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The Year in Labor


Pretty depressing write up unless you believe the fast food and Wal-Mart campaigns are going to add up to something concrete, a point which I think is maybe for fast food and very unlikely for Wal-Mart. As for the big political picture:

Union strategists once really hoped that Obama would usher in a transformed labor law regime, passing laws to make the state aggressively avert or avenge firings like those at Wal-Mart. (Such firings’ comparative scarcity in fast food could be explained by community escorts used to back up employees returning to work; by the greater difficulty of coordinating union-busting under a franchisee model; or by a collective action problem among the top fast food chains targeted, with no one corporation wanting to become the campaign’s primary target.) Instead, organized labor has spent the Obama era largely playing defense. In politics, this year brought unions some real victories — from an audacious $15 an hour minimum wage passed in tiny Seatac, Washington, to a long-awaited Labor Department regulation covering the growing ranks of home care workers, to a labor-backed blow against the filibuster in Congress. But it dealt its share of indignities and defeats. The Obama Administration kept elevating leaders from union-busting companies to cabinet posts, pushing NAFTA-style trade provisions and dangerous poultry rules, and palling around with Wal-Mart, while rebuffing union pleas to ease Obamacare woes, raise contracting standards or cease deportations. In the space of hours, Illinois Democrats and Republicans came together to cut union members’ pensions, while a federal judge ruled that Detroit workers’ weren’t as sacrosanct as they’d appeared.

There’s plenty of links within the original article on all these issues, but as has been the norm of his presidency, Obama’s record on labor is mixed but leaning toward the poor side.

In general then, the most positive thing that’s happened for labor is growing momentum for an increased minimum wage. But more typical for labor has been pension cuts, workplace safety problems such as we saw at West, Texas, and the increasingly visible impact of American corporate strategies to outsource production to death traps in Bangladesh. Less visible but important in people’s daily lives is long-term unemployment or underemployment, increased income inequality, and the continued decline of the American middle class, conditions openly supported by one political party and half of the other political party.

I am skeptical 2014 will be any better. I also hope I am wrong.

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