US Federal Labor ViewpointsThis 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
  • U.S. Economy Update
  • Fourteen Republican States Curb Federal Pandemic-Related Unemployment Benefits
  • Unemployment Insurance Fraud
  • WIOA House Hearing Recapped
  • Longshore/Harbor Workers COVID-19 Compensation Bill Introduced
  • Final Rule on Wage Protections for Temporary and Permanent Employment of Certain Aliens Delayed
  • Forced Labor | More Nitrile Glove Imports Seized
  • **Upcoming Congressional Hearings**

Biden Administration Labor Leadership Updates.  On May 12, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced the following nominations out of committee for full Senate consideration:

  • Jennifer Abruzzo, to serve as General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), by a party-line vote of 11 to 11;
  • Seema Nanda, to serve as Solicitor for the U.S. Department of Labor by a vote of 14 to eight; and
  • Jocelyn Samuels, for a new term on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, by a vote of 14 to eight.

HELP Committee Republicans voted in solidarity against Ms. Abruzzo’s nomination, citing concerns with U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to fire Trump-appointed NLRB top lawyer Peter Robb on his first day in office, months ahead of the expiration of Robb’s term.  Timing for the Senate floor vote on all three nominations remains unclear.  Due to the tie vote on Ms. Abruzzo’s nomination, the full Senate will need to vote to discharge her nomination from committee.  Democrats hold a tie-breaking vote with Vice President Kamala Harris.

U.S. Economy Update.  Many companies are expressing concerns they cannot find qualified workers and some blame expanded government unemployment benefits for dissuading people from accepting a job.  A lack of daycare options for parents also remains a challenge.  Overall, unemployment claims have been declining, however, they are still more than twice as high as compared to the last month before the pandemic.  Meanwhile, the stock market fell sharply on Wednesday after the rate of inflation rose to the highest level in 13 years, before bouncing back on Thursday.

In a House Ways & Means Committee blog, committee Republicans spotlighted labor shortages and the fact that consumer prices were up 4.2 percent, saying inflation has accelerated at its fastest pace in more than a decade – making it harder for hardworking men and women to make ends meet and cover basic household items.  They further noted:  “Despite a booming economic recovery, multiple available vaccines, and a record 8.1 million job openings – Dems [Democrats] are paying 4 in 10 unemployed Americans more to stay home than to return to the workforce.”  Another blog by committee Republicans focused on the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report, stressing that “[m]ore and more states are opting out of federal unemployment benefit programs because their economies can’t recover when Main Street can’t find workers.” 

Fourteen Republican States Curb Federal Pandemic-Related Unemployment Benefits.  Joining Montana and South Carolina, the Republican-led states of Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Iowa, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming moved to curb “overly generous” Federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits to address labor shortages in their states.   Republican Governors control 27 states, with Democrats controlling 23 states.

  • Alabama: Governor Kay Ivey (R) announced on Monday that the state was halting its participation in Federal unemployment benefits, effective June 19.
  • Arkansas: Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) announced last Friday that the state would opt out of participating in Federal unemployment after June 26.
  • Arizona: Governor Doug Ducey (R) announced on Thursday that Arizona would reduce Federal unemployment benefits, offering instead a $2,000 return-to-work bonus incentive.
  • Idaho: Governor Brad Little (R) announced on Tuesday that the state would no longer draw Federal money to fund enhanced unemployment insurance, effective June 19.
  • Iowa: Governor Kim Reynolds (R) announced on Monday that the state would cancel Federal jobless benefits on June 12.
  • Mississippi: Governor Tate Reeves (R) announced on social media on Monday that he was pulling out the state from the Federal pandemic-aid programs starting June 12.
  • Missouri: Governor Mike Parson (R) announced on Tuesday that Missouri would be ending its participation in federal unemployment on June 12.
  • Montana: Governor Greg Gianforte (R) announced early last week that the state was ending Federal benefits on June 27, becoming the first state to do so.
  • North Dakota: Governor Doug Burgum (R) announced on Monday that the state would pull out of Federal unemployment benefit programs on June 19.
  • South Carolina: Governor Henry McMaster (R) also announced last week that the state would stop its participation in Federal unemployment effective June 30.
  • South Dakota: Governor Kristi Noem (R) announced on Wednesday that the state will end its participation in Federal unemployment benefit programs effective the week of June 26
  • Tennessee: Governor Bill Lee (R) announced on Tuesday the end of all Federal unemployment programs, effective July 3.
  • Utah: Governor Spencer Cox (R) announced on Wednesday that Utah is withdrawing from Federal unemployment aid programs effective June 26.
  • Wyoming: Governor Mark Gordon (R) announced on Wednesday that the state was withdrawing from Federal unemployment benefit programs, effective June 19.

Meanwhile, on Monday, President Biden reminded “anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits.”  He sought to dispel the belief that generous pandemic Federal unemployment benefits are preventing folks from returning to work, citing instead childcare, getting vaccinated, and getting schools re-opened as barriers.

On Tuesday, May 11, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) issued a statement on enhanced jobless benefits:

As Republican governors continue their economic sabotage by pulling the rug out from jobless workers, it’s important to note that thousands of workers in these states are not only losing the $300 weekly boost, they are losing every single penny of their income.  That’s because governors are not only ending the $300 boost, they are ending additional weeks of benefits and benefits for self-employed and part-time workers covered by the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.  The Labor Department must explore all options to keep these workers from losing their income.”

Unemployment Insurance Fraud.  On Monday, May 10, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), and House Ways & Means Committee Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) sent a letter to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh requesting more funds be devoted to the detection and prevention of unemployment insurance fraud, which they cite as a nationwide problem.  The Republican leaders requested the Secretary provide responses to six items detailed in the letter by May 27, 2021, including information on how the $2 billion provided to the Department in the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) for fraud detection and prevention has been used, and will be used going forward.

WIOA House Hearing Recapped.  On Thursday, May 13, the House Education & Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Investment held a hearing titled, “Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Reauthorization:  Creating Opportunities for Youth Employment.”   As Subcommittee Chair Frederica Wilson (D-FL) noted in her opening statement, this will be the first of three bipartisan hearings focusing on reauthorizing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which was last reauthorized in 2014 and “is the foundation for our nation’s workforce development system.”  The hearing focused on three youth programs:  youth workforce investment activities, YouthBuild, and Job Corps.  These programs provide low-income, in-school and out-of-school young people – ages 14 to 24 – with job opportunities, pathways to further their education or training, and basic support services that help them find jobs.

Longshore/Harbor Workers COVID-19 Compensation Bill Introduced.  This week, House Education & Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) and Representative Frank Mrvan (D-Indiana) introduced legislation that would assist maritime workers who contract COVID-19.   In sum, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ COVID-19 Compensation Act of 2021 (H.R. 3114) would provide longshore and harbor workers who are diagnosed with COVID-19 eligibility for workers’ compensation by establishing a “conclusive presumption” that they contracted the virus at work.  A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.

Final Rule on Wage Protections for Temporary and Permanent Employment of Certain Aliens Delayed.  On Thursday, the Labor Department announced an 18-month delay in the effective date of the Final Rule titled, “Strengthening Wage Protections for the Temporary and Permanent Employment of Certain Aliens in the United States.”  Published in January 2021, the Final Rule affects employers seeking to employ foreign workers on a permanent or temporary basis through certain immigrant visas or through H-1B, H-1B1 and E-3 non-immigrant visas.  The Final Rule will now go into effect on November 14, 2022.

Forced Labor | More Nitrile Glove Imports Seized.  U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel continue to focus on forced labor concerns.  On May 12, CBP in Kansas City, Missouri, seized a shipment of 4.68 million latex gloves due to information that the gloves were allegedly made by forced labor.  CBP officers said the gloves were produced in Malaysia by a subsidiary of Top Glove.  As noted in last week’s report, CBP issued a forced labor finding on March 29 based on evidence of multiple forced labor indicators in Top Glove’s production process, including debt bondage, excessive overtime, abusive working and living conditions, and retention of identity documents.

Upcoming Congressional Hearings.  Lawmakers will be in session next week and will focus on the following labor-related hearings:

  • May 18, the Senate HELP Committee is set to hold a hearing titled, “Paid Leave for Working Families: Examining Access, Options, and Impacts.”
  • May 20, the Senate HELP Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “A Dire Shortage and Getting Worse: Solving the Crisis in the Health Care Workforce.”