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 28, 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:
- June Jobs Report Released
- Democrats Introduce Legislation to Invest in Care Workers
- Republicans Introduce Paid Leave Incentive Bill
- President Signs EEOC-Related Bill
- Labor Department Grants Announced
- States Sued for Ending Federal Pandemic Unemployment Insurance Programs Early
- Trade Adjustment Assistance Lapses
- USMCA Labor Enforcement Actions
Note: The U.S. House of Representatives was in session this week. The U.S. Senate was in recess and will be out for another week. Senators return to Washington the week of July 12. The House recessed at the end of the week for two weeks. House lawmakers are set to return to Washington the week of July 19.
June Jobs Report Released. On Friday, July 2, the U.S. Department of Labor released the June Jobs Report, noting 850,000 jobs were added that month. This surpassed analysts’ estimates that about 700,000 jobs would be added in June. More than one-third of the jobs – 343,000 – were in the leisure and hospitality sector, with more than of that number in the restaurants and bars sector. Meanwhile, the unemployment level increased to 5.9 percent from 5.8 percent in May. Job growth in April was revised down to 269,000, and May was revised up to 583,000. The job market is still 6.8 million jobs short of where it was in February 2020, when the pandemic hit.
U.S. President Joe Biden touted the monthly job report, after two consecutive months of reports with lower than anticipated numbers. He said of the employment environment:
Instead of workers competing with each other for jobs that are scarce, employers are competing with each other to attract workers. That kind of competition in the market doesn’t just give workers more ability to earn higher wages; it also gives them the power to demand to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace.”
Democrats Introduce Legislation to Invest in Care Workers. On Monday, June 28, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Senator Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania), along with five other Democratic Senators, introduced the Better Care Better Jobs Act (S. 2210), a bill that focuses on investments in home and community-based services, an element of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. Forty Democratic Senators support the bill. A summary of the Senate bill is available here. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan), along with three other Democratic House lawmakers, introduced a companion measure in the lower chamber.
Republicans Introduce Paid Leave Incentive Bill. On Wednesday, June 30, Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa), Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) – House Education & Labor Ranking Member – Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington), Tim Walberg (R-Michigan), and Glenn Thompson (R-Pennsylvania) introduced H.R. 4248, the Workflex in the 21st Century Act. The bill would encourage and allow employers to implement paid leave programs and flexible work arrangements voluntarily rather than via federal mandate.
President Signs EEOC-Related Bill. Also on Wednesday, President Biden signed into law a Congressional Review Act Resolution of Disapproval (S.J. Res. 13), a measure that nullifies an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) conciliation rule instituted during the Trump Administration. In signing the legislation, President Biden said this would “hold employers accountable for workplace discrimination.” Our firm has a more in-depth analysis of the EEOC conciliation rule, available here.
Labor Department Grants Announced. On Tuesday, June 29, the Labor Department announced the funding availability of approximately $43 million in grants to help re-employ dislocated workers most affected by the economic and employment fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. The Department highlighted: “These grants will focus on workers from historically marginalized communities or groups, and those unemployed for an extended period or who have exhausted unemployment insurance or other pandemic unemployment insurance programs.” Further details on this opportunity can be found here.
States Sued for Ending Federal Pandemic Unemployment Insurance Programs Early. After Governors in 26 states opted to decline accepting federal pandemic unemployment benefits early, workers in Indiana, Texas, and Maryland filed lawsuits against their respective states. In Indiana, a Marion Superior Court judge temporarily reinstated the federal unemployment benefits programs until a final ruling is made in the case. The Governor of Indiana is working with Indiana’s Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Workforce Development to appeal the decision. In Maryland, the Unemployed Workers Union filed a class-action lawsuit against the Governor’s order on Thursday, questioning the Governor’s authority to end federal benefits. In Texas, the Travis County District Court rejected a temporary restraining order against the Texas Governor while the case is proceeding; reports indicate the group intends to seek an injunction.
Trade Adjustment Assistance Lapses. On July 1, the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program expired, and lawmakers have yet to devise a clear path forward to reauthorize the program in the near-term. The TAA program provides federal benefits to American workers who lose their jobs because of foreign trade. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts) said of the TAA lapse:
Democrats were committed to modernizing and reauthorizing TAA ahead of last night’s deadline, but unfortunately, this crucial pro-jobs program will lapse because Republicans refused to engage. While our country continues to deal with the reverberating effects of the pandemic, this reversion will also disproportionately harm women and minority workers, and will prevent workers affected by trade from [the People’s Republic of China] from accessing the program. House Democrats are looking for the earliest opportunity to put the program back on track, and will also seek to increase and modernize TAA’s benefits.”
USMCA Labor Enforcement Actions. July 1 marked the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) entering into force. Officials from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the U.S. Department of Labor met with their Mexican and Canadian counterparts on June 29 for the first meeting of the USMCA Labor Council. USTR’s readout reflected the Council “discussed the domestic mechanisms, institutions and procedures that each party is employing to advance the fulfillment of the USMCA labor chapter’s provisions.” The Council also focused on:
- USMCA’s requirement that each party prohibit the importation of goods into its territory from other sources produced in whole, or in part by forced or compulsory labor;
- Ongoing implementation of Mexico’s recent historic labor law reform;
- Labor policies for migrant workers; and
- Areas for ongoing and future cooperation and technical capacity building.
Thus far, the United States has launched two complaints against facilities in Mexico, alleging workers’ rights violations. Reuters reported this week that the Mexican Government formally responded to the complaint at a GM plant, kicking off remediation efforts and marking the next step in the dispute settlement process. The two sides have at least 10 days to come to an agreement on a remediation plan.