Some of the video game testers at Baton Rouge’s Electronic Arts facility sensed a change in their work environment after an employee was terminated after speaking about efforts to unionize. Employees claim they were expected to train overseas testers – who many believed would ultimately be their replacements – and their work began to dwindle as their unionization efforts progressed. This week EA announced that 200 employees who work at a $30 million publicly-funded facility on LSU’s campus would be terminated. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Piper Hutchinson reports: 

“For a handful of months, they slowly transitioned all of our responsibilities to international teams while our union efforts were growing,” one laid-off tester said. “Some former employees, including myself, believe that EA and Magnit learning of our union plans, EAUK/EARO gradually taking our responsibilities and the sudden layoffs are related,” he added. …  Erika Zucker, a labor lawyer who works as a policy advocate with the Workplace Justice Project, said it would be a violation of federal labor laws to retaliate against workers for unionizing, but that it’s an uphill battle for impacted employees to prove charges and receive relief.  

Footnote: The company has received nearly $30 million in state tax credits over the past 15 years.

Biden includes child care in semiconductor bill
The lack of adequate, affordable child care in the United States keeps people from earning a paycheck and hurts the economy. In October the number of people missing work for child-care reasons rose to an all-time high as a nationwide spike in respiratory viruses and other illnesses collided with America’s child care crisis. President Joe Biden, unable to get Congress to pass his previous child care proposals, has included them in a bill aimed at boosting the nation’s production of semiconductor chips. The New York Times’ German Lopez explains: 

Without a plan to offer child care, companies might not be able to attract enough workers for the 24/7 operations that are standard at chip factories, Biden administration officials argue. In that sense, the child care requirement could stop taxpayer dollars from going to projects that will fail. … The requirement could also ensure that a more diverse work force benefits from the federal funding. Women and people of color are more likely to have their jobs and lives disrupted by a lack of access to child care, Taryn Morrissey, a family policy expert at American University, said.

Lopez also breaks down the case against Biden’s creative maneuver:

But the child care mandate could increase costs further. Those higher costs could force U.S. manufacturers to charge higher prices or accept lower profits than foreign competitors. That would work against the semiconductor law’s main goal: to make American chip producers more competitive globally. “

The return of “lunch debt”
The federal pandemic relief programs that helped low-income families make ends meet in recent years have mostly expired, even as the cost of basic necessities continues to climb. One such program gave local school districts broad new flexibility and funding to provide free meals to all students. Congress failed to renew this effective anti-hunger tool last June, and the results have been predictable. Vox’s Anna North reports: 

But there’s a simple fix, education and nutrition experts agree: make universal free school lunch permanent. Making sure kids are fed is like making sure they have textbooks to learn from, Pratt-Heavner said: “It just makes sense.” But so far, there’s no momentum in Congress to bring the free meals back, leaving families and schools scrambling, and kids, in some places, struggling to learn. “If a child is hungry,” Bove said, “that is all they think about all day.”

Louisiana families who rely on federal food assistance will receive an average of $164 less per month beginning in March as emergency allotments under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) return to pre-Covid amounts.

The other Biden student loan debt plan
Oral arguments heard earlier this week indicate that the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to strike down President Joe Biden’s student debt cancellation plan. But there’s another Biden plan to alleviate the burden of student loan debt that could still dramatically reduce monthly payments for millions of borrowers that isn’t being challenged in court. ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett reports on the new income-driven repayment plan:

The changes would cut down the amount that borrowers have to make on their monthly payments by half — from 10% of their discretionary income to 5%. Those enrolled in the new REPAYE Plan would be shielded from unpaid interest accrual, one of the largest additional fees that borrowers face on their loans, because unpaid interest would be forgiven so long as qualified borrowers make their monthly payments on the loan itself — even if their required payment is $0. 

Number of the Day
$28.67 million
– Amount of state tax credits that Electronic Arts has received over the past 15 years from Louisiana’s digital media incentive program. The company is firing 200 employees, some of whom claim it is in retaliation for their efforts to unionize. (Source: Louisiana Economic Development via The Louisiana Illuminator)