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 July 19, 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:
- Biden Administration Labor Leadership Updates
- Commerce Department Announces $3 Billion Investment in America’s Communities
- NPRM Announced to Implement $15 Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors
- Democrats Highlight Need for Workforce Investments
- House Oversight Committee Advances Federal Workers Paid Leave Bill
- Forced Labor House Hearing Recapped
- Welfare Reform Bill Reintroduced
- Labor Department Grant to Address Mexican Labor Disputes
- Labor Department Focuses on Guam’s Construction Sector and Prevailing Wage Rates
- Upcoming Congressional Hearings
Both chambers of the US Congress were in session this week. Next week, the US House of Representatives is set to vote on a seven-measure spending package that includes funding for the following Departments and Agencies: (1) Labor, Health and Human Services and Education; (2) Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration; (3) Energy and Water; (4) Interior and Environment; (5) Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; (6) Transportation, Housing and Urban Development; and (7) Financial Services. The US Senate is further behind in the appropriations process.
Biden Administration Labor Leadership Updates. On Wednesday, July 21, Vice President Kamala Harris cast the deciding vote in the Senate to approve Ms. Jennifer Abruzzo as the next General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after a party line vote of 50 to 50. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee also advanced the following nominations to the Senate floor: (1) Ms. Gwynne Wilcox to serve as a Member of the NLRB and (2) Mr. David Prouty to serve as a Member of the NLRB.
Commerce Department Announces $3 Billion Investment in America’s Communities. On Thursday, July 22, US Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo announced the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) will implement a series of programs, collectively called “Investing in America’s Communities,” using $3 billion it received from the American Rescue Plan Act to help communities across the country build back better. This includes six Notices of Funding Opportunity:
- Build Back Better Regional Challenge ($1 billion)
- Good Jobs Challenge ($500 million)
- Economic Adjustment Assistance Challenge ($500 million)
- Indigenous Communities Challenge ($100 million)
- Travel, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation Grants ($750 million)
- Statewide Planning, Research, and Networks Grants ($90 million)
The Department of Commerce and EDA is also making a Coal Communities Commitment, which allocates $300 million in American Rescue Plan funds to coal communities. This investment seeks to ensure these communities have the resources to recover from the pandemic and will help create new jobs and opportunities, including through the development or expansion of a new industry sector.
EDA is expected to release Notices of Funding Opportunity for each program shortly. Interested parties can check out http://www.eda.gov/ARPA for the latest news and announcements about EDA’s American Rescue Plan programs. Commerce also released a fact sheet on the new investments.
NPRM Announced to Implement $15 Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors. On July 21, House Education & Labor Committee Chairman Scott welcomed the Department of Labor’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to implement President Biden’s Executive Order 14026 (signed April 27), which requires all federal contractors to pay a $15 minimum wage. He also urged: “The Senate must do its job and advance the Raise the Wage Act, which would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.” House Education & Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) said of the proposed rule: “Disguised as a win for workers, this $15 minimum wage will severely disadvantage small businesses competing for federal contracts because they are poorly positioned to absorb these additional expenses.” Interested parties have until August 23 to comment on the proposed rule at www.regulations.gov.
Democrats Highlight Need for Workforce Investments. Also on Thursday, House Education & Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) hosted a remote press conference with US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, Education Department Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon) and other guests to highlight the importance of investing in workforce development. Chairman Scott stated: “If we want to help workers go back to work, and if we want to help local businesses grow, then we must ensure that future legislative packages include bold investments in workforce development programs.”
Secretary Walsh highlighted workforce accounts have been flat-funded for a decade, adding:
This is a moment in history that demands bold action. And that’s exactly what the President proposed in his Build Back Better agenda. He calls for an investment of $100 billion in proven workforce development programs, targeted to workers and employers that need it the most.”
Deputy Secretary Marten said of the President’s plan:
This $10 billion investment would provide underrepresented students more equitable access to high-quality Career and Technical Education opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and connect those students to career pathways that lead to quality jobs in in-demand sectors.”
House Oversight Committee Advances Federal Workers Paid Leave Bill. On Tuesday, July 20, the House Oversight Committee marked-up and approved several bills, including H.R. 564, the Comprehensive Paid Leave for Federal Employees Act. Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) said of the action on the bill:
I am proud that today, the Committee passed my bill, the Comprehensive Paid Leave for Federal Employees Act, and took a historic step towards making sure no federal worker ever has to choose between taking care of an ill family member and being able to put food on the table. We must continue to build on this progress and push forward nationwide policies to support all working families.”
Ranking Member James Comer (R-Kentucky) chastised Democrats for seeking to expand paid leave for federal employees at the taxpayer’s expense. He emphasized the paid leave expansion would be on top of federal employees’ ordinary annual leave and allow for part-time work for full-time pay.
Forced Labor House Hearing Recapped. On July 21, at the House Ways & Means Trade Subcommittee hearing on forced labor, Chairman Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) said the purpose of the hearing was “to shine a light” on some of the countries, regions, and sectors noted by the US Department of Labor to have forced labor and child labor concerns and to discuss US enforcement efforts and working with trading partners to cooperate on eradicating forced labor in supply chains. He stated:
[W]e’re still a significant distance away from enforcement actions that measure up to the scale and pervasiveness of forced labor across the world.”
Representative Devin Nunes (R-California), who filled in for Ranking Member Vern Buchanan (R-Florida), focused his opening remarks on the importance of leveraging the power of US markets to assist those enslaved by forced labor around the world. He urged the business community and US Customs and Border Protection to work closely to ensure supply chains are free of goods made from forced labor, saying:
Nevertheless, we must consider whether additional legislation could help end this modern-day slavery. We must also consider how Congress and US customs officials can better assist importers to proactively eradicate goods produced with force labor from their supply chains.”
Welfare Reform Bill Reintroduced. On July 19, House Ways & Means Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and US Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) reintroduced the Jobs and Opportunity with Benefits and Services for Success Act (“JOBS for Success Act”). The bill would reform the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to ensure families utilizing the program receive the assistance, training, and services needed to connect them with jobs and succeed in the workforce.
Labor Department Grant to Address Mexican Labor Disputes. On July 20, the Department of Labor announced the availability of $10 million in grant funding to improve the resolution of labor disputes in Mexico by increasing the effectiveness of conciliation mechanisms to resolve labor disputes in support of Mexico’s labor reform. Interested parties can access this link for further details.
Labor Department Focuses on Guam’s Construction Sector and Prevailing Wage Rates. On July 19, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division solicited Guam’s building, residential, heavy and highway construction employers to help the agency establish accurate rates and complete wage determination by participating in a prevailing wage survey. The Division is currently collecting data electronically and via data collection forms, also known as WD-10s, until August 31.
Upcoming Congressional Hearings. US lawmakers have announced the following upcoming labor-related congressional hearings:
- On July 27, the Senate Finance Committee is set to hold a hearing titled: “Implementation and Enforcement of the United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement: One Year After Entry into Force.”
- On July 28, the Senate Finance Committee is set to hold a hearing titled: “Building on Bipartisan Retirement Legislation: How Can Congress Help?”