Jobless Rate Steady at 4.1% in February

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

            WASHINGTON (PAI)—The U.S. unemployment rate remained at 4.1 percent in February, the fifth straight month it hasn’t budged. Businesses claimed to create a net of 287,000 new jobs last month, while governments added another 26,000, a separate Bureau of Labor Statistics survey said. All the added government jobs were in local schools.

            But while the number of jobs grew, so did the number of jobless, by 22,000, to 6.71 million, BLS added. And what seemed to be a start of workers’ pay rising as the job market tightened, wasn’t, added Economic Policy Institute analyst Elise Gould.

            “Nominal hourly wage growth remains relatively disappointing at 2.6 percent year-over-year, so we clearly have a ways to go before reaching the 3.5 percent wage growth — at a minimum — that would be consistent with” both government inflation targets and productivity.

            In short, workers are still producing more than employers are willing to pay them for.


            “It’s important to remember that wage growth doesn’t need to simply hit 3.5 percent in a given month to declare the job is done. It needs to exceed 3.5 percent for a substantial amount of time for workers to begin to claw back losses in the labor share of income they’ve felt during and since the Great Recession,” Gould said.

            The crash only made a bad situation, the yawning wage chasm between the races and between the rich and the rest of us, worse, Gould noted.

            “Black-white wage gaps have widened over the last 17 years and the bottom 50 percent of college-degreed workers have lower wages today than in 2000,” she warned. And BLS numbers also show, still, that one of every 12 workers (8.2 percent) are jobless, working part-time when they really want full-time jobs or so discouraged they’ve stopped seeking work.

            Construction firms claimed to add 61,000 jobs, rising to 7.17 million in February. Sixty percent of those added jobs were at specialty trade contractors. But 732,000 construction workers (7.8 percent) were jobless, a figure union leaders say understates unemployment in their industry.

            Factories claimed to add 31,000 jobs, to 12.61 million. The biggest gains were reported in cars (+6,200 jobs), fabricated metal products (+5,900) and machinery (+5,600). There were 555,000 jobless construction workers (3.6 percent).

            By comparison, the lowest-paying service sectors added many more jobs in February. They were led by retail trade (+50,000 jobs), where clothing stores and retail clubs led the way.

            Just behind were temps (+26,500) and health care (+18,500). Health care is 77 percent female and retail trade is 50-50.            

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Union Matters

Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

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