10 Biggest Labor & Career News Stories of 2015

10 Biggest Labor & Career News Stories of 2015
It was a big year for business and employment in America. The country continued to claw its way back from years of economic turmoil, job growth began to pick up and workers’ rights took center stage on the road to the 2016 election. Still, employment news was a mixed bag — even with all of the good tidings, uncertainty remains. Gathered here are 10 of the biggest labor stories we saw this year — both the good and the bad — many of which will shape 2016 for better and for worse.

1.“Ban the Box” Campaign Secures Widespread Support

If you’ve ever filled out a job application, you’re likely familiar with one question in particular: ‘Do you have a criminal record?’. Thanks to stigma around a conviction history, this question represents a very real barrier to gainful employment for the 30 percent of Americans who do have a criminal record. With the help of a handful of progressive-minded politicians, 2015 saw the adoption of “ban the box” measures hit the century mark in cities and counties all across the United States. This ongoing campaign calls for legislation that would require the removal of this question from federal job applications, helping former criminals assimilate back into mainstream society. Will the legislation take hold and forever change hiring practices in 2016?

2. “Fight for Fifteen” Becomes a National Platform

The ongoing struggle to raise the minimum wage in the United States reached a fever pitch this year when seven major cities hiked their rates and Democratic presidential candidates began voicing support for raising the federal rate to anywhere from 12 dollars to 15 dollars per hour over the next several years. The current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has done little to adapt to inflation and the ever-higher cost of living in recent years. The minimum wage peaked in 1968 at 8.54 dollars, and has lost about 8.1 percent of its purchasing power ever since. The Fight for Fifteen campaign has history on its side, however — one hundred years ago, Henry Ford was paying his factory workers the equivalent of 15 dollars per hour. Will companies catch up to history in 2016 and adopt a higher minimum wage?

3. Uber Raises Concerns About the “Sharing Economy”

It was also a huge year for Uber. Following a new round of funding to the tune of one billion dollars, the ride sharing service became widely recognized as the most valuable startup in the world. However, Uber’s business model, while a big win for customers, is raising new questions about the so-called “sharing economy.” Uber has lobbied hard to keep its employees under the “independent contractor” umbrella rather than branding them as full-time employees, a decision that exempts Uber drivers from standard employee benefits (like paid holidays and healthcare) that are valued at around 5,500 dollars annually. The California Labor Commission ruled in favor of classifying an Uber driver as an employee back in June, but with the decision identified as non-binding, several big questions remain up in the air when it comes to the implications of gig-based employment in the sharing economy. Will 2016 be the year that tech companies like this are required to grant contractors employee status and benefits?

4. The Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare Subsidies

When the Affordable Care Act — “Obamacare,” in popular parlance — reached the Supreme Court for the second time in just three short years, the court ruled six to three that healthcare subsidies were here to stay for families and individuals buying coverage on the exchanges. That is, until the next inevitable court battle. This was welcome news for working Americans everywhere, particularly under-employed and unemployed Americans living beneath the poverty line who otherwise struggle to afford healthcare. Will Obamacare survive what will inevitably be another court case challenge – one that’s likely brought to the table in 2016?

5. Executive Order Expands Paid Sick Leave for Federal Workers

The United States is one of the few remaining countries on earth with no uniform paid sick leave requirements mandated at the federal level — an issue that’s taking center stage on the road to the 2016 election. Earlier this year, President Obama decided to lead by example and, through an executive order, required federal contractors to begin granting their workers up to seven paid sick days per year. Will Obama’s example take hold? Will companies be required to offer paid sick leave by federal law in 2016?

6. Energy Sector Posts Huge Job Losses

This year, the price of crude oil dropped to almost an 11-year low. This may sound like welcome news to a nation that relies on gasoline to get where we’re going. But the real story lies in the job sectors most closely tied to the uncertain price of oil. In 2015, the energy sector posted huge job losses to the tune of nearly 93,800 jobs through the end of November. During that same period in 2014, energy sector job losses were only about 11,500 — that’s 700 percent lower than this year. Falling oil prices were also attributed to slowing interest in companies in the alternative fuel industries, such as solar and wind. Will the energy sector rebound in 2016?

7. Jerry Brown Signs the Fair Pay Act

We can file this one under “What took so long?” This year, one of the nation’s most populous states, California, passed an aggressive pay equity law. Credited in large part to Governor Jerry Brown, the law was a direct answer to a lingering problem: Women in the state have historically received substantially lower pay than men in the same position — in some cases receiving only 84 cents for every dollar a man earns. The law, already hailed as “a very important milestone,” empowers employees with legal grounds to challenge discrimination in the workplace based on gender. Will other states – and the nation – follow suit and welcome equality in pay in 2016?

8. The U.S. Army Makes the Biggest Layoff of the Year

The United States spends as much on its military as the next 10 countries combined. That fact might cause you to equate service in the U.S. Army with job security, but the events of this past year should have been enough to dispel that assumption. The U.S. Army topped the list of biggest layoffs of 2015 when it discharged a full 80,000 troops, with the potential for another 40,000 next year. The large-scale handout of pink slips affects not only service members, but also the communities who support the permanent bases and soldiers. What does this mean for our soldiers, and our nation?

9. Mark Zuckerberg Makes Family Leave a Mainstream Issue

As the 2016 presidential election heats up, paid family leave has become a significant campaign issue. And thankfully, the issue has received a much-needed boost in the public consciousness from Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who announced that he’d be taking a full two months off from work to be with his newborn daughter, Max. Other developed countries across the globe guarantee between one week and three months, while the U.S. guarantees none at all. Will 2015 be remembered as the last year on record that the American people were satisfied with the status quo for this particular issue?

10. Unemployment Drops to a Seven-Year Low

Finally, let’s close out this list with some more good news. All told, this was a solid year for America’s ongoing economic recovery following the Great Recession of 2008. Thanks to solid job growth practically every month (August alone saw employers add 173 thousand new jobs), unemployment in the country now sits at 5.1 percent — or, in other words, a seven-year low. As a herald for things to come, you can’t do much better than that. What will unemployment look like in 2016? — Now that you’re up to date on career and labor trends, consider using the tools at MyPerfectResume to keep on top of crafting a standout resume and job application.