TOPIC: Dept. of Labor

Conventional labor disputes

Chicago's McCormick Place

Even as both private and public sector unions lose power, labor is a powerful force in Chicago. But Illinois politicians — even Democrats who get union contributions — argue that AFL-CIO unions like the carpenters and the teamsters keep the city from seeing millions, maybe billions, of revenue at the McCormick Place convention center. But, like the dispute between Chicago-based Boeing and the machinist union, federal law has so far sided with labor.

Undercounting the long-term unemployed

Sara Murray and Phil Izzo of the Wall Street Journal report on the long-term unemployed in states like Illinois and Michigan: About 30 percent of those seeking work in Illinois and Michigan have been doing so for at least a year.

But even that statistic doesn’t do justice to the problem, because many of the really long-term unemployed have stopped looking for work. The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics does not include those not looking for work in their unemployment rate (which, right now, hovers around nine percent nationally). The Labor Dept. does however, count such people in a monthly “true” unemployment rate that also includes the underemployed and is typically closer to 16-17 percent.

Wisconsin taps into fed unemployment money

The Wisconsin Republican state legislature will lend a helping hand to about 4,000 residents who have been unemployed for at least a year and seen all their federal and state benefits exhausted. Erin Toner of Milwaukee Public Radio reports that the fiscally conservative legislature is OK with helping the unemployed in large part because the money will come from the federal government. The money comes from the grand compromise Barack Obama made with the GOP last December: let the Bush tax cuts continue in exchange for extended unemployment benefits.

Eventually, Wisconsin, like many other states, must repay past money it has borrowed from the federal government for unemployment benefits. The state now owes the U.S. Dept. of Labor $1.3 billion.

A look at the Dept. of Labor’s Job Corps program

Georgia Pabst of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a positive look at Job Corps, a long-time program run by the U.S. Dept. of Labor to provide educational and vocational training for disadvantaged people between ages 16-24. Pabst interviews several participants positively impacted by Job Corps, but the program’s overall effect is limited to only 60,000 participants nationally. In Wisconsin, at least, there are far more disadvantaged teens and young adults applying for the program than there are positions available.

Mountaintop mining: When government agencies need to be aggressive

More and more authoritative scientific studies are saying — categorically — that mountaintop mining is dangerous to people’s health and the environment, and Allen Hershkowitz at NRDC is calling for the government to take action.  He calls for the National Research Council to look at these reports and issue its own opinion.  Until that happens, he says that

the US EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Interior should implement a categorical moratorium on the issuance of new permits, regardless of a mine’s size or location.

If mountaintop mining is stopped, it will inevitably be called a sign of “aggressive government action.”  On the other hand, stopping private companies from severing mountains in America’s last wildernesses would seem to be the perfect example of healthy conservatism.

Earthquake preparation means big efforts before the Big One in California

A sobering report by The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the 4.5 million employees of 430,000 Southern California businesses could wind up enduring lengthy periods of unemployment and other disruptions should the so-called ‘big one’ sever the regions freeways, cut rail lines and damage port facilities in Los Angeles and Long Beach.
As one of the nation’s few remaining manufacturing hubs, major damage in Southern California would have ripple effects across the nation, worsened by the popularity amongst other manufacturers and retailers of just-in-time delivery. (more…)

Dept. of Labor suggests smartphones to deal with wage theft

Temp workers at a Kraft warehouse in Joliet, Illinois have filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Chicago claiming that Atlanta-based ProLogistix staffing agency never paid them for work at the Kraft plant. Kate MacArthur of Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Kraft itself is not named in the lawsuit, just ProLogistix. The lawsuit highlights another problem in enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act, which guarantees employees will be compensated for their work. (more…)

Wisconsin legislature to unemployed: Why don’t you just get a job?

In March, Michigan took the unprecedented step of cutting unemployment insurance from 26 weeks to 20. Representative Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat, railed that Michigan was to unemployment insurance what Wisconsin was to collective bargaining. So Levin will not be happy to see that Wisconsin is possibly following Michigan’s lead on unemployment insurance, joining Missouri and Arkansas in cutting benefits. In two months it has become politically acceptable for state legislatures to reduce aid to the unemployed. (more…)

Unemployment Camp: Michigan congressman says jobless are taxing to business

Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder caused a stir in March by signing a bill that decreased the number of weeks the state pays unemployment benefits from 26 to 20. Michigan GOP Rep. Dave Camp has brought the plan to Washington. William Selway of Bloomberg reports that a bill by Camp to cut federally paid for jobless benefits and use the money to business taxes passed the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday. Camp claims that taxes on employers are “making it harder for millions of unemployed workers to get back to work.”

The unemployed might not agree with Camp, and the Obama administration and U.S. Senate probably won’t either — meaning it is unlikely the bill will become law. But other states with conservative governors and state legislatures might. Missouri recently joined Michigan in curbing the duration of unemployment benefits.

Chicago’s teen idles

Alejandra Cancino of the Chicago Tribune reports on the continued lack of jobs for Chicago teens and that many teens will remain unemployed through the summer. Illinois teens have a 27.5 percent unemployment rate, a number that the federal government is not doing much to change. “This summer, Illinois is facing the loss of 18,000 jobs for teenagers as a result in cuts in federal stimulus funds,” Cancino writes.

So federal programs can’t help teens get jobs, and it’s apparent that the free market can’t either. Chicago businesses are “taking a wait-and-see approach” to hiring more workers, blaming gas prices and a lack of consumer confidence. This lack of confidence in the private sector to hire more workers has been going on since 2008.