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:

  • July Jobs ReportUS Federal Labor Viewpoints
  • US Economy Updates
  • COVID-19 Updates
  • Biden Administration Labor Leadership Updates
  • Federal Paid Leave Event
  • Senate HELP Committee Advances Pregnant Workers Bill
  • Workplace Diversity Alliance Announced
  • Democratic Leaders Mourn Death of AFL-CIO President
  • Confined Spaces Regional Emphasis Program Announced
  • President Focuses on American Electric Vehicles
  • Forced Labor Update
  • Northern Triangle Grant Funding Opportunity

The U.S. Senate was in session this week; the U.S. House of Representatives is in recess until September 20, though House lawmakers may be called back early to consider legislation before then, including the emerging Senate infrastructure bill and budget resolution.  After a rare weekend session at the end of last week, a bipartisan group of Senators released a 2,702-page bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (as a substitute amendment to the House-passed bill, H.R. 3684), on Sunday.  Debate on the bill and related amendments continued into Friday, with a likely final vote over the weekend.  On August 3, the White House released a fact sheet describing the infrastructure bill as creating good-paying jobs and supporting workers.

The fate of the Senate budget resolution, which the Senate will likely approve on a straight party-line vote before it adjourns for the summer recess, remains uncertain.  Moderate Democrats have continued to express concern with the expected $3.5 trillion price tag and House progressives remain adamant that they will not advance the infrastructure bill until the Senate approves a reconciliation package that advances their priorities.  At least a month of intense bargaining is expected to address these competing concerns.

July Jobs Report.  The U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday morning that the U.S. economy added 943,000 jobs in July, and the unemployment rate fell from 5.9 percent to 5.4 percent.  The jobs figure was within the range that economist had expected.  Notably, this report may not fully reflect possible effects from the recent surge in COVID-19 infections from the Delta variant, as the jobs survey occurs mid-month.  U.S. President Joe Biden said of the July Jobs Report:  “The Biden plan is working.  The Biden plan produces results, and the Biden plan is moving the country forward.”

House Ways & Means Committee Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) acknowledged some positive momentum on added jobs – crediting Republican Governors – while observing President Biden is still nearly 300,000 jobs short of his projected jobs growth goal for when he called on Congress to pass his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan earlier this year.  He stated:

Thanks in part to Republican governors removing the Biden work barrier that pays the jobless more to stay home than to work, the July jobs report finally met expectations—although the President’s jobs deficit still remains high at 298,000 and Main Street businesses are still struggling to find workers.  The labor force participation rate still hasn’t improved in 2021, which is a red flag for tepid growth ahead.  And while we will get the full data in mid-August, it appears rising prices will continue to beat wage growth for a seventh consecutive month, meaning inflation under President Biden will continue to shrink the purchasing power of families.”

U.S. Economy Updates.  On Wednesday, August 4, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen spoke on the American economy while in Atlanta, Georgia, saying:  “We are now trending towards full employment.  GDP [Gross Domestic Product] now exceeds pre-pandemic levels.”  She acknowledged uncertainty with respect to the Delta variant, adding:

There are also bottlenecks in certain supply chains, and mismatches between supply and demand have led to price increases. And yet, the data indicates that these mismatches will resolve with time as more businesses are able to keep up with demand.”

Secretary Yellen also spotlighted the President’s Build Back Better agenda, calling for investments in childcare and training programs to allow for increased labor force participation.  On Thursday, August 5, the Commerce Department reported the U.S. trade deficit climbed to $75.7 billion in June, and appears to be on track to top $1 trillion this year – a first for the American economy.

COVID-19 Updates.  Increasingly, employers are postponing return-to-work callbacks for employees, amid the COVID-19 Delta variant surge.  On August 3, President Biden spoke of the Administration’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic, at home and abroad.  One month later than his goal, last week, the United States reported 70-percent of adult Americans had received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine.  President Biden praised some companies in the private sector, such as Walmart, Google, Netflix, Disney, and Tyson Foods, for requiring employees be vaccinated.  President Biden also confirmed the United States had shipped over 110 million doses of U.S. vaccines to 65 countries.  During Q&A with the media, he endorsed U.S. States and local governments, such as New York City, imposing vaccination requirements for public spaces, such as restaurants and gyms.

On August 4, World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for developed countries with access to COVID-19 vaccines to refrain from booster shots until other countries are able to be able to vaccinate at least 10 percent of their countries.  He said at a briefing:  “[W]e cannot — and we should not — accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected.”  That same day, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki appeared to reject this argument as a “false choice,” countering the United States can offer boosters to vulnerable Americans and continue to donate vaccines to other countries.  Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have not made the recommendation for a COVID-19 booster shot.

The FDA indicated this week that it is moving forward with its expedited review of Pfizer’s petition for full approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the United States.  The FDA has signaled it could conclude its review in the next few weeks and in any event by October.  Some believe full approval may help get more Americans vaccinated or provide more legal coverage for private-sector vaccine mandates.

Biden Administration Labor Leadership Updates.  On August 4, President Biden announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA):

  • Susan Tsui Grundmann to serve as a Member of the FLRA; and
  • Kurt Rumsfeld to serve as General Counsel of the FLRA.

On August 3, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted 11 to 11 on the nomination of Mr. David Weil to serve as the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division at the Department of Labor.  Senate HELP Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) said of his vote against Mr. Weil’s nomination

As we continue to recover from the pandemic, it’s critical that we have leaders at the Department of Labor that will help grow our economy and create more jobs.  David Weil, however, has a track record of opposing growth opportunities for workers and small business owners.  His nomination is a threat not only to the gig economy, but also to the successful franchise model, a solid percentage of which are minority- or women-owned.  I’m concerned Dr. Weil continues to place his academic credentials above the real world experience of these diverse small business owners.”

Federal Paid Leave Event.  On August 5, Senate HELP Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Washington) spoke with small business owners representing over 530 small business owners nationwide that have called on Congress to prioritize the urgent call for a comprehensive federal paid family and medical leave program.  Chairwoman Murray stated:

By passing a national paid family and medical leave program, we can even the playing field for small businesses and ensure they can offer their employees the paid leave everyone deserves. We’ve got an historic opportunity right now to pass paid leave and after years of fighting, I am determined to get this done and to build back an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top.”

Senate HELP Committee Advances Pregnant Workers Bill.  At a Senate HELP Committee business meeting on August 3, the Committee advanced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (S. 1486) to the Senate Floor.  The bill was introduced by Senators Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) and Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) and would prioritize women’s health and economic security by ensuring reasonable workplace accommodations for workers whose ability to perform job functions are limited by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition.

Workplace Diversity Alliance Announced.  On August 4, the Labor Department announced a three-year alliance with the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in the national organization’s workplace equity efforts.  Founded in 1974, the association is the longest-standing national organization of equal opportunity professionals engaged in leading, directing, and managing affirmative action, equal opportunity, diversity, and other human resource programs.

Democratic Leaders Mourn Death of AFL-CIO President.  On August 5, President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) announced the death of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who rose from the coal mines of Pennsylvania to preside over one of the largest U.S. labor organizations.  President Biden said“He wasn’t just a great labor leader. He was a friend.  . . .  I will miss him as will the countless workers whose lives he made better and the labor movement he led with daring vision.”  On the Senate floor, Leader Schumer stated:  “The working people of America have lost a fierce warrior at a time when we needed him most.”  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said in a statement“Richard Trumka dedicated his life to the labor movement and the right to organize.”

Confined Spaces Regional Emphasis Program Announced.  On August 2, the Labor Department announced a regional emphasis program for the States of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana, that will initially include outreach through mailings to employers, professional associations, local safety councils, apprenticeship programs, local hospitals and occupational health clinics, and presentations by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) professionals to industry organizations and stakeholders.  Following the three-month outreach, the program empowers OSHA to schedule and inspect targeted industries in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.

President Focuses on American Electric Vehicles.  On August 5, President Biden announced a set of new actions aimed at advancing American leadership on electric vehicles to outcompete the People’s Republic of China and tackle the climate crisis.  Among other things, this included signing a new Executive Order that sets an ambitious new target to make half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 zero-emissions vehicles, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, or fuel cell electric vehicles.

President Biden called for vehicles and batteries to be made in America, saying:

Whether or not the jobs to build these vehicles and batteries are good-paying union jobs — jobs with benefits, jobs that’s going to sustain continued growth of the middle class.  They have to be.  They have to be made here in America.”  He touted his Build Back Better agenda and the bipartisan infrastructure bill, stating:  “Nearly 90 percent of the jobs created in our infrastructure plan do not require a bachelor’s degree.  And when we invest in our infrastructure, we’re going to buy American products, American materials, and services from American businesses made in America, by American workers.”

Forced Labor Update.  This week, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a Withhold Release Order (WRO) for CPB personnel at U.S. ports of entry to detain tuna and other seafood harvested by the Hangton No. 112, a Fijian flagged and owned fishing vessel.  The WRO was initiated after CBP received information that “reasonably indicated the use of forced labor” in the vessel’s fishing operations.  CBP stated it had identified at least three of the International Labour Organization’s 11 indicators of forced labor during its investigation, namely withholding of wages, debt bondage, and retention of identity documents.  All WROs are publicly available and listed by country here.

Northern Triangle Grant Funding Opportunity.  The Labor Department announced this week it intends to award approximately $8 million for a technical assistance project to improve workplace safety and health conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras (known as the Northern Triangle countries), and to provide workers greater access to social protection.   Further details on the project can be viewed here.  This funding opportunity will finance a project that is part of a $20 million commitment announced last week to promote respect for and compliance with labor rights in the Northern Triangle region.  Collectively, these programs are part of the Biden Administration’s Root Causes of Migration Strategy that was released in July.