With help from Shayna Greene
— The Senate Finance Committee is set to take up a package of retirement-related bills
— DOL and the Commerce Department rolled out a framework of what counts as a “good job.”
— Apple store workers in Towson, Md., became the first in the US to unionize over the weekend.
GOOD MORNING. It’s Wednesday, June 22. Welcome back to Morning Shift, your go-to tipsheet on employment and immigration news. Send feedback, tips and exclusives to [email protected] and [email protected]† Follow us on Twitter at @eleanor_mueller and @nickniedz†
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BIDEN’S BELOW-THE-RADAR MOVES: The Democrat-controlled Congress has dealt several major setbacks to President Joe Biden’s labor agenda over his first year-plus in office. But the administration has managed to enact a series of policies that cumulatively have shifted the landscape in unions’ favor, Eleanor reports.
“It’s been absolutely extraordinary,” said Steve Rosenthal, a former political director at the AFL-CIO who served in the Labor Department during the Clinton administration. “We went through decades of Democratic presidents” who didn’t “say the ‘u’ word.”
Even on the Hill, the administration has managed to squeeze some pro-union policies past Republicans and moderate Democrats, including language in the bipartisan infrastructure bill that requires contractors to pay prevailing wages — typically set by unions — and expands registered apprenticeships, which often involve partnership with unions.
“We’ve talked about this for literally years in different configurations,” Rep. Donald Norcross (DN.J.), a former union organizer who co-chairs the Labor Caucus, said. “He’s embraced it.”
SENATE FINANCE TAKES UP RETIREMENT LEGISLATION: The Senate Finance Committee will vote this morning on the remaining half of that chamber’s retirement package: a bipartisan bill dubbed the EARN IT Act.
The Senate HELP Committee advanced the other half† the RISE & SHINE Act, earlier this month. The House passed its version of the package by a vote of 414-5 in March.
Once the Senate votes on the combined HELP and Finance bills, the House and Senate blocks of legislation — referred to together as SECURE 2.0 — will have to be reconciled before lawmakers can clear it to Biden for enactment.
Tuesday’s measure includes several previously introduced bills, including five from Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO.). One, Bennet and Sen. James Lankford’s (R-OK.) Enhancing Emergency and Retirement Savings Act, would allow workers to make withdrawals of $1,000 from qualifying retirement plans for emergencies.
The House and Senate packages are roughly the same cost and each contain about 70 provisions, of which around 30 are the same, a Bennet aide tells Morning Shift. House and Senate committees with jurisdiction are already working together to reconcile the rest. The emergency withdrawal provision, for example, is not in the House package. However, the House Ways and Means Committee has “given good feedback” and introduced a companion bill, the aide said, indicating it has a good chance of making it into the final version.
There are a couple of disparate provisions that lawmakers could clash over. The House bill, unlike the Senate, includes language that would require workers to opt out of 401(k) plans — making enrollment the default. And the Senate bill, unlike the House, would make the so-called saver’s tax credit fully refundable for lower-income families.
Because of the similarities between the chambers’ bills and the bipartisan momentum, as well as pressure from the retirement community, lawmakers anticipate Congress will be able to clear the end result this session, if not before the midterm elections, despite an already-packed legislative agenda, the aide said. There are two potential paths forward: passage as a standalone bill or as part of appropriations legislation.
DOL UNVEILS ‘GOOD JOBS’ STANDARDS: The Labor Department, along with the Commerce Department, rolled out eight principles Tuesday defining what constitutes a “good job” as part of the so-called Good Jobs Initiative the agencies announced in January.
The principles are recruitment and hiring; benefits; diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, or DEIA; empowerment and representation, or the ability to unionize; job security and working conditions; organizational culture; pay; and skills and career advancement.
They’re meant as “a framework for workers, businesses, labor unions, advocates, researchers, state and local governments, and federal agencies for a shared vision of job quality,” according to a press release — including when it comes to the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted in November .
“The fact is, modernizing America’s infrastructure requires a workforce that is strong; that is skilled; local; several; empowered and inclusive,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said at a summit Tuesday announcing the effort. “This will happen — but it’s not going to happen by accident.”
“It takes planning, collaboration, coordination and hard work. And that’s what the Good Job principles are all about.”
RULE-MAKING TO COME: DOL and the National Labor Relations Board published respective slates of forthcoming regulations Tuesday, Eleanor reports.
What’s on tap: The NLRB is focused on two key rules: one revising who is considered a joint employer under the National Labor Relations Act, and another concerning union elections in the construction industry.
Meanwhile DOL is working on a host of regulations that would: protect workers from heat, dictate when retirement plans can account for climate-related risks, bolster registered apprenticeships, update federal contractors’ affirmative-action programs and revise prevailing wage policy.
UBER AND LYFT DRIVERS SUE COMPANIES: The drivers claim that the companies are engaging in anticompetitive practices by setting prices and limiting which rides drivers choose without penalty.
background: Uber and Lyft have previously argued that their drivers should be considered independent contractors rather than employees under labor laws, which would make drivers “responsible for their own expenses and not typically eligible for unemployment insurance or health benefits,” The New York Times reports. The companies claimed that this arrangement would allow drivers to set their own hours and maintain more independence.
The problem: The drivers in the complaint, who are supported by advocacy group Rideshare Drivers United, claimed that in reality, being treated as independent contractors has not granted them true independence and that the companies are avoiding giving drivers benefits and protections.
What’s next: The drivers are “suing on antitrust grounds, arguing that if they are classified as independent contractors, then Uber and Lyft are interfering with an open market by restricting how they work and how much their passengers are charged.”
Experts say the complaint may be a long shot in federal court, but “courts in California could be more sympathetic to at least some of the claims in the complaint.”
IAM HITS THE HILL: Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers are attending their first in-person legislative conference this week since the pandemic began.
Lawmakers including House Speaker Nancy PelosicHouse Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott (D-Va.) addressed union delegates Tuesday morning before they spent the rest of the day lobbying their representatives. Among the legislation the Democrats brought up:
The COMPETES Act: Pelosi highlighted Democrats’ ongoing push to include workforce development provisions in Congress’ China competitiveness bill currently under consideration. “Part of this bill, we’re hoping to get … is for new people to get involved. For apprenticeships that are real — not these corporate, fake ones, but real apprenticeship programs,” Pelosi said.
The PRO Act: Nearly every House Democrat who spoke asked delegates to pressure senators to take up the PRO Act, Democrats’ stalled labor law reform package that would make it easier for workers to join a union. “We need to encourage the Senate to take up” the PRO Act, Scott said. “Joining a union should be a right, not a fight.”
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Hoyer called out several other House-passed labor bills, including the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require employers to provide pregnant workers with “reasonable accommodations” “so that women who become pregnant cannot be discriminated against in the workplace,” Hoyer said.
SPEAKING OF IAM: Apple employees at a retail store in Towson Maryland voted overwhelmingly to form a union, according to a tally announced by the National Labor Relations Board Saturday.
It is the first such union victory at the company in the US, and a resounding one at that. Workers voted 65 to 33 in favor of organizing with the Apple Coalition of Organized Retail Employees — or “AppleCORE” — under the umbrella of the IAM.
At least two other national unionsthe Communications Workers of America and Workers United, have worked to organize Apple workers in other locations — including an Atlanta store where the election was called off last month in the face of the company’s opposition effort.
NLRB HITS STARBUCKS WITH ANOTHER SUIT: The NLRB regional director in Buffalo on Tuesday announced a lawsuit against Starbucks seeking an injunction against the company.
It is the latest use of the so-called 10(j) filing against Starbucks and other high-profile employers battling organizing efforts, and comes after the NLRB filed a wide-ranging complaint that’s set for a hearing July 11. The latest suit comes less than two weeks after a federal judge in Arizona ruled against NLRB officials in the Phoenix office who also sued Starbucks for similar alleged unfair labor practices.
Starbucks did not respond to a request for comment.
SCOTUS STRIKES WORKERS COMP LAW: The US Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a Washington state law that aimed to make it easier for federal contractors who work at a decommissioned nuclear weapons site to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.
The legislation established a presumption that certain medical conditions experienced by workers were caused by their jobs at the facility in Hanford, Washington, after media reports at the time highlighted the plight of a number of sickened workers whose benefit claims were denied because they were federal contractors .
In a unanimous decisionthe court ruled that the 2018 law was invalid because it discriminated against the federal government without authorization from Congress to do so.
“The nondiscrimination principle provides a political check on the State’s ability to impose such laws by ensuring that the State’s own citizens shoulder at least some of the costs,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court.
The ramifications of the decision remain somewhat muddled, however, as Washington lawmakers earlier this year enacted legislation that altered the 2018 statute in ways they say address the legal issues raised by the federal government. In a statement, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said, “There is little practical impact in Washington as a result of this ruling.”
— “Europe’s summer of discontent reveals travel sector labor crisis,” from Reuters.
— “Biden boosts pay for federal firefighters as wildfire season heats up,” from The Washington Post.
— “Fox News Paid $15 Million to Ex-Host After Gender Pay Disparity Claims,” from the Daily Beast.
— “SpaceX fires likely violate US labor law, experts say,” from The Verge.
— “Silicon Valley Leaves Black Women Behind as It Closes Wage Gaps,” from Bloomberg.
— “Recession-Fearing Bosses Quietly Abandon Open Jobs,” from Bloomberg.
— “San Antonio Symphony to Dissolve Amid Labor Dispute,” from The New York Times.
— “Mexico to prohibit subcontracting of avocado, berry pickers,” from Reuters.
— “Tesla sued by former employees over ‘mass layoff’” from Reuters.
— “Labor Shortage Stymies Construction Work as $1 Trillion Infrastructure Spending Kicks In,” from The Wall Street Journal.
THAT’S ALL FOR MORNING SHIFT!