Business, Labor, Finance, and Insurance

Commentary & Community

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?



Job Licensing Reform Dies in Florida



If you want to work as a hair braider or a boxing announcer in Florida, the state mandates that you get a license. Some legislators think that workers pursuing these jobs should not be forced to get permission from the state. They passed a bill in this year’s legislative session that would have de-licensed these and a few other occupations. But this push for occupational license reform did not survive the legislative process, meaning that anyone wishing to work in these jobs must still get a state license.


In early January, the Florida House of Representatives passed a bill that would end the requirement that people looking to work in the occupations of hair braiding, hair wrapping, body wrapping, boxing timekeeping, and boxing announcing must obtain a state license. The bill also reduced the number of hours of mandatory training that someone seeking to work as a barber, nail specialist, face specialist, or a full beauty specialist must complete. The legislation was the same as a bill passed the previous year in the same body.


Those supporting this reform contend that occupational licenses are a barrier to Floridians seeking work. These licenses keep people from being able to get jobs and act to protect those already in the occupation from competition. They also say that the licenses may be defended as a way to protect the public, but the evidence indicates that these licenses don’t offer a public benefit.


The bill met stiff opposition from barbers and those in the beauty field. The professional associations and licensed workers testified that the longer training hours were necessary to ensure that the public is not harmed by barbers or beauty workers who did not know their craft. They said that the state should mandate more hours to protect the public, not cut the mandatory hours.


While this legislation passed the House of Representatives, it died in the Senate. Given the history of this proposal, a similar bill is likely to be debated in the 2019 Florida legislative session.


Do you think that the state should impose a mandatory license on hair braiders and boxing announcers? Should the state require barbers complete 1,200 hours of training before they cut hair professionally?



Wisconsin Bans Local Wage and Hour Laws



Across the nation, city and county governments are passing laws that regulate how employers pay their employees or what benefits they provide. In Wisconsin, however, these local governments recently lost their power to enact such ordinances.


In mid-April, Governor Scott Walker signed legislation that pre-empts local authority to regulate employee wages and hour. The bill to do this passed 58 to 32 in the Assembly and 18 to 14 in the Senate. Governor Walker is a Republican, and both of the legislative bodies are controlled by Republicans.


This act prohibits local governments from doing the following:

  • Imposing mandatory “labor peace agreements,” which are requirements that businesses enter into agreements with unions as a condition for doing government work
  • Regulating employee hour and overtime
  • Regulating employment benefits
  • Prohibiting employers from asking job candidates their past salary information


Nationwide, local proposals to increase the minimum wage or mandate paid sick leave generally occur in cities led by liberal leadership but located in states that have a conservative state government. The actions of local officials in this area often prompt a backlash from state officials, such as was seen in Wisconsin. Local governments have no inherent authority to regulate these areas; states can pre-empt any efforts by cities or counties to pass laws on this subject.


Supporters of these pre-emption laws say that they are necessary to provide uniform labor laws across the state. They contend that a patchwork of local labor laws makes it difficult for businesses to operate. Opponents of the state pre-empting local government labor regulations say that cities and counties should have the power to adopt laws that meet needs in their jurisdiction, which may be different from what works in other jurisdictions across the state.


Do you think that Wisconsin cities should be able to enact laws, such as a higher minimum wage, than what state law allows? Or should there be uniform wage and labor laws that apply across Wisconsin?



Democrats Pushing for $15 Minimum Wage in Ohio


If Ohio Democrats have their way, it will soon be illegal for businesses in the state to pay their workers less than $15 an hour.


Advocacy groups and legislators are pushing to change the state’s minimum wage. Under their proposal, it would increase to $12 per hour in 2019. Then it will go up by 50 cents a year until it reaches $15 an hour in 2025.


Currently, the state’s minimum wage is $8.30 ($4.15 for tipped workers). The state’s voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 that ties the minimum wage to inflation, so it increases every year. Smaller businesses are allowed to pay $7.15 an hour, and businesses can pay that rate to workers who are 14- or 15-years-old.


Advocates of this proposal contend that this increase will help working families and boost consumer spending. They say that no one should work full-time and still live in poverty.


Opponents of the measure say that it will hurt businesses who cannot afford to pay dramatically higher wages. This will lead to workers either losing their jobs or not being hired.


With the Ohio General Assembly controlled by Republicans, a minimum wage hike is unlikely to pass. Some legislators have said that the voters made their decision on this issue in the 2006 vote, so the state should stick with the formula outlined in that constitutional amendment. Democrats are likely to use this as an issue in this year’s elections, however. One of the leading sponsors is a Democratic state senator who is running for governor.


Do you think that workers will be helped with a higher minimum wage? Or will a higher minimum wage kill jobs?

Will Trump Tariffs Help or Hurt the Economy?

When Donald Trump campaigned for the presidency, his attacks on foreign trade drew big cheers from crowds. Now he’s taking steps to turn his “fair trade” rhetoric into reality.


On March 1, the president announced that he would be signing an order to impose a 25% tariff on imported steel and a 10% tariff on imported aluminum. His power to do this comes from a federal law that allows tariffs to be imposed on certain goods if the Commerce Secretary determines their importation undermines national security.


Such tariffs may boost domestic manufacturers of steel and tariffs, possibly even leading to a growth in these industries. However, U.S. businesses such as car makers rely on imported steel. They will be forced to pay higher prices for the inputs they need, as will U.S. consumers. Such tariffs could also provoke retaliatory trade barriers from foreign countries.


According to Christine McDaniel, an economist who works for George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, the president is hurting American workers with this action:


“Import taxes on steel and aluminum will raise the prices of those products, which in turn will raise the price of doing business for U.S. manufacturers. There are more people in U.S. manufacturing sectors that rely on steel than there are in the U.S. steel industry. In terms of the economics, the trade-off does not make sense.”


Other observers praised the move. Dave Burritt, president and CEO of U.S. Steel, said, “it's for our employees, to support our customers, and when we get this right it will be great for the United States of America. We have to get this done.”


The affected nations will likely take their case against these tariffs to the World Trade Organization once the president imposes them.


Do you think that President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum will help U.S. industry? Or will workers be hurt because consumers and the industries that rely on imported steel will be paying higher prices?


Should Government Employees Be Able to Withhold Union Fees?


This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that could have profound effects on government workers. The court is widely expected to rule that public sector employees may not be compelled as a condition of employment to pay fees that cover union administration and collective bargaining expenses.


The case is Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Council 31. Mark Janus is an employee of the state of Illinois who must pay the union an “agency fee” even though he chooses not to be a member of AFSCME. The union argues that this fee is fair because the union’s activities benefit non-members like Janus.


Mark Janus contends that compulsory payments to the union violate his First Amendment rights. He argues that supporting public sector unions is necessarily subsidizing their political engagement, since the bargaining and other activities of these unions directly impact public policy decisions. Janus says that he should not be compelled to pay for speech that is essentially the same as lobbying.


In the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case, the Supreme Court permitted the compulsory fees, judging that that non-union members covered by a collective bargaining agreement could not be “free riders” who benefit from union bargaining but pay nothing to support it. The court also accepted the argument that this would avoid labor strife. This decision was challenged in the 2016 case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on whether to overturn the earlier decision approving mandatory union payments.


Unions are urging the court not to strip the power from government employee unions to obtain fees from non-members. They say that if the court does this, it will weaken these unions and the overall labor movement. On the other side, business groups and some workers say that union officials should not be able to force non-members to pay for endeavors that are little more than political activities.


A decision is expected in the late spring.


Do you think that non-members should be forced pay fees to government employee unions? Or do you think that it is only fair to make workers who benefit from union activities pay money to help fund them?


Virginia Minimum Wage Hike Coming in 2018?


A minimum wage showdown could be coming to Richmond next year.


Virginia’s incoming governor, Ralph Northam, made increasing the minimum wage a centerpiece of his campaign. He cannot enact this policy without the help of legislators, however. While Republicans saw their numbers reduced in the General Assembly, it is likely they still control both chambers (a few key races have yet to be decided). It is unlikely that the governor will find much support for his proposal with these legislators.


During the campaign, Northam said, “Nobody in 2017 can support themselves, let alone their families, on a $7.25 an hour, so it's incumbent on all of us to make sure we raise the minimum wage here in Virginia.” However, he has not explicitly supported a minimum wage increase to $15, a key goal of many progressive activists.


Currently, Virginia’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, the same as the federal wage floor. Some of Virginia’s neighboring states have higher minimum wages. Maryland, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia all mandate a higher wage.


The effects of increasing the minimum wage are hotly debated by economists and politicians. Opponents of such a mandate say that it prices low-wage workers out of the marketplace by banning businesses from paying them what their labor is worth. Supporters contend that workers deserve to be paid a wage that allows them to support a family.


Do you think that Virginia should increase its minimum wage? Or would a minimum wage hike be bad for the Commonwealth’s economy?


High Court Takes Aim at Mandatory Government Union Fees


If you are a government worker, you may soon be able to choose whether or not you want to pay union fees.


The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit challenging state and local laws compelling non-union government employees to pay fees to unions. Currently, 22 states require employees who are not union members to pay an agency fee to unions as compensation for collective bargaining.


While agency fees cannot be used for political activity, the non-union members bringing the suit contend that when it comes to government workers, collective bargaining is inseparable from political activity. When bargaining with the government, their argument goes, it means being involved with spending and taxing decisions. This means that these non-union employees are subsidizing political speech when unions advocate for pay or benefits.


Unions counter that since all employees benefit from the contracts they negotiate, then all employees should pay for their services. It is not fair to unionized members to subsidize activity resulting in higher pay and benefits that also go to non-union members, they contend.


This case, Janus vs. AFSCME, is being brought by a government employee in Illinois. It is similar to a case heard by the Supreme Court in 2016. In that instance, the court deadlocked at 4-4 after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. The court’s tie vote meant that it was still legal for states to compel non-union members to pay agency fees, but it did not set a precedent. A majority vote in this new case will determine a national precedent. With a conservative majority, many observers think the court will decide against mandatory fees.


Do you think that government workers should be forced to pay fees to unions when they aren’t members? Or do you support mandatory fees as a way to prevent workers from getting a free ride from union activities?


Nominee May Set Up Fight over Export Subsidies


A Senate fight may be brewing over one of President Trump’s nominees. But this fight may be different from the usual partisan wrangling we see in Congress.


The nominee is former U.S. Representative Scott Garrett. The agency is the Export-Import Bank. Garrett is an unconventional pick to head the Export-Import Bank because of his past opposition to the bank’s operation.


The Export-Import Bank is an independent federal agency that loans money to foreign companies that are making purchases of products made in the U.S. The former president of the bank, Fred Hochberg, left office in January.


Arrayed against Garrett’s nomination are Republican-friendly entities like the National Association of Manufacturers and Boeing, the aircraft maker. They contend that the Export-Import bank is essential for the competitiveness of American companies abroad and should not be led by someone who fought against it while in Congress.


Export-Import Bank opponents say that the institution is a way to steer corporate subsidies to big businesses that could operate fine without them. They note that Garrett cannot shut down operations of the bank if he is confirmed, but could bring a critical eye to ensure that the bank is run better.


Over the past two years, conservatives in Congress have tried various ways to shut down or hobble the bank’s operation. They refused to renew the bank’s charter for five months, effectively shuttering it. They have also refused to confirm members to its board, which makes it impossible for the bank to make loans in excess of $10 million.

Garrett’s nomination could result in a Senate vote that has not yet been seen in the Trump presidency. If pro-business interests succeed in persuading Republicans to oppose Garrett, this could be the first instance of large-scale GOP defections on a Trump nomination. There is also criticism about the Export-Import Bank from liberals, so Garrett may find some support from the more liberal Senate Democrats. Generally these liberals have been steadfast in their opposition to Trump nominees.


Do you think that Scott Garrett should be confirmed as the president of the Export-Import Bank? Or do you think that someone who is a strong supporter of the agency should be leading it?


Copyright © 2018 Votespotter Inc. All rights reserved.