This is a weekly post spotlighting labor topics in focus by the US legislative and executive branches. In this issue, we cover:

  • US Federal Labor ViewpointsBiden Administration labor leadership update
  • White House/labor leaders meeting – Apprenticeship program changes
  • Congressional COVID-19 relief package update
  • Pregnant workers’ protections

Biden Administration Labor Leadership Update

  • On Wednesday, February 17, President Joe Biden nominated Jennifer Abruzzo as the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  This position requires Senate confirmation.
    • House Education & Labor Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) issued a statement criticizing Abruzzo’s nomination, saying,

After firing Peter Robb, the Senate-confirmed National Labor Relations Board General Counsel, President Biden now wants to replace him with Jennifer Abruzzo, a union lawyer with a partisan track record whose current employer demanded that Robb be terminated following the 2020 election. Rather than nominate a demonstrated union sympathizer with a potential conflict of interest, President Biden should reinstate Peter Robb so he can honorably serve out the remainder of his four-year term.”

White House/Labor Leaders Meeting – Apprenticeship Program Changes.  On Wednesday, February 17, President Biden met with a group of labor leaders in the Oval Office to discuss the American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Plan.  A White House readout of the meeting reflected:  “President Biden engaged the labor leaders during the meeting in a conversation about their priorities, recommendations, and the importance of ensuring union workers play a key role in building a resilient and sustainable infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather and a changing climate all while creating millions of good paying union jobs in the process.”

Ahead of the meeting, the White House released a fact sheet on what the Biden Administration is doing to expand registered apprenticeship programs and investments in pipelines into these programs.  According to the fact sheet, President Biden endorsed Congressman Bobby Scott’s (D-Virginia) bipartisan National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 (H.R. 447), which will create and expand registered apprenticeships, youth apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship programs.  As noted last week, H.R. 447 has been referred to the Senate for consideration.

President Biden directed the U.S. Department of Labor to reinstate the National Advisory Committee on Apprenticeships, which will include stakeholders – such as unions, employers, apprentices, community colleges and other institutions – to build a registered apprenticeship program.  According to the White House fact sheet, “the Advisory Committee will have the opportunity to focus on expanding apprenticeships into new employment industries and sectors like clean energy, technology, and healthcare to create more high-quality training and employment opportunities.”

President Biden is also reversing certain industry recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs), with the White House fact sheet noting these programs “threaten to undermine registered apprenticeship programs.”  The President signed an Executive Order (E.O.) on Wednesday that revoked E.O. 13801, which spurred IRAPs.  He further directed the Labor Department to consider new rulemaking to reverse these programs and to immediately slow support for industry recognized apprenticeship programs by pausing approval of new Standards Recognition Entities and ending new funding for existing Standards Recognition Entities.

The Labor Department initiated steps on Wednesday to comply with the President’s order.  This included suspending acceptance and review of new or pending applications for Standards Recognition Entities in the Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Program.

House Education & Labor Ranking Member Foxx issued a statement on President Biden’s order to end “131 innovative, employer-led apprenticeship programs” (IRAPs), saying,

President Biden’s move to end IRAPs will kill jobs. Period. Doubling down on an inefficient, 80-year-old system that is unresponsive to workers’ needs is not a solution, it is irresponsible.  . . .  Instead of catering to union bosses and increasing Washington’s overreach into the private sector, we should support and encourage efforts to cut the regulatory red tape that stops too many employers from filling in-demand jobs. Employer-led apprenticeship programs account for more than 80 percent of all apprenticeship programs nationwide. The success of these programs should come as no surprise, employers know best what skills their employees need to excel in the workplace.”

The following is a list of those labor leaders in attendance at the White House meeting:

  • James T. Callahan, General President, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE)
  • Eric Dean, General President, Iron Workers International Union (IW)
  • Robert Martinez, Jr., International President, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW)
  • Sean McGarvey, President, North America’s Building Trades Union (NABTU)
  • Mark McManus, General President, United Association Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, & Service Techs (UA)
  • Terry O’Sullivan, General President, Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA)
  • Kenneth E. Rigmaiden, General President, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT)
  • Elizabeth H. Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer, American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
  • Lonnie Stephenson, International President, International Brotherhood of ​Electrical Workers (IBEW)
  • Richard Trumka, President, American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)

Congressional COVID-19 Relief Package Update.  Policies that would allow American workers to stay home when they have the coronavirus may be further narrowed in the COVID-19 relief package moving through Congress.  Republicans continue to resist provisions, such as paid federal sick leave, a higher minimum wage and insurance subsidies for laid-off workers, in the $1.9 trillion package.  Republicans argue the economic aid pieces of the package are extraneous.

The House version of the bill includes a $15 federal minimum wage; the White House has signaled it is unwilling to push it through the Senate as part of the COVID-19 relief package, where it faces bipartisan opposition and a potential procedural hurdle to boot.   Paid sick leave for workers may also be excluded from the package and have to advance as a standalone bill.   The House of Representatives is tentatively scheduled to vote on its COVID-19 package at the end of next week.  Senate committee leaders have been working with their House counterparts to align their versions of the bill as much as possible to avoid weeks of back-and-forth in a conference committee.  Meanwhile, some provisions, such as the federal minimum wage provision, may be ruled out of order by the Senate Parliamentarian if challenged under the Byrd Rule.  Assuming the Parliamentarian’s ruling is sustained, these provisions would not be adopted as part of the budget reconciliation process.

Pregnant Workers’ Protections.  On February 16, a bipartisan group of lawmakers re-introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 1065), a measure that would establish a pregnant worker’s right to reasonable workplace accommodations, provided they do not impose an undue burden on their employer.  The bill was co-sponsored by Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), John Katko (R-New York), Lucy McBath (D-Georgia), Jamie Herrera-Beutler (R-Washington), and House Education & Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Virginia).  Congressman Nadler has been spearheading this initiative for nine years.  A House Education & Labor Committee fact sheet on the bill is available here; a section-by-section summary here.  The bill has been referred to four committees of jurisdiction in the House – Education and Labor; Administration; Oversight and Reform; Judiciary.  There is no companion or related measure in the Senate, at this time.

Under the Pregnancy Fairness Act:

  • Private-sector employers with more than 15 employees as well as public-sector employers must make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers (employees and job applicants with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions).
  • As under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers would not be required to make an accommodation if it would impose an undue hardship on an employer’s business.
  • Pregnant workers cannot be denied employment opportunities, retaliated against for requesting a reasonable accommodation, or forced to take paid or unpaid leave if another reasonable accommodation is available.
  • Workers denied a reasonable accommodation under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would have the same rights and remedies as those established under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  These include lost pay, compensatory damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
  • Public sector employees have similar relief available under the Congressional Accountability Act, Title V of the United States Code, and the Government Employee Rights Act of 1991.

Please visit here for a complete collection of US Federal Labor Viewpoints.