From our Capital Thinking blog, our public policy colleague Stacy Swanson shares the latest federal employment law developments in in the legislative and executive branches during the week of August 23, 2021.
This is a weekly post spotlighting labor topics in focus by the US legislative and executive branches during the previous week. In this issue, we cover:
- COVID-19 Updates
- Biden Administration Labor Leadership Updates
- Unemployment Insurance Update
- AFL-CIO President Election Results
- EEOC Increases Voting Transparency
- Mexican Labor Dispute Resolution
- Workforce Hub Grant Opportunity
This report reflects Federal labor developments from August 14 until August 27, given that the U.S. Congress was in recess last week. The U.S. House of Representatives returned to Washington on Monday, August 23, for two days to approve a straight party-line vote, the $3.5 trillion budget resolution approved by Senate Democrats, and to set up debate on the Senate-approved bipartisan infrastructure bill (H.R. 3684) for no later than September 27. Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate remained in recess; Senators are set to return to Washington on September 13.
COVID-19 Updates. On August 18, U.S. President Joe Biden announced additional actions to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant. Starting the week of September 20, the Administration plans to approve COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, pending final Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluation and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Americans will be able to get a booster shot eight months after their second dose of the initial two-dose COVID-19 vaccine (studies of the effectiveness of Johnson & Johnson’s single dose vaccine remain ongoing). This action will initially target health care providers, nursing home residents, and senior citizens. President Biden also said that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would develop new regulations directing nursing homes to require all of their workers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Meanwhile, reports this week indicated the ACIP may be considering a six-month booster recommendation.
On Monday, August 23, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Biologics License Application (BLA) for Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for persons 16 years and older, to be marketed as “Comirnaty.” The FDA also extended the Emergency Use Authorization of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 years. The Defense Department has indicated it will move soon to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for military members. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed on Monday: “[W]e certainly expect there will be more mandates for factions of federal employees.” Meanwhile, President Biden reiterated his call to companies to increase their vaccine requirements on Monday, especially after the FDA’s Pfizer/BioNTech action.
On Wednesday, August 25, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (Republican) issued an executive order banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates by any state or local government entity, after the FDA granted BLA status for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. His order allows for exceptions for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Also on Wednesday, Governor Abbott added an agenda item to the Texas Legislature’s second special session to take action to address whether state or local entities can mandate the shots and, if so, what exemptions should be included in the mandate.
Biden Administration Labor Leadership Updates. This coming Saturday, Mr. David Prouty will be sworn-in as a member of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), joining President Biden’s other nominee, Ms. Gwynne Wilcox and cementing a majority on the NLRB that will be able to advance Democratic priorities. As reported previously, General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo (Democrat) outlined her priorities for the NLRB earlier this month and the Democratic-controlled NLRB is expected to move quickly on this agenda.
On August 23, President Biden appointed several members to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) Federal Service Impasses Panel. The Panel is a component of the FLRA that resolves impasses between federal agencies and unions representing federal employees.
Unemployment Insurance Update. On August 19, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen and U.S. Secretary of the Department of Labor Marty Walsh sent a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (R-Oregon) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts) on the expiration of emergency unemployment insurance on September 6. They argued:
These programs have been a critical lifeline for millions of Americans who were unemployed, through no fault of their own during the COVID pandemic.”
The Secretaries acknowledged it is appropriate for the temporary $300 boost in benefits to expire on September 6, as planned in the American Rescue Act. They also suggested the emergency unemployment insurance (UI) programs (the extended-length benefits and the coverage of individuals not otherwise within the scope of UI) could also expire in many states as intended in the American Rescue Act. But they added in some states:
[I]t may make sense for unemployed workers to continue receiving additional assistance for a longer period of time, allowing residents of those states more time to find a job in areas where unemployment remains high.”
Further details on how the Administration believes these states could extend UI benefits beyond September 6 can be found in the letter.
Also on August 19, President Biden issued a statement noting the number of Americans filing initial unemployment insurance claims has fallen to the lowest level since the pandemic began. He added this data indicates the U.S. economy is recovering.
AFL-CIO President Election Results. On Friday, August 20, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts) welcomed the news of Liz Shuler’s election to serve as the next president of the AFL-CIO, one of America’s largest unions. Shuler is the first woman to lead the AFL-CIO and replaces long-time president Richard Trumka, who passed away earlier in the month. President Biden also welcomed Ms. Schuler’s role at the union, reportedly calling to discuss discussed his agenda to create good-paying union jobs, increase union membership, and pay workers a living wage.
EEOC Increases Voting Transparency. On August 14, House Education & Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) welcomed the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) decision to resume posting its votes on the EEOC website. This move comes after Ranking Member Foxx sent a letter in July urging increased voting transparency.
Mexican Labor Dispute Resolution. Ambassador Tai issued a statement on August 19, after workers at a General Motors (GM) facility in Silao, Mexico, voted to reject their existing collective bargaining agreement. She said:
The vote results announced today are another important demonstration of the role of the USMCA’s [U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement] rapid response mechanism in getting prompt and meaningful results for workers. We congratulate the Mexican government, in particular the Labor Ministry (STPS), for overseeing this vote. We also thank the International Labor Organization and Mexico’s National Electoral Institute for the important role they have played as observers at the vote and its lead-up. Free and fair union votes are a critical component of freedom of association and collective bargaining and the related labor provisions of the USMCA. The United States will continue to work with our Mexican counterparts – including through the use of the rapid response mechanism – to protect the rights of North American workers.”
House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Neal, Trade Subcommittee Chairman Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-New Jersey), and committee member Congressman Dan Kildee (D-Michigan) also welcomed the vote at the GM facility.
Workforce Hub Grant Opportunity. On August 24, the Labor Department announced the availability of up to $3.5 million in grant funding to establish a Workforce System Technical Assistance Collaborative to serve as a hub for sharing tools, resources, and knowledge throughout the public workforce system. This is intended to service delivery will help jobseekers obtain employment and help employers hire and retain skilled workers.