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Labor Report

How Unions East and West Are Combating Right-to-Work, and Succeeding

With 28 U.S. states now considered right-to-work states, and with the Supreme Court poised to set a harmful precedent for public sector unions in the Janus vs. AFSCME case, labor organizations across the country are employing various strategies, including some innovative methods and many traditional, to counter and preempt membership attrition. In New England, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO has turned to the internet to help recruit and maintain members. Two software developers with backing of the union created a new online application that enables local unions to generate their own online membership forms independently with just a few mouse clicks. The tool is accessible via

“ makes the last and most important step in organizing easier by empowering workers to sign up for their union anytime, anywhere,” said co-developer Jeff Hall.

“By providing this technology to unions, our hope is to strengthen their efforts to recruit and retain members by bringing the union card into the digital age.”

As a potential outcome of an unfavorable Janus ruling, current union members may be forced to re-enroll in their unions. The new website would streamline that process, according to its creators.

“We backed the creation of to ensure workers across our state and the country would be able to join or rejoin their union as easily as signing up for an email or social media account,” Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steve Tolman said. “Public support for unions is growing in the United States and we need to meet that demand with innovative tools that make it easier for workers, especially young workers, to have a voice at work through a union.”

Two thousand miles away, in Las Vegas, casino workers are using old school organizing strategies and progressive worker benefits programs to bolster the Culinary Workers Union in a state that adopted right-to-work 67 years ago.

A comprehensive Huffington Post article reported that Local 226 represents 57,000 workers at most casinos on the Strip and all but one Downtown casino, with 95 percent of those workers choosing to pay union dues.

“The union just recently flexed its muscle in contract talks involving 50,000 workers at 34 properties. As the previous contracts neared their June 1 expiration date, the union held a strike authorization vote. Ninety-nine percent of workers who cast ballots authorized the union to declare a citywide strike June 1 or later if they couldn’t reach a deal with the casinos, potentially disrupting the entire local economy. The credible threat led to a breakthrough, with the two largest operators ― Caesars and MGM, which together run 18 unionized properties ― soon agreeing to five-year deals,” the Post said.

The union represents cocktail servers, line cooks, bellhops, housekeepers and other job categories. More than half of the members are Latino and more than half are women.

“When workers have the option to not pay any dues, a union has to constantly engage its members and prove its value to the people it represents. For the Culinary, that has meant cultivating leaders inside the casinos; getting rank-and-file members involved in political causes and organizing drives; and, above all, mobilizing to win solid contracts with strong pay and benefits that show members the advantages of being in a union,” the Post said.

D.C. Voters to Decide on One Fair Wage Referendum

Voters in the District of Columbia are about to take part in a ballot referendum over a proposal to eliminate the district’s tipped minimum wage. The question will appear on the June 19 primary ballot. Although it is a closed election, independent voters will be able to participate in the referendum.

serverThe National Employment Law Project reports that Initiative 77 would directly affect about 29,000 workers including restaurant servers, bartenders, cab drivers, delivery drivers, parking attendants, hair stylists, hotel workers, car wash attendants and more.

Although most of the debate has centered on the potential impact of the measure on the restaurant industry, nearly 60 percent of tipped workers in the district do not work in restaurants. Predictably, restaurant owners and their backers staunchly oppose the measure with familiar rhetoric.

Tipped workers in the district can make as little as $3.33 an hour in wages. If their wages and tips combined do not amount to the standard minimum wage (which will increase from $12.50 to $13.25 on July 1), the employer is required to pay the difference.

Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is $7.25 ($2.83 for tipped workers) and hasn’t been raised by the state legislature since 2006.

Washington State Governor Takes Stand Against Forced Arbitration

Supreme Court Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a severe blow to workers’ rights when it ruled that companies can force employees to sign mandatory arbitration clauses and class action waivers as conditions of their continued employment. Earlier this week, the governor of Washington issued an executive order that ensures companies who do business with the state don’t use the Supreme Court precedent to take advantage of workers.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s Executive Order 18-03 establishes that the state will contract with companies that do not force employees to waive their individual or collective rights to take their employers to court.

In announcing the order, Inslee said that the Supreme Court decision “overwhelmingly favors employers who repeatedly or systematically mistreat their workers. Forced individual arbitration reduces transparency, accountability and access to justice. It means those with power and money are more likely to win, while most employees are left to manage a confusing and intimidating arbitration process. And if the employer’s unlawful practice is widespread, this decision means you can’t stand with others. You are on your own.”

Job Market is Strong, But Wages Lagging Amid Economic Recovery

After the Federal Reserve raised the federal prime rate on Wednesday signaling further recovery of the nation’s economy from the 2008 economic collapse, Fed Chairman Jerome H. Powell spoke of his committee’s great optimism for the future, citing low unemployment and inflation.

Federal ReserveYet, the New York Times reported that workers have yet to realize the benefits of the strengthening economy and tight labor market in terms of better wages.

“The march toward higher interest rates comes as much of America’s work force continues to experience slow wage growth, despite a tight labor market that should, in theory, translate into higher wages as businesses compete for workers,” the Times reported. “The rise in consumer prices over the last year has effectively wiped out any wage increases for nonsupervisory workers, the latest Consumer Price Index data suggests.

“At a comparable time of low unemployment, in 2000, ‘wages were growing at near 4 percent year over year and the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation was 2.5 percent,’ Tara Sinclair, a senior fellow at the Indeed Hiring Lab, said in a research note.”

Powell described the slow wage growth as “a bit of a puzzle” and suggested “it would normalize as the economy continued to strengthen,” the Times reported.

Workplace Safety Inspections Declining Since Trump Took Office

The U.S. Department of Labor’s enforcement of occupational safety and health laws has declined sharply during the administration of President Trump according to a new brief from the National Employment Law Project, which cited U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Safety Inspection“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is cutting back on enforcement activity, with key enforcement indicators showing declining activity from FY 2016 to FY 2017,” the report concluded. “Moreover, the latest available data reveals that this decline in enforcement activity continued at an accelerated pace in the first five months of FY 2018.”

Enforcement activity declined by 2.5 percent from fiscal 2016 to 2017. And during the first five months of fiscal 2018, enforcement activity declined another 7.4 percent year over year. During the first 12 months of the Trump administration, the number of OSHA inspectors declined from 814 to 764.

“Instead of putting America’s workers first, the Trump administration is jeopardizing their health and safety by cutting back on protecting workers,” NELP Senior Fellow Debbie Berkowitz said.

May 2018 PA Jobs Update

Pennsylvania’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 4.5% in May 2018, down 0.2% from the previous month, marking the lowest its rate has been since September 2007. Over the month, unemployment rolls decreased by 14,500 individuals, with total unemployment falling to 283,000. State unemployment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Unemployment – 283,192
  • Change Over Month –  DOWN    14,546
  • Change Over Year –   DOWN   29,698
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf Term –  DOWN    62,449
  • Rate Change Over Month –  DOWN    0.2%
  • Rate Change Over Year –  DOWN    0.4%
  • Rate Change Over Gov. Wolf Term –  DOWN    0.9%

With the decrease in unemployment rolls, its rounded percentage of the labor force, or unemployment rate, fell over the prior month (rate = unemployment / labor force). The labor force is the number of employed individuals combined with the number of unemployed individuals actively searching for work. Labor force growth is a sign of a strengthening economy from more people working and/or more individuals searching for jobs. However, PA’s labor force fell again in May 2018 by 14,451, a combination of total employment* rising by 95 and unemployment down by 14,546 as noted above. Total labor force growth under Gov. Wolf has declined from a peak of 52,798 in March 2016 (unemployment -312 & total employment +53,110) to being down by -42,822 as of May 2018 (unemployment -62,449 & total employment +19,627). State labor force statistics for the month are as follows: 

  • Total Labor Force – 6,363,740
  • Change Over Month –  DOWN    14,451
  • Change Over Year –  DOWN    65,544
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf Term –  DOWN    42,822

Non-farm* job rolls rose by 2,300 between April and May 2018, marking a 14th consecutive month of growth and pushing total non-farm employment to a new record high of 6.014 million. Between May 2017 and May 2018, the commonwealth added 78,200 new non-farm jobs. Since Gov. Wolf took office, 198,500 new non-farm jobs have been added, which is already 47,000 more than were added over Gov. Corbett’s four-year term. The addition of 198,500 non-farm jobs ranks the commonwealth 34th out of 50 states for new percentage job growth, an improvement from it’s ranking of 48th in the same survey over Gov. Corbett’s term. State non-farm employment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Employment – 6,014,400
  • Change Over Month –  UP     2,300
  • Change Over Year –  UP    78,200
  • Change Over Gov. Wolf Term –  UP    198,500

*Total employment for labor force provided by U.S. Census Household survey. The separate BLS Establishment survey measures non-farm jobs only.