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:

  • US Federal Labor ViewpointsBiden Administration Labor Leadership Updates
  • Paycheck Fairness Act | House Approves Bill
  • Healthy Families Act Reintroduced
  • Unemployment Insurance Guidance
  • Independent Contractor & Joint Employment Rules | Lawmakers Submit Comment Letters
  • Guidance for Plan Sponsors, Plan Fiduciaries, Record Keepers and Plan Participants
  • Guidance for Investment Advice Exemption
  • Mental Health ASPIRE Initiative | Seven States Selected
  • Amazon Union Election

Biden Administration Labor Leadership Updates.  On April 21, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee is scheduled to hold a business meeting to consider the nomination of Ms. Julie Su to serve as Deputy Secretary of Labor.

On April 9, U.S. President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate Mr. Doug Parker to serve as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA).  Mr. Parker currently serves as chief of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).  House Education & Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) said of the nomination:

During his tenure in California, Doug Parker was a key architect of the controversial and discredited COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) in California, which placed dozens of unworkable and bewildering new mandates on employers that often conflicted with current science and are doing nothing to improve workplace safety outcomes.  . . .  Now, he’s been tapped to lead OSHA which is contemplating a similar national standard. I hope that Mr. Parker, if confirmed by the Senate, has learned from past mistakes and will recognize how a federal ETS would be unworkable, unnecessary, and harmful to American workers.”

Paycheck Fairness Act | House Approves Bill.  On April 15, House Education & Labor Committee Ranking Member Foxx spoke in opposition of H.R. 7, the Paycheck Fairness Act, saying on the House floor that it offers no new protections against pay discrimination and rewards trial lawyers with limitless paydays.  She added the bill would also “severely” limit workplace flexibility for women.  That afternoon, the House narrowly approved the bill by a vote of 217 to 210.  President Biden applauded the House action, urging the Senate to follow suit.

Healthy Families Act Reintroduced.  On April 13, Senate HELP Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, reintroduced the Healthy Families Act, legislation that seeks to establish a federal paid sick days policy for American workers.  It would direct businesses with at least 15 employees to provide up to 56 hours, or seven days, of paid sick leave each year.  Businesses that already provide paid sick leave would not have to change their current policies, as long as they meet the minimum standards of the Healthy Families Act.

Unemployment Insurance Guidance.  On April 14, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) provided new guidance to states on identity verification for unemployment insurance (UI) claims, amid increased fraudulent claims during the pandemic.  The guidance will help states find and stop payments on claims based on stolen or fake identities and help unemployed workers who have been falsely flagged as possibly fraudulent.  It also explains what states can do to protect those victims who may have had their identities previously stolen and then used by criminals to apply for UI benefits.

Independent Contractor & Joint Employment Rules | Lawmakers Submit Comment Letters.  Democratic lawmakers, led by House Education & Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), submitted letters this week to the Labor Department’s public comment period on:  (1) the proposed withdrawal of the Independent Contractor Rule; and (2) proposed rescission of the Joint Employment Rule.  The lawmakers expressed their support for the Biden Administration’s decisions, suggesting these actions will save workers billions in lost wages every year.

Guidance for Plan Sponsors, Plan Fiduciaries, Record Keepers and Plan Participants.   For the first-time, the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration issued cybersecurity guidance on April 14 directed at plan sponsors and fiduciaries regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), and plan participants and beneficiaries:

  • Tips for Hiring a Service Provider:  Helps plan sponsors and fiduciaries prudently select a service provider with strong cybersecurity practices and monitor their activities, as ERISA requires.
  • Cybersecurity Program Best Practices:  Assists plan fiduciaries and record-keepers in their responsibilities to manage cybersecurity risks.
  • Online Security Tips:  Offers plan participants and beneficiaries who check their retirement accounts online basic rules to reduce the risk of fraud and loss.

The new guidance comes a month after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report requested by Members of Congress looking at the risk cybersecurity threats pose to retirement plans.  Senate HELP Committee Chair Murray, House Education & Labor Chairman Scott, and Senator Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire) issued a joint statement welcoming the cybersecurity guidance.

Guidance for Investment Advice Exemption.  On April 13, the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration issued guidance on fiduciary investment advice for retirement investors, employee benefit plans and investment advice providers.  The guidance relates to the Department’s “Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees” exemption and follows its February 12, 2021, announcement that that exemption would go into effect as scheduled on February 16, 2021.  The two documents issued (here; here) are limited to the application of federal retirement laws regarding advice concerning investments in plans covered by ERISA, such as 401(k) plans and the Internal Revenue Code, such as IRAs.

Mental Health ASPIRE Initiative | Seven States Selected.  On April 14, the Labor Department announced it had selected seven states to participate in its Advancing State Policy Integration for Recovery and Employment (ASPIRE) initiative, which aims to align state policy and funding to increase competitive integrated employment for individuals with mental health conditions.  The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) will provide Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wisconsin with tailored and targeted technical assistance.  ODEP has contracted with Westat, a Maryland research firm, to deliver the technical assistance to participating states.

Amazon Union Election.  After the workers of Amazon in Bessemer, Alabama, decided against forming a union last week, Chairman Scott issued a statement calling for the Senate to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.  He argued, “America’s workers will not have consistent access to free, fair, and safe union elections until we strengthen our nation’s labor laws.  We cannot continue allowing employers to interfere with workers’ decision whether or not to form a union.”  Ranking Member Foxx countered, characterizing the bill as a “job-killing PRO Union Bosses Act” and saying the workers in Bessemer were “able to cast their ballots in secret, allowing them to voice their opinions freely and without fear.”