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Labor Report

White House Opposes Minimum Wage Increase, Despite Strong Public Support for a Raise

President Trump’s labor secretary told a U.S. House committee on May 1 that the administration opposes any change in the minimum wage, despite renewed efforts in Congress toward raising the long-stagnant federal wage floor and despite public opinion polls (here and here) showing that a large majority of Americans and Pennsylvanians support an increase.

“We do not support a change in the federal minimum wage at this time,” Secretary Alexander Acosta said in response to questioning by members of the House Education and Labor Committee, who also questioned him about the department’s 2020 budget, its controversial regulatory proposals, and other policy efforts, according to Bloomberg Law.

House Democrats have proposed legislation that would raise the federal minimum wage in increments from $7.25 to $15 by 2024 and would also phase out the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, young workers, trainees, and workers with disabilities. The federal government has not raised the nation’s minimum wage since 2009. The Education and Labor Committee advanced the Raise the Wage Act (HR 582) in March in a party-line vote.

In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf continued to espouse the merits of a proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage, which is also $7.25. State lawmakers have not voted to raise the rate since 2006. Senator Tartaglione has introduced Senate Bill 12, which would raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $12 this year and by 50 cents each year thereafter until it reaches $15 by 2025.

In an April 29 news release, Wolf reported that 89 percent of the workers who would benefit directly from a $15 minimum wage are adults and more than 18 percent are 55 and older. This dispels “harmful stereotypes” that claim most low-wage workers are teenage part-timers, he said. About two million Pennsylvania workers earn less than $15 an hour, including about 1.1 million full-timers. Wolf cited data compiled by the Keystone Research Center.

“The overwhelming majority of workers who benefit from finally raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage are adults, particularly working women,” the governor said. “All hardworking people, no matter their age, deserve a fair living wage. It’s time to stop the false myths that adults aren’t working in low-wage jobs.”

Fair Workweek Proposal to Be Introduced in PA House

A Pennsylvania House member has announced her intent to introduce legislation that proposes to impose a statewide fair workweek law similar to one adopted by Philadelphia lawmakers last December.

During a May 1 news conference at the Capitol, Representative Elizabeth Fiedler of Philadelphia stated that the legislation would require employers to provide two weeks’ notice to employees regarding their upcoming work schedules. It would also require employers to compensate workers for shift changes within the two-week window.

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale said that workers shouldn’t be forced to find childcare, reschedule doctor’s appointments, or make other last-minute arrangements to accommodate late schedule changes. The legislation is pending formal introduction in the House.

In December, Philadelphia’s City Council voted 14-3 to adopt a fair workweek bill that requires employers within the city with more than 30 locations and 250 employees to provide workers with two weeks’ notice of their upcoming shifts or compensation them with supplemental “predictability pay” within the two-week window.

Meanwhile, on the state level, Republicans have introduced House Bill 331 to preempt local ordinances on labor policy, such as Philadelphia’s fair workweek law.

Google Workers Walk Out, Sit In Again – This Time to Protest Company Retaliation

Google employees in New York and other cities walked off the job on May 1 to protest alleged retaliation by their employer against organizers of worker demonstrations held last year in protest of the company’s handling of sexual misconduct claims.

Hundreds of workers staged “sit-ins” or other demonstrations in New York, Pittsburgh, London, and other cities, according to social media posts reported by Business Insider and the Los Angeles Times.

“The demonstration comes six months after thousands of workers at Google offices around the world walked out to protest how the company handled sexual misconduct claims,” the Times stated.

Two organizers of the November protests reportedly told co-workers via internal company mailing lists that they have been reassigned or demoted within the company, prompting one of them to hire a lawyer in an effort to get her former job back. On April 22, an unidentified employee filed a complaint against the company with the National Labor Relations Board alleging retaliation.

Politico reported on May 2 that two company directors plan to leave the board “in the wake of a lawsuit from the tech giant’s shareholders that faults the board for approving large payouts to former executives who had sexual harassment allegations against them.”

Soon after the November walkouts, Google stopped requiring employees to use arbitration to resolve sexual misconduct claims, opening the door for civil litigation, the Times reported.

Middle Class Becoming More Elusive for College Graduates

Middle class status is becoming increasingly elusive for college graduates according to a new survey published this week by the Associated Press and its research partners.

The annual General Social Survey found that more than one-third of college degree-holders considered themselves part of the “working” or “lower” class, compared to just one in five respondents 35 years ago. Further, just 64 percent of college graduates described themselves as middle or upper class, compared to 80 percent in 1983.

“The findings might seem surprising given that the nearly decade-long U.S. economic expansion is on the verge of becoming the longest on record and unemployment is at an ultra-low 3.8 percent,” the AP reported. “Yet the financial insecurities that afflict many college graduates point to the widening gap between the richest Americans and everyone else.”

From the opposite perspective, among survey respondents who do not have college degrees 60 percent said they are in the working or lower class. That figure is about the same as it was in 1983.

“All of which suggests that while college still offers a path upward, that route has been narrowed by student debt loads, an out-pacing of home prices relative to wages and widening economic inequality,” the AP reported.

U.S. Senate, House Members Offer Sweeping Labor Relations Reforms

A new package of federal legislation backed by 40 Senators and 100 House members would dramatically reform the National Labor Relations Act to ban right-to-work laws, forced arbitration, and other anti-labor policies, while expanding workers’ rights to strike and broaden the definition of “employee” for the purposes of job classification.

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act may have little chance of advancing in the Republican-led Senate, but it “has seemingly united ideological factions of the Democratic Party” behind organized labor in advance of the 2020 election, according to New York Magazine.

A Bloomberg News labor beat reporter first provided an itemization of the provisions in the legislation via Twitter on May 2. The proposals would also ban mandatory “captive audience” meetings, as well as the permanent replacement of striking workers. It would legalize secondary strikes and intermittent strikes, while requiring binding arbitration to resolve contract negotiation stalemates. It would force employers to recognize unions by “card check” in cases where a union lost a certification vote due to interference by management.

“In short, this proposal would substantially broaden workers’ right to strike, broaden workers’ right to unionize, and expand workers’ and governments’ tools for addressing and punishing illegal union-busting,” Bloomberg’s Josh Eidelson tweeted.

April 2019 National Jobs Update

The seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate fell to 3.6% in April 2019, down 0.2% from March 2019, its lowest point since December 1969. Over the month, unemployment rolls decreased by 387,000 individuals, lowering total unemployment to 5.824 million. National unemployment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Unemployment – 5,824,000
  • Change Over Month –   DOWN   387,000
  • Change Over Year –   DOWN   511,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –   DOWN   1,741,000
  • Rate Change Over Month –   DOWN   0.2%
  • Rate Change Over Year –   DOWN   0.3%
  • Rate Change Over Trump Term –   DOWN   1.1%
  • Rate Change Over Obama 2nd Term –   DOWN   3.3%

As indicated above, total unemployment’s rounded percentage of the labor force, or unemployment rate, declined over the month (rate = unemployment / labor force). The labor force is the total number of employed individuals combined with the total number of unemployed individuals actively searching for work. Growth in the labor force can be a sign of a strengthening economy from more people working and/or more individuals searching for jobs. Marking a fourth consecutive monthly decline, the national labor force fell by 490,000 individuals in April 2019, a combination of total employment* declining by 103,000 individuals and total unemployment down by 387,000 individuals as noted above.
Since President Trump took office, the national labor force has grown by 2.777 million individuals (unemployment -1.741 million & employment +4.517 million). While this growth is encouraging, continued progress will be needed to match labor force growth seen over President Obama’s second term (3.930 million: unemployment -4.906 million & employment +8.836 million). National labor force statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Labor Force – 162,470,000
  • Change Over Month –   DOWN   490,000
  • Change Over Year -   UP   919,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –   UP   2,777,000
  • Change Over Obama 2nd Term –   UP   3,930,000

Non-farm* jobs grew by 263,000 over the month in April 2019, rebounding from growth of 245,000 seen in prior two months combined. Despite the improvement, year-to-date job growth stands at its second lowest level (as of the month of April) over the last nine years (2017 lowest under President Trump). Additionally, average monthly non-farm job gains under President Trump (200,000) remain below average monthly growth (217,000) seen over President Obama’s second term. National non-farm employment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Non-Farm Employment – 151,095,000
  • Change Over Month –   UP   263,000
  • Change Over Year –   UP   2,620,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –   UP   5,400,000
  • Change Over Obama 2nd Term –   UP   10,412,000

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