I hope you all had a good Labor Day holiday. Every year around this time news outlets and other organizations take stock of the state of the American worker. The consensus seems be that while there have been improvements since the start of the great recession, as a whole workers have not benefited from the recent economic gains. On the legal side there are new attempts at the executive, state, and local level to pass laws benefiting American workers.
First the bad news. In 2013, after-tax corporate profits as a share of the economy tied with their highest level on record. Labor compensation as a share of the economy hit its lowest point since 1948. Wage growth since 1979 has not kept pace with productivity growth. This means falling or flat wages for most workers and big gains for corporate bank accounts, shareholders, executives and others at the top of the income ladder.
But there is also good news. States and localities have been leading the way instituting new benefits and protections for workers in their jurisdiction. The California Legislature just passed a bill requiring employers to provide part-time employees with three paid sick leave days per year. The New Jersey Assembly says it plans on introducing a sick leave bill of its own, though Governor Christie has said he will veto the bill.
States have also been leading the way in increasing the minimum wage. Even GOP controlled states like Michigan have passed laws increasing the state minimum wage.
At the federal level President Obama has encouraged federal agencies that enforce worker protections to cover their turf with a renewed vigor. The Department of Labor has been leading the way by cracking down on employers who misclassify their employees as independent contractors. The National Labor Relations Board has released important rulings that may serve to force franchise companies like McDonalds to take more responsibility for the labor law violations of their franchisees.
President Obama has also issued a number of executive orders that help workers working for companies with federal contracts. One order raised the minimum wage for federal contract workers. Another order requires companies taking federal contracts to release information about past labor law violations.
With GOP extremism and intransigence being the order of the day it seems unlikely that there will be any movement in Congress to strengthen worker protections. The baton has been passed to the states, localities, and the executive branch to make the changes workers in America need.