Category Archives: Labor & workforce

No Basis for Governor’s Community College Claim

Enrollment trend at Reynolds Community College.

by James A. Bacon

Last month Governor Ralph Northam announced a plan to spend $145 million to make community college tuition-free for low- and middle-income students pursuing jobs in high-demand fields. As justification for this massive entitlement expansion, he cited numbers from Reynolds Community College showing that students who dropped out before completing their degrees “usually had earned a 3.1 grade point average when they left school.” The reason they left, he asserted, was not an inability to keep up academically but a lack of money.

In this post, I questioned the numbers. I didn’t dispute them, but I wanted to know more about where they came from and what caveats might apply before committing to a $145 million spending program. I promised to ask J. Sarge (as we Richmond old-timers still refer to the college) where the 3.1 GPA number came from and report back.

So, I have obtained the information, and now I’m reporting back. Bottom line: Northam got part of the story right, but he drew totally unwarranted conclusions from the data. The justification for the $145 million initiative has no empirical foundation basis.

Let’s see what the Governor said when announcing the program in his State of the Commonwealth speech, and then let’s see what the data is to support it. Continue reading

Payoff Time for Construction Unions

by James A. Bacon

Among economic special interest groups in Virginia, organized labor is consistently one of the top contributors to political campaigns. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Big Labor has contributed $46 million to candidates since 1996-97, almost all of it to Democrats. The construction unions, which are the biggest donors of all, have been rewarded this year by a raft of bills that would give them a huge leg up in projects involving government, independent authorities, and even private developers seeking zoning approvals.

Only one bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Richard Saslaw, D-Springfield, has made it past the committee stage so far. But the bills seen collectively provide a road map of the construction unions’ legislative agenda and what the anti-business wing of the Democratic Party is prepared to support. Here are the bills:

SB 182: This bill, sponsored by Saslaw and co-patron Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Herndon, would repeal a provision in state law enacted in 2012 forbidding state agencies from either requiring or prohibiting bidders on public works projects to require a Project Labor Agreement (PLA). The 2012 legislation arose after a controversy surrounding bidding on construction of the Washington Metro Silver Line project, in which the manager of that project, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) initially required in its term sheet that bidders enter into a PLA. Before the MWAA reversed itself, the terms effectively eliminated non-union contractors from consideration. The 2012 legislation required government entities to remain neutral regarding bidders’ union status. By repealing that law, the Saslaw-Boysko bill would make it possible for government entities once again to require PLAs. That bill has made it out of committee for consideration by the full Senate. Continue reading

Booming Telework Spurs Job Growth in Rural Virginia

Source: Statchat

by James A. Bacon

The Internet, pundits long predicted, would emancipate people from the necessity of living near where they worked. The connectivity provided by cell phones, laptops and broadband would allow people to plug in at home…. or even while lounging by the pool or on the beach. It was a nice fantasy, but telecommuting never lived up to its potential. Far from freeing people to live in the bucolic countryside, the logic of the Knowledge Economy impelled more people to the city. A new theory emerged: that the clustering of knowledge workers led to such huge gains in productivity and innovation that it outweighed any lifestyle benefits to telecommuting long distances. The bigger the labor market, the greater the pull.

Now Hamilton Lombard, a demographer at the University of Virginia’s Demographics Research Group, has been so bold as to suggest the dynamic might be shifting again. New Census Bureau data, he writes in the StatChat blog, suggest that over the past three years “the places Americans chose to live are becoming less connected to where their employer is based.”

What’s different all of a sudden? Perhaps the tighter labor market. Lombard suggests. As certain sectors of the economy experience labor shortages, employees have more bargaining power. He doesn’t say this, but I’ll throw it out there for consideration: Instead of pushing for higher wages, perhaps more people are using that bargaining power for more control over their work-life balance.

Whatever the reason, the impact of the increasing work-from-home phenomenon is potentially profound. Outside of Virginia’s major metro areas themselves, the regions that seem particularly effected are the Shenandoah Valley and the Chesapeake Bay. Continue reading

Electoral College Vote, Carbon Tax, Labor’s Wants

By Steve Haner

The End of the Electoral College Looms

The legislature’s new ruling Democrats, having celebrated their adoption of the national Equal Rights Amendment, may continue their Constitutional aspirations next week and try to kill the federal Electoral College. Some believe the will of Virginia voters in choosing presidential electors should be overridden by the popular vote total in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia combined.

This idea is known at the National Popular Vote. Objections to the Electoral College process have a long history but were reignited when former Senator Hillary Clinton became the fifth presidential candidate who won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. As predicted by Bacon’s Rebellion, the proposal to grant Virginia’s votes to the national front runner is back in three bills, with far longer lists of patrons and co-patrons. The two House bills are here and here, and the Senate version here. All now rest with firmly Democratic Privileges and Elections committees.  Continue reading

HB 1200: Another Small Business Shakedown

by Hans Bader

Right now, if you employ five or fewer workers in Virginia, you aren’t subject to most state restrictions on who you can hire. And if you have fewer than 15 employees, you usually can’t be forced to pay a worker’s lawyer much at all if the worker sues you.

That would change under a recently proposed law, House Bill 1200. It would subject even small businesses with five or fewer employees to state anti-discrimination laws. And if a worker successfully sued you for discrimination, you would have to pay his lawyer’s bills, too — but if he lost, he wouldn’t have to pay your lawyer’s bills. That’s like having someone tell you, “Heads I win, tails you lose.” Even a small business that never discriminates would find that objectionable.

All employers are already forbidden to deliberately discriminate based on race, by a strong federal law known as 42 U.S.C. 1981. But other types of discrimination by tiny employers aren’t necessarily forbidden.

Right now, only employers with 15 or more employers are covered by most federal civil-rights laws, like those banning religious or sexual discrimination. Employers with fewer than 15 but more than five workers are covered by a state law that says they can’t discriminate, but workers can only sue under that law for lost wages, not emotional distress or punitive damages. And a judge can award attorneys fees only out of the “amount recovered,” not on top of them. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Dems Gone Wild Edition

With Democrats focused on really important stuff such as the proper use of pronouns “(she” and “her” when referring not only to female senators and delegates but the sergeant of arms, a male), they may or may not have time to attend to every bill submitted, especially those likely to bog down in the face of determined resistance. But it’s worth highlighting some of the more extreme measures for the purpose of illuminating the Democratic Party id. Even if these bills go nowhere this session, they reveal the preoccupations of the progressives who are increasingly dominant in the party of (the now-discredited) Jefferson and Jackson, and tell us where Virginia could be heading. (Hat tip to Hans Bader for bringing these to my attention.)

Expanding the Virginia Human Rights Act. Del. Kathy Tran, D-Springfield, who last year championed late-term abortions and lobbied for a lactation room in the General Assembly, has submitted HB 1200 to revise the Virginia Human Rights Act, which already makes it it unlawful to discriminate against any employee on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender… or medical condition such as lactation. The bill would prohibit discrimination on the basis of age for anyone 40 years or older, eliminate the exemption for employers with fewer than five employees, and render the employer liable for up to $25,000 in damages plus attorneys fees — not “reasonable attorneys fees,” as provided in federal law, but “attorneys fees,” which could be wildly inflated and could easily be substantially higher than the actual award.

Equal Pay Act. Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Herndon, has submitted SB 660, which would prohibit employers from paying wages and compensation to members of a “protected class” (race, religion, gender, sexual orientation — it’s not clear if this includes lactation status) “at a rate less than the rate which it pays … employees who are not members of the protected class for substantially similar work.” The measure establishes criteria for when wage differentials between employees are permitted: seniority (not penalizing for leave due to pregnancy, parental, family, or medical reasons), a “bona fide merit system,” or a “bona fide factor” such as education, training or experience. Throwing in a burdensome bureaucratic requirement for good measure, the Equal Pay Act would require employers to maintain records on the wages and wage rates, job classifications, and other terms and conditions of employment for three years. No exemptions for small businesses or even micro businesses. Boysko’s state senate biography lists her occupation as “community organizer.”

If Democrats prevail on bills like these, you can kiss good-bye to free labor markets.

— JAB

John, Alternatives to the VEA Do Exist!

by Steve Haner

Dear “John Randolph of Roanoke,” you very much have a choice if you are tired of paying dues to the Virginia Education Association. I saw your lament in the comment string on Jim Bacon’s report today about pending legislation to force non-union employees to pay union dues.

“Can’t drop out though. These guys are the only ones that will go to bat for me if I am falsely accused of something at school. We are so wide open and vulnerable these days. I guess I have the wolf by the ears.”

Here is information on three alternatives you might consider, with up to $2 million of professional liability coverage offered for far less cost than VEA dues.   You can choose from:

Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Elections Have Consequences Edition

Half a loaf is worse than none. Sen. Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Springfield, has introduced a bill that would represent a significant erosion of Virginia’s Right to Work law without repealing it outright. SB 426, entitled “Fair Share Fees,” would authorize an employer to charge employees within a collective bargaining unit who choose not to join the union for the union’a cost associated with collective bargaining, administrative overhead and representation of employees before public bodies. The “fair share fee” would exclude the cost of political activities, lobbying and other activities unrelated to collective bargaining and in no case would exceed 60% of dues. The justification is to eliminate the “free riding” of non-union members who benefit from a union’s collective bargaining efforts.

Tactically, this is a brilliant move by Saslaw because it undermines the most powerful argument against mandatory union membership and payment of union dues — that it forces employees to contribute to political causes with which they disagree. Politically, the bill represents a big payoff to organized labor. Republicans in the General Assembly aren’t likely to support this half-a-loaf approach, but it could persuade moderate, pro-business Democrats. If Saslaw’s gambit succeeds, it would significantly increase the economic power of unions in Virginia and undermine the state’s business climate.

Are safe zones next? HB 40, sponsored by Del. Ibrahim Samirah, D-Herndon, would require every Virginia public school to create and maintain a “mental health break” space with the public school building. Under the bill, the Board of Education would promulgate regulations for the design of the space, student usage, and staffing. The spaces would be indoors, separate from classrooms and as close as possible to the school’s medical service facilities. I can’t imagine this bill will go anywhere this year — the Democrats have bigger fish to fry with the move to bolster K-12 spending by $1.5 billion — but it provides insight into emerging priorities among Virginia progressives. In the progressive vision, the mission of public schools is morphing from educating children to ameliorating their social, economic and mental-health condition. This my friends, is a bottomless pit. There will never be enough money. (Hat tip: Carol Bova.) Continue reading

Non-Competes a Barrier to Economic Mobility

by Schuyler VanValkenburg

Milton Friedman wrote in “Free to Choose” that “economic freedom is an essential prerequisite for political freedom.” But here in Virginia, the people who most need economic freedom and the political self-actualization that comes with it are the people whose economic freedom is most constrained. Let me illustrate with two realistic examples.

Imagine a young cook working in a chain restaurant. The wage scales at those restaurants are fairly flat, and opportunities for advancement pretty rare. So. what would economic freedom mean to that young cook? It would mean the opportunity to move to a new restaurant for a higher paying job, or to get a business loan to open a new food truck or restaurant. But in Virginia, that cook’s employer has the legal ability to bind them from future competition as part of the conditions of employment. Even worse, that boss is allowed to collude with the other restaurateurs in the region to agree not to hire one another’s employees, further limiting competition and frustrating that cook’s desire to seek a higher wage for his talents.

Or imagine instead a cosmetologist and hairstylist. After spending time, money, and effort getting licensed and trained in their trades, they went to work for a national salon chain to build capital before opening their own business. But when ready to start their entrepreneurial journey, their employer tells them that, legally, they can’t open the new salon within 30 miles of their current workplace – and that they will be sued if they do. In Virginia, the national salon operator has the legal authority to do just that. Continue reading

Virginia’s Economic Performance Ticks Higher

Source: Old Dominion University, “2019 State of the Commonwealth Report”

by James A. Bacon

After years of markedly under-performing the rate of U.S. economic growth, Virginia’s economy appears to be approaching national parity, according to data published by Old Dominion University’s “2019 State of the Commonwealth Report.” Indeed, as the U.S. economy slows somewhat this year, the authors expect Virginia to exceed the national rate by a small margin.

One sign of a vibrant economy is Virginia’s low statewide unemployment rate, 2.6%, significantly below the national rate of 3.6%. The Old Dominion has enjoyed a lower unemployment rate for decades, but as the economy reaches full employment, the gap between Virginia and the national has narrowed in recent years.


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Bacon Bits: Quick Clips

5G rollout reaches Virginia. Outside of Crystal City and the Reagan National Airport, Hampton Roads is the first region in Virginia to enjoy 5G cellular access. Verizon has announced that its 5G Ultra Wideband mobility service is available in the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, downtown Norfolk, Newport News, Old Dominion University, Hampton, Chesapeake, and other high-traffic locations, reports Virginia Business. Said Governor Ralph Northam in a statement: “This technology will propel the industries that drive coastal Virginia — the military, advanced manufacturing, logistics, higher education, health care, tourism and more. We can’t wait to see new opportunities unfold for workers and innovators.” The service is available in 31 other cities.

Virginia unemployment still 2.6%. Virginia’s unemployment rate remained at 2.6% in November, even as the labor force expanded by 13,326, or 0.3%. Employment set a record of 4.4 million people, reports Virginia Business. While Virginia job creation has lagged the national pace, there is a bit of good news within the numbers: Job creation is market driven, not government-driven. Year over year, the private sector added 47,400 jobs while the public sector shed 7,300 jobs.

…But never fear, government is still creating some jobs. For example, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has hired a diversity and inclusion officer. The 450-person department, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch has “struggled” with diversity: only 9% of employees earlier this year were “people of color,” compared with the average at Virginia agencies of 36%. Meanwhile, Virginia’s Office of the State Inspector General is conducting an audit of diversity and inclusion practices within state natural Resources agencies, including the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. Continue reading

A Fruitful Collaboration

The $42 million AeroFarm investment (see previous post) isn’t the only cool thing happening in Danville… Amazon Web Services and Sumitomo Electric Lightwave collaborated with Danville Community College to create an innovative fiber-optic fusion splicing certificate. Approximately 30 individuals took part in the December 9-10 course.

Fusion splicing, according to a statement from the Governor’s Office, is the joining of two optical fibers to create a continuous light path that carries data in technologies such as phones, internet, and television. “Through lectures and hands-on lessons, students will become familiar with deploying a passive optical fiber network infrastructure. They will learn real-world deployment techniques with tools ranging from hand tools to state-of-the-art automated fusion splicing technology.”

Amazon Web Services, which is headquartered in Northern Virginia, is driving fiber-optic cable innovation, releasing new hyperscale products and solutions for the next generation of fiber-optic networks. The company needs to train workers to install and operate this state-of-the-art equipment, and has enlisted Sumitomo Electric Lightwave to host certificate courses at local community colleges across the U.S. Continue reading

WaPo Newsroom as Cesspit of Racism and Sexism?

Who…. me?

by James A. Bacon

The Washington Post Guild has issued a report charging that the Post, the largest-circulation newspaper serving the Virginia market, pays women less than men, and whites more than minorities. The pattern applies not only to the business side of the newspaper but to the social-justice crusading newsroom. Indeed, the discrepancies are worse in the newsroom. Some highlights on newsroom compensation contained in the report:

  • Women as a group are paid less than men.
  • Collectively, employees of color are paid less than white men, even when controlling for age and job description. Women of color in the newsroom received $30,000 less than white men, a gap of 35%.
  • The Post tends to give merit raises based on performance-evaluation scores, but those who score the highest are overwhelmingly white.

Ironically, men and women are paid about the same in the commercial division, which, I would conjecture, is less “woke” than the highly politically attuned newsroom. The Guild did find a white/minority pay gap on the commercial side of the newspaper, but it was only 5%.

Gee, it’s almost as if liberal white males use their wokeness as a smokescreen to obscure favoritism toward others like themselves. Continue reading

Want to Help Workers Work? Keep Virginia’s Right-to-Work Law

by Chris Braunlich

Are a majority of Democratic candidates for the Virginia General Assembly “anti-worker?” Based on their response to a Virginia Chamber of Commerce survey, it would seem that way.

General Assembly candidates were surveyed on whether they would support Virginia’s Right To Work (RTW) laws. Republicans were unanimously supportive. Democrats were almost equally opposed to retaining the Commonwealth’s 72-year-old law, with only five responding they would keep it.

The “comments” section of the survey betrayed the ignorance of many candidates about the advantages of Right To Work, portraying the law as a Dickensian throwback pitting businesses against workers with some citing a questionable recent Oxfam survey (see column by Chris Saxman) ranking Virginia low on “best state for workers.”

The truth shows a very different picture. Study after study demonstrates that a state Right To Work law improves not only the opportunity for a worker to have a job, but also drives personal incomes higher. Continue reading

W&M Grad Students Plead for More Gruel

Please, sir, I want some more..

Working graduate students at the College of William & Mary are launching a campaign to demand better treatment, pay and benefits, reports WY Daily. The grad students want health, vision, and dental insurance paid as part of their yearly compensation and benefits, says Jasper Conner, a spokesman for the William & Mary Workers Union.

“The William & Mary Workers’ Union is also fighting for a living wage for all employees of the university, which would raise the annual pay of many workers by $4,000,” Conner said. Health care costs for graduate workers increased 11% this year. Members of the union plan to rally on campus Friday to bring attention to their demands.

This is just another example, as if any were needed, that American institutions of higher education, which profess a commitment to social equity, fail grotesquely short of their own ideals. The higher-ed labor force is a hierarchical caste system. An aristocracy of highly compensated superstar professors are the Brahmans. Under them, there exists a sub-hierarchy of assistant, associate and full professors; a tier of “instructors” who aren’t on the tenure track; a lower tier of poorly paid adjunct professors; and the lowest of the low, graduate students who teach in return for meager stipends. Graduate students comprise, in effect, a class of indentured servants. No health benefits? Really? No wonder the W&M graduate students are unionizing.

— JAB