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House Votes to Bar Binding Arbitration

This week the House of Representatives passed a bill that would affects a contract provision signed by tens of millions of workers – binding arbitration agreements.

 

For many workers, a condition of their job is their acceptance of what businesses call “alternative dispute resolution.” Instead of suing over certain issues if an employee alleges a problem at work, these agreements require the employee and employer to go through binding arbitration. This is a less formal, less expensive means of settling a dispute. However, opponents of binding arbitration say that it deprives employees of their rights to sue over harassment, discrimination, and other issues.

 

By a vote of 225-186, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1423. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To make unenforceable provisions in contracts that require the parties to pursue arbitration first on disputes over employment, consumer, antitrust, or civil rights issues. The bill also prohibits agreements that limit class action lawsuits.

 

As noted in this description, it goes beyond merely prohibiting binding arbitration for certain issues. It also prohibits employers from requiring employees to waive their rights to join in a class action lawsuits over employment practices. A 2018 Supreme Court case ruled that current law allows employers to request that employees sign such contracts.

 

Backers of this legislation say that it’s necessary to restore the rights of employees to sue over what they consider abuses by employers. They argue that binding arbitration usually works in favor of employers. Opponents counter that lawsuits are expensive and, at times, frivolous. They say that banning the use of binding arbitration will lead to more lawsuits, with the result being higher costs passed to consumers and fewer people hired.

 

While some Republicans in the Senate have signaled support for curbing binding arbitration, the House legislation passed with only two Republicans voting in favor of it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may not schedule this bill for consideration in that body.

 

Do you think that employers should be able to ask employees to sign binding arbitration contracts?

Arizona Court Rules Against Forcing Artists to Work Same-Sex Wedding

Where does speech end and commerce begin? That is a key question in the debate over what legal protections should apply for business owners who participate in same-sex weddings.


Yesterday the Arizona Supreme Court held that two calligraphers and artists could not be forced to produce work for a same-sex wedding. The court’s decision concluded that calligraphy and artist expression was speech, and that a business owner could not be compelled to produce speech that contains a message the person disagrees with.

 

The case involved business owners who refused to produce wedding calligraphy for a same-sex wedding. The couple getting married sued, arguing that this refusal constituted discrimination based on sexual orientation. The court disagreed, saying that this type of activity was not mere commerce, but also involved “pure speech.”

 

The issue of whether business owners who think same-sex marriage is sinful can be compelled to provide services to these types of marriages is one that has emerged in states around the nation. Often, the issue involves anti-discrimination laws fit with constitutional protections for religion and speech.  

 

In its 4-3 decision, the Arizona Supreme Court decided that the principle of free speech was paramount:

 

[The business owners'] beliefs about same-sex marriage may seem old-fashioned, or even offensive to some. But the guarantees of free speech and freedom of religion are not only for those who are deemed sufficiently enlightened, advanced, or progressive. They are for everyone. After all, while our own ideas may be popular today, they may not be tomorrow.

 

However, the court also noted that this was a limited decision focused on the calligraphy business in question. It did not hold that all business activities could be shielded from ordinances that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.

 

Do you agree that business owners should not be compelled to produce artistic items for same-sex weddings or other activities that violate their religious beliefs?

 

 

House Passes $15 Minimum Wage


Supporters of the “Fight for 15” achieved a victory yesterday, as the House of Representatives passed legislation to increase the minimum wage.

 

By a vote of 231-199, the House passed H.R. 582. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, phased in over 5 years. This legislation would also end the ability of nonprofits to offer work paying below the minimum wage to people with disabilities and end the different minimum wage rates for tipped and newly-hired employees.

 

This legislation would gradually increase the minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour over 7 years. Ever year during that time, the minimum wage would automatically go up. Then, after the seventh year, the Department of Labor would increase the minimum wage based on the increase in the median hourly wage for all employees.

 

In addition, this bill would end the ability of employers to pay lower waged to tipped workers and younger workers who are new hires. The federal program that allows some nonprofits to pay wages that are based on productivity but are below the minimum wage to people with disabilities would also end.

 

Supporters of this proposal say that workers should be paid a “living wage,” and that $15 an hour will help accomplish this. They also argue that this boost in wages will put more money into the economy, helping businesses. Opponents counter that this higher minimum wage will boost the pay of some workers, but will destroy the jobs of others. They contend that businesses will be hurt with the new burden of paying higher wages, since they will face the choice of raising prices or letting people go.

 

A recent Congressional Budget Office study concluded that a $15 minimum wage would increase the wages of 17 million workers while eliminating the jobs of 1.3 million workers and reducing business income.

 

This legislation now heads to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is unlikely to schedule it for a vote.

 

Do you support a $15 an hour minimum wage?

$15 Minimum Wage Would Cost Jobs, Study Finds

The “Fight for 15” is a popular idea within the Democratic Party and progressive political circles. A study released yesterday concluded that hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour would indeed give some people a wage boost, but it would cost others their jobs.

 

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) looked at three options for raising the minimum wage above its current level of $7.25 an hour. The three wage levels it looked at were $10 an hour, $12 an hour, and $15 an hour. Here’s what the CBO concluded about what the effects of a $15 an hour minimum wage would be:

 

In an average week in 2025, the $15 option would boost the wages of 17 million workers who would otherwise earn less than $15 per hour. Another 10 million workers otherwise earning slightly more than $15 per hour might see their wages rise as well. But 1.3 million other workers would become jobless, according to CBO’s median estimate. There is a two-thirds chance that the change in employment would be between about zero and a decrease of 3.7 million workers. The number of people with annual income below the poverty threshold in 2025 would fall by 1.3 million.

 

The CBO also concluded that a $15 minimum wage would have impacts on family income:

 

  • Real earnings for workers while they remained employed would increase by $64 billion,
  • Real earnings for workers while they were jobless would decrease by $20 billion,
  • Real income for business owners would decrease by $14 billion, and
  • Real income for consumers would decrease by $39 billion.

 

This study points to the trade-offs that would come from a minimum wage hike. Some workers would see an immediate wage hike, but other workers would lose jobs. Businesses and consumers would also be affected by such a hike. With this issue likely to be a part of the 2020 presidential race, the CBO’s study gives more information on the effects of a minimum wage increase to inform the debate.

 

Do you think that the federal minimum wage should be raised to $15? Is the trade-off of higher wages for some workers worth it if other workers lose their jobs?

Big Tech Facing Antitrust Action in DC

Millions of people use the services Twitter, Google, Facebook, and other technology companies. The dominance of these companies has raised the ire of some politicians and regulators, however. Yesterday both the House of Representatives and the Department of Justice signaled they are looking at antitrust action against big technology firms.

 

The legislative front against these companies will be spearheaded by the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee. Chairman David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, held hearings yesterday examining the impact of tech companies on the news media. He contends that these companies harm the news industry.

 

During the hearing, there was bipartisan support for some legislative changes aimed at helping the news industry compete in the changing technology landscape, but there were differences on how far Congress should go in pursuing antitrust action. Some Democrats have suggested breaking up companies like Google on antitrust grounds.

 

The antitrust path is something the Trump Administration is considering, as a speech by a top Justice Department official yesterday indicated. He laid out principles by which the department could pursue legal action against Facebook, Twitter, and others, saying that federal antitrust law could deal with the issues posed by these companies. He noted that antitrust law has many aspects, including consumer harm and harm to competition.

 

It is unclear if any legislation will emerge from Congress with a bipartisan consensus on this issue, just as it is unknown what the Trump Administration will do in the courts. However, there does appear to be growing desire to act in the executive and legislative branch.

 

Do you think that large technology companies like Facebook and Google should be broken up under antitrust law? Are consumers harmed by these companies? Does Big Tech stifle competition?

“Equal Pay Day” Brings Debate

It’s “Equal Pay Day,” and you’ll probably be seeing statistics about how women are paid less than men and statistics debunking that stat. Regardless of how you interpret these statistics, one thing that may be overlooked today is that the House of Representatives passed a bill last week aimed at addressing this issue.

 

By a vote of 242-187, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 7, the Paycheck Fairness Act, on March 27. This bill has a variety of provisions that are aimed at reducing what the sponsors view as a gender wage gap. It would:

  • Narrow the factors by which employers can justify gender-based pay disparities to only apply to “bona fide” factors such as education, training, or experience
  • Prohibit employers from punishing employees who discuss their pay
  • Ban employers from considering salary history when considering hiring someone

 

Sponsors of this bill have been trying for years to see it pass the House. With the Democrats now in charge, they finally succeeded. No Democrats voted against it, while 7 Republicans voted for it.

 

Those supporting this bill say it is necessary to address persistent discrimination against women in the workforce, as evidenced by the gender pay gap. Opponents say that the pay gap is not due to discrimination, but to personal choices made by women – such as leaving the workforce for motherhood. They argue that this bill will only tie up businesses in more red tape.

 

The legislation now goes to the Senate for consideration, where it is unlikely to receive a vote.

 

Do you think that the gender pay gap is due to discrimination that needs to be addressed by stronger federal laws? Or is the gender pay gap due to choices that individual men and women make in the workforce?

Family Leave Tops Gillibrand’s Presidential Platform

Kristen Gillibrand, New York’s junior senator, is running for president. She is betting that paid federal family leave is her key to gaining the White House.

 

Getting ready to announce her candidacy on “Late Night with Stephen Colbert,” Sen. Gillibrand previewed her campaign platform. One of her highest priorities is a federal policy of mandatory paid family leave, something that she has championed while in the Senate.

 

Under Sen. Gillibrand’s proposal, a new federal program would pay workers who take up to 12 weeks of family leave in a year. This leave could be used to deal with health conditions, pregnancy or childbirth, and caring for family members. The federal government would pay 66% of the parent’s monthly wages, financed by a tax on both individuals and businesses. A new federal agency, the Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave, would be created to administer the program.

 

Supporters of this idea argue that this would promote people entering the workforce who are of child-bearing age, since they would be guaranteed income if they have children. They also note that the U.S. is the only industrialized nation without such a leave guarantee, so it is time that we join the rest of the world in helping working parents. Opponents point out that this would involve a large tax hike on both workers and businesses. They also say that it would hurt smaller businesses who would lose employees when they are needed for work.

 

Sen. Gillibrand’s family leave legislation never received a hearing in the Senate when she introduced it in the previous session of Congress.

 

Do you think the federal government should impose a tax on employees and employers to pay for a federal paid family leave program?

Congress Takes Aim at Google

As the lame duck Congress moves towards adjournment, members of Congress still have many unfinished issues. Grilling Google is one of them.

 

Lawmakers have concerns about a variety of issues, ranging from how Google treats conservatives to the company’s privacy protections, and they aired them at a House Judiciary Committee hearing today. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) chaired this hearing, which featured Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

 

There have been repeated complaints from President Trump and Republican elected officials that Google discriminates against conservative voices. This hearing offered Rep. Goodlatte and his colleagues an opportunity to air these concerns and Pichai to respond. “I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way,” Pichai testified. “To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests. We are a company that provides platforms for diverse perspectives and opinions — and we have no shortage of them among our own employees.”

 

Google is also under fire for a recent security breach that affected over 50 million users. In addition, the company is working with China to develop a search engine that complies with that country’s censorship. Both of these issues are troubling for some lawmakers.

 

This hearing was an opportunity for members of Congress to air their grievances against Google. What steps they may take in response is unclear, however. Some have floated the idea of treating social media companies like public utilities, subject to strict government rules on how they operate. Others have called for investigations.

 

When the new Congress convenes in January, there will likely be multiple bills filed that deal in some way with the issues raised in today’s hearing.

 

Do you think that the federal government should impose more regulations on Google and social media companies?

Massachusetts Legislators, Governor Differ on Airbnb Regulations

 

Residents of the Bay State who rent their homes on Internet platforms like Airbnb may soon be facing new rules and taxes. Governor Charlie Baker and legislator cannot seem to agree on what these regulations should be, however.

 

Legislators passed a bill in August that would require homeowners with short-term rentals to register with the state, meet insurance mandates, and collect and pay the same taxes that hotels do. The bill would also allow local governments to regulate and impose taxes on these short-term rentals.

 

Governor Baker did not veto this legislation, but he did suggest some changes that would need to be made before he signed it. One of these modifications would be to exempt anyone from these new regulations who rented their homes for fewer than 14 days. His changes were generally aimed at reducing the legislation’s burden on those who use short-term rentals to earn some extra money, not as a full-time moneymaking operation.

 

The governor’s staff is meeting with legislators to find a way to resolve their differences. This leaves local governments in limbo. Some have already enacted their own regulations, but they lack the ability to impose taxes. They are pressing state lawmakers to come to a decision on a final state bill.

 

Massachusetts joins other states in looking at regulating short-term rentals. As online platforms such as Airbnb become popular, hotels have pressed local and state governments to impose regulations on homeowners using these services.

 

Do you think that homeowners using services like Airbnb should be regulated and taxed the same as hotels are?

China, U.S. Move Closer to Trade War

The dispute over tariffs between the U.S. and China heated up this week – and there is no indication that it may cool down any time soon.

 

On Monday, President Trump announced that the U.S. would be imposing new tariffs on numerous Chinese products. China then said that they would levy tariffs against some U.S. goods in retaliation. President Trump then announced that if China did that, he would put in place even more tariffs on Chinese imports.

 

Unless the two countries come to an agreement, this back-and-forth levying of tariffs could lead to a major trade breakdown.

 

President Trump has been a consistent critic of foreign trade, especially trade with China. The tariffs he announced this week would impose a 10% duty on $200 billion in Chinese imports, ranging from auto parts to refrigerators to toys. The Chinese tariffs announced in response would have a similar tariff on $60 billion in U.S. imports to that country. President Trump also imposed tariffs on some Chinese goods in July.

 

Over the past two decades, trade between China and the U.S. has increased dramatically, nearly doubling since 2006. The interdependence of the two nations’ economies would be severely disrupted by high tariffs, which would not only affect consumer goods but also components used for manufacturing in the U.S. Auto makers in Detroit, for instance, are very concerned that these tariffs will raise their cost of manufacturing cars, leading to higher prices and lower sales.

 

President Trump and those who support higher tariffs say they are necessary to protect U.S. companies from unfair competition. They contend that U.S. companies could make many of the products being produced by China, and that tariffs will help stimulate American manufacturing. Critics of tariffs point out that it is ultimately U.S. consumers, not foreign businesses, who will pay these tariffs. They note that the evidence is overwhelming that tariffs hurt economic growth.

 

Officials from China and the U.S. are planning to meet to see if the differences between the two nations can be worked out.

 

Do you support President Trump’s decision to impose higher tariffs on Chinese goods? Or do you think that these tariffs will raise costs for consumers and hurt U.S. businesses?

Court Rejects Miami Cab Request to Block Uber, Lyft

 

With the advent of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, taxicab companies are facing stiff competition. In Miami-Dade County, taxicab owners sued the county after it legalized these ride-sharing services, contending that this competition devalued their business. A federal judge recently rejected these claims, saying that the government has no duty to protect taxicabs from competition.

 

Prior to the arrival of Uber and Lyft, owning a taxicab medallion in Miami-Dade County was a lucrative investment. The county handed out a limited number of these medallions, limiting taxicab numbers. The government cap on cabs limited competition, ensuring a high price for medallions. With the county’s legalization of ride-sharing services, however, the price of a taxicab medallion in Miami-Dade County has fallen by 90%.

 

In response, Checker Cab, B&S Taxi, and Miadeco sued the county. They argued that they had a property interest in the value of a taxicab medallion. Legalizing competing services, they claimed, was an illegal government “taking” of their property.

 

In early August, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected that argument. These judges held that these companies are not entitled to a competition-free marketplace. The court ruled that these taxicab companies could not force the government to protect them from competition. The taxicab medallions are licenses to operate taxi services, not licenses to have no competitors.

 

There have been other suits of this type brought by taxicab companies. A similar suit in Chicago led to the same holding, with a federal circuit court finding that taxicab companies had no legal right to be free from competition.

 

Do you think that Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services are unfair competition for taxi companies? Should courts protect taxicab owners from competition?

 

Sherrod Brown Pushing for Federal Loans to Prop up Pensions

 

Many pension plans are facing an uncertain future. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio has a plan to help them out – federal loans.

 

Senator Brown has introduced S. 2147, which would create the Pension Rehabilitation Administration. This new government agency would make loans to multi-employer pension plans that are declining, in critical status, or are insolvent. These loans would be for a 30-year term. To qualify, pension plans could not increase benefits over this 30-year term or allow for a reduction in contributions to the plan.

 

The pension plans that would be covered by this legislation are indeed facing an insolvency crisis. Some estimates put their unfunded liabilities at as much as $68 billion. Roughly 1.5 million Americans have retirement benefits that come or could come from these pensions.

 

Under Sen. Brown’s bill, aid to the pension plans would be in the form of loans that are supposed to be paid back to the government. However, there is no guarantee that such loans would be repaid. The Congressional Budget Office looked at the bill’s details and concluded that it could cost as much as $100 billion in federal dollars to support these plans. That number would be less if the pension plans were able to repay their loans.

 

Sen. Brown says this legislation is necessary to ensure that Americans can have access to the pensions they worked for and that were promised to them. Opponents of the legislation say that is a taxpayer bailout of union pension funds that made irresponsible financial decisions with workers’ money.

 

While Senator Brown’s bill has 22 co-sponsors, none of them are Republicans. That means it is unlikely that his proposal will be acted upon by the Senate this year.

 

Do you agree with Senator Sherrod Brown that the federal government should make loans to pension plans to guarantee workers’ retirement money? Or is it wrong for taxpayers to bail out union pension plans?

 

Missouri Set to Vote on Right-to-Work Law

 

In 2017, Missouri legislators and then-Governor Eric Greitens enacted a law that would make Missouri a right-to-work state. Labor groups organized to stop this legislation through the referendum process. As a result, over a year later, voters will determine the future of organized labor in Missouri.

 

If voters pass Proposition A on August 7, it will enshrine the state’s right-to-work act into law. This would end the requirement that Missouri workers either join a union or pay a fee to a union as a condition of employment.

 

After Republicans took both houses of the legislature and governor’s mansion with the election of Gov. Greitens, they made passage of a right-to-work law a priority. Labor leaders have been able to delay its enactment through the veto referendum process. By collecting signatures and placing it on the ballot, voters have a chance to veto this law by voting “no.”

 

Supporters of right-to-work legislation say that no one should be forced to join a union or pay a fee to a union in order to work. They contend that unions should attract workers and their money voluntarily, not through the state forcing workers to fund labor organizations. Those opposed to these laws contend that since unions bargain on behalf of every worker at a business, no worker should be able to “free ride” on the benefits provided by unions.

 

If affirmed by the voters, Missouri would become the 28th state to enact right-to-work legislation.

 

Do you support right-to-work laws? Should workers be free to decide on whether to pay dues or fees to a union? Or are workers who refuse to join a union or pay fees to it free-riding off that union’s efforts on behalf of them?

 

Trump’s Tariffs Affecting Iowa Farmers

 

President Donald Trump has been vocal in his desire to upend U.S. trading policy. He has imposed or threatened a variety of tariffs, and other nations have retaliated. Now Iowa farmers are caught in the middle of this trade war, something that concerns them as well as their representatives in Congress.

 

Earlier this year, President Trump imposed tariffs on some goods coming in from Mexico, Canada, the EU, and China. In response, these countries imposed tariffs on U.S. products, some of them agricultural. This has caused prices to drop for corn, pork, and other farm-sector products to drop. That is hitting some Iowa farmers hard.

 

These farmers are struggling with lower prices for this year’s crop while at the same time facing decisions about what to do next year. Given the uncertainty over trade policy and the willingness of the president to continue exploring further tariffs, many farmers are unsure about their economic future. This has prompted some farm state members of Congress, such as Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, to encourage the White House to consider how this trade war is affecting farmers.

 

Even in light of this disruption to the farm economy, however, many of these members of Congress are wary about supporting legislation that would scale back the president’s tariff powers. They are taking an attitude of waiting to see if these trade issues can be resolves soon so that U.S. farmers can once again enjoy greater access to international markets.

 

Do you think that farmers are right to be concerned that trade disputes could hurt their ability to stay in business?

 

Attempting to Close Gender Pay Gap, Illinois May Ban Salary Info Requests

 

Illinois legislators don’t like when potential employers ask job candidates about their salary history. They say this practice hurts women applicants. In early July, they passed legislation that would prohibit employers from asking job seekers about salary during interviews. Now it is up to Gov. Bruce Rauner to decide if he will go along with this effort to amend the state’s Equal Pay Act.

 

The salary legislation prohibits employers from doing three things: 1) screening potential employees on their salary history, 2) requiring that potential employees’ prior salary satisfy a maximum or minimum range, and 3) asking about salary history as part of the job search process.

 

Supporters of such legislation contend that asking about salary history is one way that employers can get away with offering women job applicants lower starting wages. They say that if women come from a job with a lower pay then it is difficult for them to receive jobs with a higher pay if new employer inquire about salary history. Opponents of this law counter that salary history is a relevant factor when hiring someone, so employers should not be banned from asking about it.

 

Governor Rauner vetoed a similar bill last year. It is unclear what he will do once this new bill reaches his desk.

 

Do you think that employers should be prohibited from asking about salary history when interviewing someone? Do employers questioning potential employees about their salary history contribute to a gender pay gap?

 

Wisconsin Offers Big Subsidies to Lure Foxconn

 

The Taiwanese manufacturing giant Foxconn is getting ready to open its North American headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Understandably, Governor Scott Walker is proud of this move, which adds onto an announcement that Foxconn will build an LCD manufacturing plant elsewhere in the state. But critics say that the only thing that lured Foxconn to Wisconsin is billions of dollars in corporate welfare.

 

Gov. Walker dismisses any criticism of the subsidies provided to Foxconn, noting that they were necessary to create thousands of new jobs in the state. These subsidies passed after strenuous lobbying by the governor. He convinced the Republicans who control the legislature to pass the incentive package last year.

 

Here is how VoteSpotter described the subsidy bill, which passed 20-13 in the state Senate and 59-30 in the Assembly:

 

To allow the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to provide tax credits up to $2.85 billion in a new technology manufacturing zone. The bill also exempts the purchase of construction material in this zone from the state's sales tax.

 

The sales tax exemption is worth roughly $150 million, making the state subsidy package a $3 billion offer to Foxconn. With other government incentives included, this one company could be receiving as much as $4.5 billion directly or indirectly from taxpayers. There is also a move by a local government to use eminent domain to seize some land designated as “blighted” and turn it over to Foxconn.

 

The end result would be between 3,000 and 13,000 new jobs created in Wisconsin. While Gov. Walker touts the jobs figure of 13,000, legislators rejected a Democratic proposal that would have required Foxconn to repay its subsidies if it does not create this number of jobs.

 

Do you support Wisconsin using $4.5 billion in subsidies to lure Foxconn into the state? Should the government designate land as “blighted” so it can use eminent domain to seize it and turn it over to Foxconn or other private businesses?

 

Michigan Eliminates Prevailing Wage Mandate

 

Should the state mandate a union wage on government construction projects? Michigan legislators answered “no” to this question in early June. They passed legislation to repeal the state’s prevailing wage requirement. While unions bemoaned this move and promised payback at the ballot box, businesses and some workers applauded the move to allow greater flexibility on construction projects financed by the state government.

 

For decades in Michigan, government construction projects operated under the requirement that they pay the “prevailing wage” in a region. That is a state-set wage rate that was supposed to equal the wage and benefits paid to the majority of workers in a certain area. Usually, this meant the union wage rate. This allowed unions to have easier access to these projects and made it more difficult for non-union companies to compete for government construction contracts.

 

A business group had collected enough signatures to place a repeal of Michigan’s prevailing wage law on the November ballot. Legislators had the option of enacting this measure by approving it through a majority vote. Both houses of the legislature did so, with most Republicans voting to repeal the wage requirement and most Democrats voting against it.

 

Proponents of repealing the prevailing wage mandate say that taxpayers will save money because labor costs on government construction projects will be lower, perhaps by as much as 15%. They also say that this will mean more companies will be able to bid on government construction projects, thus giving more job opportunities to workers who are not in unions.

 

Organized labor fought against this law’s repeal, arguing that it would lead to lower wages for workers. They contend that it will drive skilled labor out of the state. They also say that this law helped working families.

 

Do you think that states should mandate a union wage scale on government construction projects?

 

Right-to-Work an Issue in West Virginia Campaign

 

It has been two years since legislators enacted legislation that made West Virginia a right-to-work state. Unions and their supporters are now striking back, hoping to make support for overturning this law a winning issue this election year.

 

In 2016, then-Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, vetoed legislation that would end the requirement that individuals join a union or pay a fee to a union as a condition of employment. This bill passed the Republican-controlled legislature, and these lawmakers overturned Gov. Tomblin’s veto. After a year-long court battle, West Virginia’s right to work law went into effect in 2017.

 

Unions and their political supporters fought hard to defeat the law, but were unsuccessful. They now see this year’s state elections as a way to put candidates in office who will overturn it.

 

They have already had some success. In the May primary election, one of the Republican senators who fought hardest for this law lost his primary. He was beaten by a state delegate who opposed the 2017 law and received support from the state teachers’ union.

 

Support for overturning the right to work law also features heavily in the campaign of Richard Ojeda, who is a Democrat running for the U.S. House of Representatives in the state’s Third Congressional District. According to him, “Right-to-work needs to go…If we take back the state of West Virginia, we will be the first state to overturn right-to-work.”

 

Those opposing right-to-work in West Virginia say that the law hurts workers’ ability to bargain for higher wages and better benefits. Supporters of the law contend that it will help attract businesses and new jobs to West Virginia.

 

Do you support right-to-work laws?

 

Seattle Passes a Head Tax on Employees

 

The tech boom has been good to Seattle. Companies like Amazon have revitalized a city that was once in such a severe decline that it featured a billboard requesting, “Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights?” Now the city council has unanimously voted to mandate that large companies in the city to pay a new tax on every employee – an idea that many fear would hurt job growth there.

 

Under this tax plan, companies that have $20 million in annual gross receipts would be subject to a tax of $275 a year for every employee working at these companies. This tax would end in five years, with the council having the option of renewing it. The revenue from this tax is slated to be used for constructing affordable housing units and emergency services for the homeless.

 

Initially, the tax was $500 a year for every employee and it would have been replaced by a .7% payroll tax in 2021. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan pushed for a lower tax that did not transition to a payroll tax.

 

Advocates of this tax say it is needed because the companies being targeted have contributed to the high cost of housing in the city. These advocates contend that it is only fair to ask these companies to pay a special tax to help the city government provide affordable housing and homeless services.

 

Opponents of the tax include business owners and some unions. They say that it will penalize companies for creating jobs in Seattle. This will discourage companies from hiring new workers or locating their business in Seattle. These observers note that companies can set up their headquarters in suburbs and still enjoy many of the benefits of being located in the Seattle metropolitan area.

 

Amazon paused consideration an office building’s construction during the consideration of the tax and said that it would look at leasing some of its space to other companies. Tax supporters accused Amazon of trying to blackmail the city, while tax opponents said this was the natural reaction of a business being targeted by a punitive tax proposal.

 

Do you think that large companies should pay a special tax for every person they employ to fund government affordable housing programs and homeless services?

 

Tesla Battling to Sell Cars Directly to Connecticut Consumers

 

If you live in Connecticut and want to buy a Tesla, you have to travel to a neighboring state. Connecticut law mandates that new cars can only be sold through franchises, but Tesla sells their cars directly to consumers. Legislators are considering a bill that would change the way cars can be sold in Connecticut, but it has garnered fierce opposition from existing franchise owners.

 

For decades, Connecticut has prohibited automobile manufacturers from selling vehicles directly to people who want to buy them. Instead, the state mandates that car sales must be made through independent franchises. This law is similar to laws that all 50 states passed to protect independent vehicle dealers from what was perceived as unfair competition from automobile manufacturers. Lawmakers at the time saw manufacturers as having too much power to undersell or coerce independent dealers, so passed laws that prohibited these manufacturers from selling directly to the public.

 

Tesla does not operate its sales in the same was as other automobile companies, however. It contends that independent dealers will not prioritize sales of its cars, so it wants the ability to market them directly to people who are interested in buying them. The company has been working in states around the country to change laws that prohibit it from making sales in this way. Connecticut consumers can buy cars from Tesla dealerships in New York or Massachusetts, and some do. Tesla contends that Connecticut is losing out on tax revenue by banning the car’s sale in the state.

 

Franchise owners say that if legislators change the law, it will lead to an un-level playing field for them. They argue that Tesla dealerships have fewer employees and lower overhead, so they will have an unfair advantage. They also argue that jobs will be lost at franchises if the state allows for manufacturers like Tesla to sell directly to consumers.

 

Legislators have been debating this issue for four years in Connecticut. There have been attempts to find a compromise between dealers and Tesla, but so far the two sides cannot come to a consensus. It remains to be seen if this will be the year that lawmakers break through the impasse and allow Tesla’s cars to be sold in the state.

 

Do you think that state laws should prohibit Tesla from being sold directly to consumers? Or do you think it is a good idea to have laws that mandate cars be sold through independent franchises?

 

 

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