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 June 14, 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:

  • Labor Department’s Spring 2021 Regulatory Agenda
  • Biden Administration Labor Leadership Updates
  • Senate HELP Republican Leaders Press for a Hearing on the President’s Budget Proposal
  • House Education & Labor Subcommittee WIOA Hearing
  • House Republicans Challenge Ethics Waivers for Union Individuals
  • OSHA Grants Announced for Non-Profit Organizations
  • Labor Department Grants Related to Female Workers
  • GAO Report on Racial & Ethnic Disparities and Unemployment Insurance Benefits

Labor Department’s Spring 2021 Regulatory Agenda. Friday, June 11, as part of the Biden Administration’s Spring 2021 Regulatory Agenda, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a series of anticipated regulatory actions that it anticipates will ensure the well-being of workers, employers and others.  In a press release, the Department spotlighted as priorities:

  • Increasing the Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors: In response to Executive Order 14026, “Increasing the Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors,” the Department’s Wage and Hour Division is drafting regulations that will increase the hourly minimum wage rate paid by parties that contract with the federal government to $15 for those employees working on or in connection with a covered federal government contract.
  • Fairness for Workers Who Rely on Tips: The Wage and Hour Division is also engaged in rulemaking to address the economic security of tipped workers.
  • Modernizing the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts (DBRA) Regulations: The DBRA requires the payment of locally prevailing wages and fringe benefits to laborers and mechanics as determined by the department.  The Wage and Hour Division is proposing to update and modernize the regulations implementing the DBRA to provide ensure workers are paid prevailing wages on federal construction contracts.
  • Re-Examining the Approach to Investments that Tackle Climate Change: To implement Executive Order 13990, “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” and Executive Order 14030, “Climate-Related Financial Risks,” the Employee Benefits Security Administration is undertaking a review of regulations under Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, including “Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments” and “Fiduciary Duties Regarding Proxy Voting and Shareholder Rights.”

The Labor Department also noted:

Prior rulemakings are also being proposed for withdrawal because of their deleterious effects on the lives of working people, including a rule on labor standards in apprenticeship.”

The entirety of the Department’s semiannual agenda is available here.

Biden Administration Labor Leadership Updates.  The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced the following nominations on June 16, sending them to the Senate floor for consideration:

  • Rajesh Nayak to serve as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy by a vote of 14 to 8;
  • Taryn Williams to serve as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy by a vote of 18 to 4; and
  • Doug Parker to serve as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health by a vote of 13 to 9.

Senate HELP Republican Leaders Press for a Hearing on the President’s Budget Proposal.  The Ranking Members on all three Senate HELP Subcommittees shared they had sent letters to their respective Subcommittee Chairs requesting appropriate hearings on the President’s proposed $6 trillion budget for Fiscal Year 2022.  They spotlighted:  “Most authorizing committees hold budget hearings with their respective cabinet agencies so that the members of the authorizing committee can better understand the proposed budget request.”  The letters were signed by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Children and Families; Senator Mike Braun (R-Indiana), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety; and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security.

House Education & Labor Subcommittee WIOA Hearing.  On June 15, the House Education & Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Investment held a hearing titled, “Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Reauthorization (WIOA): Examining Successful Models of Employment for Justice-Involved Individuals.”  This is the third WIOA hearing this Congress and it focused on people who are incarcerated and the process of reentering communities upon their release and obtaining careers.

House Republicans Challenge Ethics Waivers for Union Individuals.  House Education & Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) and House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member James Comer (R-Kentucky) wrote Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Shalanda Young, and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Acting Director Kathleen McGettigan regarding the Biden Administration’s use of ethics waivers to address what they consider an effort to bring union influence into the Federal Government.  They are challenging in particular President Biden’s Executive Order (E.O.) 13989 and the appointments of former American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) employee Celeste Drake to be Director of the Made in America Office at OMB, and former American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) employee Alethea Predeoux to be Director of the Office of Congressional, Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs at OPM.  The E.O. allows former union leaders, like Drake and Predeoux, to serve in Administration positions in which they will interact directly with their former employers and creating a situation in which the unions can directly benefit from Biden Administration policies.

OSHA Grants Announced for Non-Profit Organizations.  On June 17, the Labor Department announced funding opportunities for more than $21 million in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training grants for non-profit organizations.  The grants are split under two funding streams:  (1) $10 million under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 for Workplace Safety and Health Training on Infectious Diseases, including coronavirus grants; and (2) $11.8 million under the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program, which includes topic training, training and educational materials development, and new capacity building grants.  Eligibility for these grants is accessible here.  Those interested in the grants under the American Rescue Plan Act must submit their applications no later than 11:59 p.m. EDT on July 19, 2021.  If interested in the grants under the Susan Harwood Program, applications are due by 11:59 p.m. EDT on Aug. 17, 2021.

Labor Department Grants Related to Female Workers.  On June 15, the Labor Department announced a $1.5 million funding opportunity available to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to develop partnerships with community-based organizations and other non-profits to conduct outreach to women workers to help them understand and exercise their rights and benefits in the workplace.  This initiative will support up to six grants.  Potential applicants are encouraged to notify the Department of their intent to submit an application for the “Fostering Access, Rights and Equity” (FARE) initiative by emailing no later than June 30, 2021.  Interested parties must provide one or more of the following services:

  • Providing outreach to vulnerable, low-income and marginalized women workers.
  • Disseminating educational materials through varied platforms, including social media, in-person or virtual events, brochures and leaflets, one-on-one consultations and other outreach.
  • Assisting women workers with navigating and calculating benefits and connecting and referring women workers to additional services, benefits and/or legal assistance.
  • Raising awareness of women’s rights to benefits and assistance in their own communities.

GAO Report on Racial & Ethnic Disparities and Unemployment Insurance Benefits.  On June 17, Ways & Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts) and Worker & Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Danny Davis (D-Illinois) released a statement in response to the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) report titled, “Management Report: Preliminary Information on Potential Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Receipt of Unemployment Insurance Benefits during the COVID-19 Pandemic.”  They stated:

Today’s GAO report clearly demonstrates that white workers who apply for unemployment insurance benefits are more likely to receive them than Black workers, and this is wholly unacceptable.  We already knew people of color were disproportionately more likely to get sick from COVID-19, and more likely to lose their jobs, and now, we are finding out that on top of all of that, they were also shut out of this lifeline program.  . . .  It’s clear that aggressive oversight of state unemployment insurance systems must be done to understand the root cause of these disparities, and to ensure eligible workers receive their rightful, earned benefits.  . . . More must be done, which is why Ways and Means Committee Democrats are working on legislation to give DOL the full authority it needs to conduct adequate oversight, hold states to the highest standards, and root out discrimination.  The Committee’s Racial Equity Initiative was established to lead our work in putting an end to disparities like these, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to achieving both racial and economic justice.”