdays.
AT&T Preps for New Layoffs Despite Billions in Tax Breaks and Regulatory Favors
January 8, 2019
AT&T is preparing for yet another significant round of layoffs according to internal documents obtained by Motherboard. The staff reductions come despite billions in tax breaks and regulatory favors AT&T promised would dramatically boost both investment and job creation. A source at AT&T who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak publicly told Motherboard that company leadership is planning what it’s calling a “geographic rationalization” and employment “surplus” reduction that will consolidate some aspects of AT&T operations in 10 major operational hubs in New York, California, Texas, New Jersey, Washington State, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, and Washington, DC. A spokesperson for AT&T confirmed to Motherboard that it is planning to “adjust” its workforce. While AT&T has yet to come up with a final, formal internal tally for this new round of looming layoffs, AT&T employees worry the staff reductions could prove to be significant, especially outside of these core areas. Managers are being briefed on the plans now, though AT&T isn’t expected to formally announce the specifics until they’re finalized later this month. This news comes in the wake of AT&T receiving a $20 billion windfall last quarter courtesy of the Trump administration tax breaks. That’s in addition to the friendlier environment AT&T finds itself in as a result of the Trump administration’s assault on consumer protections ranging from net neutrality to broadband privacy guidelines.
When I was furloughed, I couldn’t pay for child care. It set off a financial chain reaction.
January 9, 2019
Unlike wildly inaccurate perceptions of us, federal employees do not work cushy jobs. Many of us are one paycheck away from homelessness. But a government shutdown doesn’t just affect federal workers like my me and my husband. It affects thousands of workers who depend on the salaries paid to federal employees to sustain themselves — such as child care workers, cab drivers, and restaurant workers. When the government shuts down, federal employees are not the only ones who reap the consequences. My family was in a precarious situation in October, 2013. I had recently returned to work full time after giving birth to severely premature twins. My boys came home with expensive medical needs that required the assistance of insurance and a steady paycheck. Not knowing how long we would be broke, we decided to forego paying the mortgage on the investment condo. Despite having two preemies in need of medical care, we did not sign up for Cobra Insurance, a temporary medical insurance option should our federal policy lapse during the shutdown because of no payment. We just could not afford the premium. Instead, we hoped for a short furlough and no medical emergencies. There was no back-up plan.
Feeling poorer? That's because "real" wages fell last year
January 9, 2019
The pay people take home after accounting for inflation fell 1.3 percent last year, a new analysis shows. The findings come a year after President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, with his administration promising it would deliver "immediate" wage growth to workers. Yet many workers' wages aren't keeping pace with the cost of living, compensation-data company PayScale found. That's concerning because it indicates more Americans are falling behind -- despite seeing the lowest U.S. unemployment rate in nearly 50 years -- and could struggle to maintain their standard of living when the next recession inevitably rolls around. PayScale examined the difference between nominal wages -- what you're paid on paper -- and a paycheck's actual purchasing power after accounting for inflation, or what economists call "real" wages. If pay growth is lower than the rise in the cost of living, a worker will have less purchasing power.
Record number of migrant families arrested while crossing U.S. border in December
January 9, 2019
A busy December set a record for the number of migrant parents and children taken into custody, as U.S. border agents arrested 27,518 members of “family units,” according to the latest U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics obtained by The Washington Post. Overall, authorities detained 60,782 migrants attempting to enter the United States without authorization. It marked the third consecutive month that the figure — the most widely used barometer of border trends — topped 60,000, remaining near the highest levels of the Trump presidency. In December, U.S. agents struggled to cope with the family surge, as Border Patrol holding cells filled with youngsters and became miserably crowded and unhealthy. Two Guatemalan children died after being taken into custody, prompting Department of Homeland Security officials to declare a “humanitarian and national security crisis.” There have been signs that the migration surge has abruptly receded in recent days. Border stations and shelters that were at crisis levels in late December experienced a sudden drop in the number of families arriving in the past week, according to lawmakers and charity groups.
How Cities Make Money by Fining the Poor
New York Times
January 8, 2019
No government agency comprehensively tracks the extent of criminal-justice debt owed by poor defendants, but experts estimate that those fines and fees total tens of billions of dollars. That number is likely to grow in coming years, and significantly: National Public Radio, in a survey conducted with the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Center for State Courts, found that 48 states increased their civil and criminal court fees from 2010 to 2014. And because wealthy and middle-class Americans can typically afford either the initial fee or the services of an attorney, it will be the poor who shoulder the bulk of the burden. “You think about what we want to define us as Americans: equal opportunity, equal protection under the law,” Mitali Nagrecha, the director of Harvard’s National Criminal Justice Debt Initiative, told me. “But what we’re seeing in these situations is that not only are the poor in the United States treated differently than people with means, but that the courts are actually aggravating and perpetuating poverty.” Why they do so is in part a matter of economic reality: In areas hit by recession or falling tax revenue, fines and fees help pay the bills. (The costs of housing and feeding inmates can be subsidized by the state.) As the Fines and Fees Justice Center, an advocacy organization based in New York, has documented, financial penalties on the poor are now a leading source of revenue for municipalities around the country. In Alabama, for example, the Southern Poverty Law Center took up the case of a woman who was jailed for missing a court date related to an unpaid utility bill. In Oregon, courts have issued hefty fines to the parents of truant schoolchildren. Many counties around the country engage in civil forfeiture, the seizure of vehicles and cash from people suspected (but not necessarily proven in court) of having broken the law. In Louisiana, pretrial diversion laws empower the police to offer traffic offenders a choice: Pay up quickly, and the ticket won’t go on your record; fight the ticket in court, and you’ll face additional fees.
When will the minimum wage in PA change? It's been stuck at $7.25 since 2009
York Daily Record
January 9, 2019
Since 2009, 29 states have raised the federal minimum wage. Pennsylvania is not one of them. Since 2009, the minimum wage in Pennsylvania has remained the same at a whopping $7.25 an hour. Twenty states will see additional increases beginning this month, including New Jersey, Ohio and Delaware, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Pennsylvania is one of 21 states that operates with a minimum wage at or below the federal mandate of $7.25. "I think we are so far behind," said congresswoman Patty Kim, D-Dauphin County, during a phone call. "What we need to do is look at cost-of-living adjustments and as it rises, wages need to be increased." Kim made a push for a wage increase in 2017 under HB 1520, a proposed law to increase the state's minimum wage to $15 by 2024. Kim acknowledged that she and state senator Christine Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, are drafting a modified proposal that is expected to be introduced later this month. If passed the bill would take 60 to 90 days before taking effect.
New York City mayor to propose law giving all workers 2 weeks of paid time off
January 9, 2019
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to announce legislation today guaranteeing two weeks of paid time off for all workers, one day after he announced a plan to provide health care for all city residents. If DeBlasio's proposal is approved by the City Council, New York City would become the first and only American city to require paid vacation for workers. The proposal is expected to impact at least 500,000 people. The measure would exempt businesses with fewer than five employees.
A massive labour strike has shut down schools and public transport in parts of India
January 8, 2019
For two days, millions of workers are going on a strike against the Narendra Modi government in India. Up to 10 central trade unions, comprising around 150 million employees of banks, public transport units, factories, and government companies, are protesting what they describe as the “anti-labour” policies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. Their complaints include a painful lack of job growth—the opposite of what Modi promised when he came to power—and rising prices, besides the mergers of struggling state-run firms. Public sector bank workers were on strike just a few weeks ago, in December 2018, pushing back against the government’s decision to merge Dena Bank with Vijaya Bank and Bank of Baroda. Today (Jan. 08), they’re joined by farmers, who have repeatedly taken to the streets in past few months against the government’s failure to address rural distress. Across India, public transport has been disrupted, most state-run banks are closed, and schools and colleges are also shut.
L.A. teachers union postpones strike until Monday
Los Angeles Times
January 9, 2019
The Los Angeles teachers union has postponed the start of its strike until Monday because of uncertainty over whether a judge could order the union to wait. “Unlike [L.A. schools Supt. Austin] Beutner and his administration, we do not want to bring confusion and chaos into an already fluid situation,” United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said in a statement that was read at an 11:45 a.m. news conference Wednesday at union headquarters in Koreatown. “Although we believe we would ultimately prevail in court, for our members, our students, parents and the community, absent an agreement we will plan to strike on Monday.” By then, word had gotten out among some union members, including at least one who posted the news on Twitter. In Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles, a judge is expected to rule on whether the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, gave 10 days’ notice, in proper legal form, to the L.A. Unified School District that its members would no longer work under its existing contract. Such notice is, under state contract law, one required step on the way to a strike. In this case, the contract actually expired more than a year ago, though union members were still working under it.
Government Employees Being Forced To Work Without Pay Are Not Allowed To Strike
January 9, 2019
Three weeks into the partial government shutdown, hundreds of thousands of people are still being asked to work for the government without pay, but they are legally prohibited from striking in protest. Like 53,000 other TSA workers, Shekina Givens has been doing her job for the past three weeks without pay. She says she and her co-workers are "starting to get more nervous" and increasingly frustrated that they can't strike as the shutdown drags on. "It just makes you feel like you don't have any leverage," said Givens, who works at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and is American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union representative. "They're able to do whatever they want to do to us but there's no way for us to fight, there's no way for us to make a statement where it really counts," she said. Federal employee unions are demanding an end to the shutdown, have sued the federal government, and are organizing members to protest this week. But unlike unions that represent private sector workers, they're legally not allowed to encourage their members to strike when they're not being paid. That's because of a federal law that government employees are not allowed to strike, or even talk about striking. "An individual may not accept or hold a position in the Government of the United States or the government of the District of Columbia if he ... participates in a strike, or asserts the right to strike, against the Government of the United States," the law reads.
Workers at GM’s Canada plant hold work stoppage over closure
The Associated Press
January 9, 2019
Unionized workers at the General Motors assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario, staged a second work stoppage on Tuesday after the company confirmed it would not reconsider plans to close the facility that would lead to the loss of 3,000 jobs. The union said the protest Wednesday morning lasted close to two hours and followed about a five-hour sit-down at the plant the evening before. Unifor president Jerry Dias sat down with GM on Tuesday to talk about union proposals to extend the life of the Ontario plant, including extending the life of the Chevy Impala and Cadillac XTS produced at the plant or shifting production slated for Mexico to the plant. GM said they were not economically viable.
WV school workers demonstrate as legislative session begins
January 9, 2019
As a frigid wind blew around 6:30 Wednesday morning, Kanawha City Elementary teachers gathered in the dark on the sidewalk on 36th Street, holding signs and receiving a few supportive car honks in the moments before school began. "We're out here just to let the Legislature know and the governor know that we still remember, we still didn't get PEIA fixed, so we want that to be a priority, we want more funding for our schools, we don't want them to cut the taxes, we heard rumors of the business tax being cut," said third-grade teacher Danielle Loehr. "We're still ready to fight," interjected fourth-grade teacher Danielle Fernandez, another of about 15 teachers on the sidewalk. Her sign read "Funding education should be normal, not historic. #FundEducation #FixPEIA." This was among the "walk-ins" at West Virginia schools Wednesday, the first day of the annual regular legislative session. Last year's historic statewide public school worker strike won a 5 percent pay raise for school employees, and Public Employees Insurance Agency health insurance coverage benefits were spared from cuts. But last month, Republican Gov. Jim Justice’s PEIA Task Force, created as part of a deal to end the strike, announced that it wouldn't recommend a long-term way to fund the state health insurance program at its current benefit levels before the now-beginning session.
Build the wall? It could take at least 10 years, even with 10,000 workers
Todd C. Frankel
January 9, 2019
The current fight — and now 20-day federal government shutdown — over funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall could look simple when you consider the logistics of actually building the fabled barrier: It would take an estimated 10,000 construction workers more than 10 years to build the kind of 1,000-mile wall President Trump has said he wants. Even the more modest $5.7 billion in wall funding Trump directly requested during a prime time Oval Office address Tuesday to address what he called “a growing humanitarian and security crisis” would take an army of 10,000 workers more than two years to build and yield only 230 miles of barrier, according to estimates. And even at 1,000 miles long, the steel-slatted border wall would still be too small to be a boon for U.S. steelmakers. The full version of Trump’s envisioned border wall — featuring rarely tested heights cast over almost unimaginable distances — would cost at least $25 billion, said Ed Zarenski, who teaches construction estimation at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. Zarenski spent 30 years figuring out project price tags for Gilbane, one of the nation’s largest construction firms.