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Labor Report

Arkansas Homeless-to-Work Program Highlights Benefits of Raising Minimum Wage

As worker advocates in Pennsylvania continue to fight for the state’s first minimum wage raise in more than 13 years, homeless people in Arkansas are making $9.25 an hour to pick up litter around the state’s capital city.

That rate is $2 more than the minimum wage in effect throughout Pennsylvania and across the nation. The city of Little Rock launched its Bridge to Work program in April, according to the New York Post. Originally a six-month initiative, it has been so successful that Mayor Frank Scott Jr. has proposed to extend the program for another year.

According to the local network TV affiliate that initially reported the story, 380 people have joined the clean-up crews. In addition to competitive wages and a sense of community, participants also benefit from health services (both physical and mental), access to job interviews, and temporary housing in some cases.

Most workers signed up through a church that administers the program. They have logged 1,821 hours to clean 130 sites of 2,056 bags of trash.

The program also highlights Arkansas’ progressive minimum wage policy. Last fall, voters approved a raise from $8.50 an hour to $9.25, which took effect in January. The rate will improve to $10 in 2020 and $11 in 2021. As recently as 2014, the state’s minimum wage was just $6.25 an hour, a rate that was superseded by the longstanding federal minimum of $7.25.

Similarly, voters in neighboring Missouri adopted a plan last November that will raise their minimum wage to $12 by 2023.

Those increases are magnified by the relatively low consumer costs in both states. Based on price information compiled by the Council for Community & Economic Research, Arkansas has the second-lowest cost of living among U.S. states, while Missouri has the fourth-lowest.

According to Forbes, Arkansas ranks seventh-highest in the nation for cost-adjusted minimum wage, while Pennsylvania ranks 48th among the 50 states.

Pitt Grad Students Awarded Union Re-Vote, But University Appeals to PLRB

The University of Pittsburgh has moved to block a new union certification election for about 2,000 of the university’s graduate student workers weeks after a Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board hearing examiner proposed the re-vote.

Pitt’s appeal is likely to trigger a review by the full PLRB, according to the Post-Gazette. In its filing, the university objected to the examiner’s finding that three unfair labor practice claims alleged by the United Steelworkers have merit. The USW seeks to represent the proposed bargaining unit.

About 1,400 graduate assistants voted in a four-day election in April, with 675 voting in favor of the union and 721 opting not to join. However, the PLRB deemed the vote inconclusive largely because the agency identified 150 ballots cast by individuals who did not appear on a list of eligible voters. Pitt challenged three additional ballots submitted by individuals who were no longer employed by the university.

With the final tally pending, the USW filed 12 unfair labor practice complaints stemming from what it claimed were illegal efforts by the university to sway the vote against the union. The NLRB examiner issued his findings on the complaints in September.

A teaching fellow in Pitt’s sociology department told NPR affiliate WESA-FM that graduate student workers are vital to the university but they are not afforded job security or seniority and they have no say in their health care coverage and other employment benefits.

Organizers have spent more than two years trying to unionize Pitt’s graduate students as their counterparts have been doing the same at other universities across the country with varying degrees of success.


NLRB Chairman Previews Regulatory Agenda at New York Legal Conference

National Labor Relations Board Chairman John Ring told a gathering of employment and labor attorneys that the board plans to propose fundamental changes in the regulations that guide union certification elections next year.

Election rules are among many pivotal issues on the NLRB’s agenda, Ring said during a conference hosted by the New York office of Epstein Becker & Green, according to Bloomberg Law. The board continues to advance new regulations that limit joint-employer liability, that restrict unions’ access to employers’ property, and that address the sizes of collective bargaining units. In addition, the board is considering cases regarding protections for employees who engage in offensive conduct on the job, and restrictions on employee handbook policies.

The new elections rules would specifically address and likely scale back regulations adopted by the board in 2014 during the Obama administration that streamlined the union certification process. The 2014 regulations eliminated certain procedural barriers, but businesses have complained that those rules don’t allow employers enough time to respond to union campaigns.

In late 2017, the NLRB requested public comments on new proposed rules which remain on its long-term regulatory agenda.

“We are looking right now at different aspects of those election rules that may require some changes and will be addressing those in the coming months,” Ring reportedly said.

Labor advocates have said that the NLRB has not demonstrated a justification for changes.

“They point out that while the time from petition to election has shrunk since the election rule was enacted in 2014, the win-loss rate at the labor ballot box has remained about the same.” Unions have been winning about 70 percent of the time but won about 77 percent of elections in the first half of 2019, according to Bloomberg.

Worker Advocates: Modified Tip-Pooling Proposal Still Favors Employers

New tip-pooling rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor would prohibit employers, managers, and supervisors from skimming employee tips, but the regulatory changes are still considered a win for employers because it would eliminate the Obama-era “80/20 rule.”

Politico reported that the new proposal amends an earlier version released by the department in early 2018. That initial proposal drew criticism because it would have allowed bosses to pocket a portion of pooled tips. Bloomberg Law first reported that the Labor Department omitted from the initial proposal data compiled by the department’s researchers that showed tipped workers could “lose out on billions of dollars in gratuities.”

The new version “accommodates legislative language that former Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta worked out with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) that for the first time banned, explicitly, tip theft by employers.”

However, critics including U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the House Education and Labor Committee chair, still think the new proposal “takes leverage away from a vulnerable group of workers while empowering bad-faith employers to take advantage of their employees.”

The proposed rules would allow employers to include non-tipped employees in the tips pool, providing the employer pays the full minimum wage to tip-earners. Critics argue that such a rule would effectively allow employers to pay less in wages to back room or kitchen staff – such as cooks and dishwashers – because tips would subsidize their earnings, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The new proposal would also allow employers to pay tip-earners a sub-minimum wage for untipped work they perform, providing the untipped work is contemporaneous to the tipped work. So a restaurant operator could pay sub-minimum wage to a server for time that the server spends folding napkins or filling condiment containers. Under the existing 80/20 rule, the server would be entitled to the full minimum wage if the time spent performing non-tipped work exceeds 20 percent of total hours worked.

The proposed rules are subject to public comment and White House approval.

GM-UAW Negotiations Stall as Losses Grow on Both Sides of Contract Dispute

As the nationwide General Motors strike entered its fourth week, the United Auto Workers reported to its members that negotiations “have taken a turn for the worse,” while costs continued to pile up on both sides of the dispute.

The work stoppage began on September 15 and has halted all of the company’s U.S. production. CBS News reported that GM will have lost out on about $1.1 billion in profits should the strike continue through the weekend of October 12-13. Losses escalate with each ensuing day and have reached about $90 per day, according to CNN. Both news outlets cited new data analysis by Anderson Economic Group.

Striking workers had lost about $624 million in wages as of October 10. The UAW is paying striking members $250 a week to help sustain them. Further, the strike had cost the federal government about $250 million in lost income and payroll taxes.

Despite the economic pressure, GM proposed what the UAW characterized as a regressive contract offer on October 6 after several days of reportedly productive negotiations. The union’s chief negotiator wrote to members that GM “reverted back to their last rejected proposal and made little change.”

On October 9, GM CEO Mary T. Barra met personally with UAW officials for the first time since a largely ceremonial gathering in July to mark the start of contract negotiations, according to the New York Times. Barra met with UAW President Doug Jones and other leaders for nearly an hour. Negotiations continued past midnight that night and into the evening on October 10.

In a separate letter to members, the UAW said that it continues to seek a commitment from GM to maintain its domestic, union-staffed production facilities.

“We have made it clear that there is no job security for us when GM products are made in other countries for the purpose of selling them here in the USA,” the union wrote.

The GM strike is the nation’s largest since 74,000 UAW members walked off the job at GM in 2007, which lasted for three days. The union accepted concessions that year to help the then-struggling company secure federal aid. Conversely, in recent months, the company has reported record profits while cutting domestic costs and shifting production to Mexico.