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Thu, June 27

Cantlon: Meanwhile in labor news...

Ha, ha, that’s almost a joke, isn’t it? There hardly is any coverage of labor issues in most U.S. news. Major newspapers usually have a business section, and there are big papers dedicated to business, like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times of London. If anything significant happens in labor it’s usually covered in those business sections, and from the business angle. Workers pushing for higher wages is covered as bad news and a cause for stock prices to fall. Any bills proposed which would, say, guarantee proper overtime, or regulate unsafe workplace hazards, are analyzed for how they will harm profits.

Some papers have a jobs section, but that’s not labor news, just listings, and tips on how to kiss-up during the interview.

There are still some specialized publications focusing on labor issues, though generally they are very small. About the only large paper with a reporter focused on labor, though not a whole labor section, is the New York Times. You can find news from a labor angle if you follow some think tanks and specialized news sites that are focused on issues of ordinary people, and which are usually left leaning, like EPI.org (Economic Policy Institute), AmericanProgress.org and their news site ThinkProgress.org, and the middle-of-the-road news site Politco.com. Mostly those give national labor news, which loses the local knowledge and perspective of back when major city papers covered their own.

A few things hit national news, and you may be aware of them. The push for a higher national minimum wage, the push in some major cities for a local $15 minimum wage because good luck living in the city without that, and sporadic progress on issues of sexual harassment and accountability.

Generally the news is both hot, and mixed. Hot in that there’s a lot happening. Mixed in that some things help and some hurt.

The Labor Department says there has been more activity, like strikes and sick-outs and threats of strikes, in the past year, and more people involved, a half million workers, than in the last 30 years. That has brought a lot of progress. Arizona teachers gained a little ground. Illinois and New Jersey just raised their minimum wage. Workers have extracted better contracts, among Chicago teachers, UPS drivers, Marriott hotel workers, and others. Mount Lemon firefighters near Tucson won a court case preventing firing them just for being middle-aged.

At the same time, the current Department of Education ruled it’s okay for banks to steer student borrowers to unnecessarily high fees, the EPA loosened rules on some dangerous chemicals that workers get exposed to, our state Legislature is trying to reduce the minimum wage for students up through age 22, some of whom really need that pay to not be homeless while earning a degree, and the Supreme Court continues to make it harder for workers to get justice when harmed.

Some pieces refresh what you already know. E.g., an annual report tracking rent and pay finds that in no state does even a basic apartment remain in range for a bread winner making minimum wage. Bloomberg news confirms it’s still true that a worker earning a good salary pays much more in taxes than an investor earning the same amount.

Just to give a taste of labor news you might have missed from recent months, there’s a sampling of links at https://bit.ly/2DVab2H

Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at tomcantlon.com.

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