The last year saw dramatic changes for workers and their employers, and as 2016 nears, it looks full of even more big issues that could fundamentally change how Americans work.
From federal and state policy changes to emerging markets, the economy is evolving quickly. Minimum wages continue to go up, union influence is evolving and how employers interact with their workers is becoming more innovative than ever. Huge and often questionable changes to labor policy occurred in 2015, and 2016 looks to continue the trend. Here are some of the biggest issues worth keeping an eye on in 2016.
1. The Big Impact Big Labor Has On Big Elections
The 2016 presidential election will be a defining moment in the year ahead. The question of whether the eight year Democratic reign will continue past President Barack Obama will be answered. Labor unions, which tend to support Democrats, will play a huge role when it comes to their political influence.
The question of which candidate will win over the labor movement has come down to Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Early on, Clinton struggled to gain union support, while Sanders was able to get the backing of a number of unions, especially on the local level. Large national unions, however, held off their support. They had fundamental policy differences with Clinton while also fearing Sanders was not electable.
When Joe Biden finally announced Oct. 21 that he would not be running for president, the favor went immediately to Clinton. Since then, she has picked up significant momentum with the labor movement, as they gradually see her as the most likely general election candidate.
2. Ms. Friedrichs Goes To Washington
Rebecca Friedrichs went from unknown California teacher to labor union enemy number one seemingly overnight. It all started when Friedrichs tried to leave her union. She felt it benefited its members at the expense of the students. Though she could leave and forfeit most union benefits, she was still forced to continue paying dues. She and a group of other teachers decided to file a lawsuit.
The Supreme Court agreed in June to hear the case, propelling her to the national spotlight. Since the teachers are technically public sector employees, a decision in their favor could mean all state employees might earn the right to stop paying union dues. Such a decision would devastate public sector unions, which make good money from compulsory dues and fees.
To the teachers and their supporters, the case could mean the end of laws that restrict worker freedom. To opponents, unions are what gives workers a voice, and limiting their power will adversely impact the ability of workers to advocate for their workplace rights. The case is on the docket for 2016, and it could remake public sector unions as we know them.
3. How Uber Got Pulled Over In The Passing Lane
The sharing-economy has been on the cutting-edge of labor across the globe. While the innovative market seemingly has no limits in where it might be adapted, ride-sharing companies like Uber have become the go-to examples. The new multi-industry way of doing business has outpaced traditional competition and government regulations alike. So much so, critics have worked fast to rein in the modern business model. While the sharing-economy saw significant challenges in 2015, next year promises much more.
The sharing-economy is the result of new technologies that allow companies to make digital platforms where individuals create their own business ventures. Supporters say it gives workers the chance to become their own entrepreneur. Critics, though, argue it allows companies to disregard critical worker protection laws because workers are technically contractors and not traditional employees.
The model has faced a lot of legal trouble as well. Oregon labor officials decided Oct. 15 to start classifying Uber drivers as employees not contractors. A California court ruled in June that Uber misrepresented one of its employees as a contractor to avoid paying her employee expenses and benefits. Additionally Seattle lawmakers passed a bill Dec. 14 that order companies to treat contractors more like employees.
National Limousine Association Co-Founder Scott Solombrino says it’s more about fairness than stifling innovation. Traditional businesses are much more limited by laws like worker protections, while sharing-economy ventures have been allowed to act in open defiance. Solombrino told The Daily Caller News Foundation the law should be applied equally to all.
4. Fight For $15 No Matter The Cost
The union-backed Fight for $15 movement has been a powerhouse when it comes to minimum wage policies. Its goal is to enact a $15 minimum wage anywhere it can. The National Employment Law Project noted in a report Monday that 14 cities and states have passed a $15 minimum wage in 2015 with over one dozen legislative or ballot proposals expected next year.
Cities have been at the forefront when passing the $15 minimum wage. Seattle led the way back in June 2014. States like New York and Massachusetts at the moment have only been able to pass industry specific increases. Nevertheless, some states have fought to become the first with a full statewide increase.
Critics assert many businesses don’t have the profits to handle such an increase. Some low-profit industries like restaurants have few options to offset the added cost of labor. They could increase prices or hire less workers. In some cases the businesses may have to close. Supporters, though, say the $15 minimum wage will help the poor by allowing them to more easily afford basic necessities. The increased spending would then in turn stimulate economic activity.
5. Right-To-Work Working In A Majority Of States
Wisconsin made labor policy history Mar. 9 when it became the 25th state to pass a right-to-work law. The policy outlaws mandatory union dues or fees as a condition of employment. The move meant for the first time in American history, there was an equal number of right-to-work states and compulsory union dues states. If another state passes the law, it would mean for the first time the majority of states have enacted the policy.
Kentucky, Missouri and West Virgina have become some of the most fierce right-to-work battle ground states. In West Virgina, the Republican majority has made the policy a priority since securing the legislature back in 2014. Republican leadership has vowed to turn around the state which has faced severe economic trouble during the nearly 80 years of previous Democratic control.
Kentucky has taken the fight in a rather unique direction. While it has a statewide fight like the others, counties are also going ahead with their own measures. The policy has traditionally been a state issue. At the moment 12 counties have enacted the policy while an additional four are close. Newly elected Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has also promised to make the policy a priority.
Missouri looked close to becoming the 26th right–to–work state but has since faced major setbacks. When the legislature passed the policy it was squashed not long after with a veto by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. Nevertheless, supporters have promised to keep fighting.
6. The Labor Policy Arm Of The Obama Machine
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has done a lot to unilaterally change labor policy in 2015. With no signs of slowing down, the Obama administration labor board looks likely to do even more in 2016. While supporters of the changes have claimed its to help the workers, critics have contested its simply a veiled attempt to benefit labor unions.
Nevertheless, the regulatory changes seen through the administration have been extensive. It has tried to get rid of secret ballot elections, changed overtime rules, shortened the amount of time union elections are held and overturned decades of established franchising rules. With the chance a Republican could become the next president, the board may have roughly a year to strengthen union power even more like Obama has promised to do.
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