On Saturday, several Democratic presidential candidates headed to Las Vegas for a forum hosted by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The candidates laid out their plans for the economy and labor law reform in front of an audience of AFSCME members.
The forum brought a focus to labor issues that were lacking is last week’s debates, as Jared wrote on Thursday. The nineteen Democrats spoke about their commitment to workers’ rights, possible picks to head the Department of Labor, and the health care policy split that has nearly dominated the primary.
The forum represents the political importance of the labor movement for Democratic presidential hopefuls. The Washington Post reports that many unions are holding back from early endorsements and the “boots on the ground” organizing energy they often provide. The forum’s location in Nevada brought these issues to the forefront. In addition to being the first early primary state in the west, the state has a strong union presence, especially among hotel and culinary workers. In June, nearly 20,000 of Nevada’s state employees won the right to collectively bargain, further signaling labor’s importance and strength in the battleground state.
Last week, home improvement giant Lowe’s revealed a plan to layoff thousands of workers in their retail stores across the U.S. The cuts are mainly targeted at workers who assembled products or provided maintenance and janitorial services. The Wall Street Journal reports that most workers are being offered a small amount of “transition pay,” typically two week’s salary. Many of these jobs will be “outsourced” to third-party contracting firms, where non-Lowe’s employees or independent contractors will be hired to perform those same tasks. This news comes after Lowe’s closed 47 stores last year in the U.S. and Canada.
This follows a decades-long trend of “fissuring” jobs in sectors like janitorial services, described by former DOL Wage and Hour Chief David Weil as “work in which the relationship between employer and employee has been fragmented, usually as part of a deliberate strategy to undermine wages and worker bargaining power.” In this book The Fissured Workplace, he warns that these fissured jobs are often characterized by “low wages, noncompliance with core workplace statutes, limited benefits, more contingent employment, greater risk exposure, and weakened bargaining leverage for workers.”