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:
- September Jobs Report
- COVID-19 Vaccine Employer Mandate Updates
- Other General COVID-19 Updates
- Reconciliation Package Updates
- USTR Touts Focus on Labor Provisions
The U.S. Senate was in session this week, while the U.S. House of Representatives was in recess. While both chambers of Congress are scheduled to be in recess next week, in observance of the traditional Columbus Day holiday, the lower chamber is expected to return for a vote on the short-term debt ceiling extension bill the Senate approved on Thursday.
September Jobs Report. On Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor released the September Jobs report, reflecting a gain of only 194,000 jobs during a month when the Delta surge peaked – far less than the 500,000 new jobs that economists expected. The unemployment rate declined to 4.8 percent, from 5.2 percent in August. Notably, the September report was the first jobs report since the $300 per week in supplemental unemployment benefits expired on September 5. With Delta infections subsiding, some expect the October report could reflect improved job growth. The employer mandate imposing vaccine requirements for employees may also have an impact on job growth going forward.
In addressing the jobs report, U.S. President Joe Biden focused on advocating for the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package and his Build Back Better spending bill. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel pushed back, saying President Biden’s proposal would contribute to “reckless spending” that consequently would harm U.S. economic recovery. She added:
Americans cannot afford Biden’s disastrous Build Back Broke agenda.”
COVID-19 Vaccine Employer Mandate Updates. On Thursday, President Biden spoke of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) emergency temporary standard (ETS) being drafted to mandate employers with more than 100 employees to require their employees be vaccinated or face weekly COVID-19 testing. He indicated OSHA would “shortly issue” the ETS. He also called on more employers to mandate the vaccine, arguing the “unvaccinated also put our economy at risk because people are reluctant to go out.” The White House released a 27-page report that day, arguing that vaccination requirements are saving lives and strengthening the economy.
Late last Friday, the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Council, which has jurisdiction over government contracts, released guidance for the Federal Government contracting industry that was put together under tight time constraints. In sum, the FAR Council tells contractors to comply with the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force’s guidance, which set December 8 as the deadline for covered contractors to be fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, the General Services Administration (GSA) provided the contracting industry a chance to submit questions last week; it is set to hold an industry engagement event on October 13 to discuss implementation of the September 9 Executive Order mandating contractors require employees be vaccinated.
Other General COVID-19 Updates. With several holidays approaching and data suggesting that America may be on the downside of the Delta COVID-19 surge, U.S. health officials are warning against easing restrictions and urging more Americans to get vaccinated. Late last Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said its vaccine advisers would meet on October 26 to discuss data from Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine trial among children aged five to 11.
Also last Friday, Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics reported their investigational antiviral drug, molnupiravir, can reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 by half. While the antiviral drug has yet to be approved by the FDA, U.S. officials continue to urge Americans to get vaccinated and not await the antiviral option. FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said of the drug over the weekend:
It’s not an alternative to vaccination. We still have to try to get more people vaccinated.”
Reconciliation Package Updates. The House of Representatives failed last week to take up the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package already approved by the Senate. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) called off a planned vote on the measure late last Thursday, announcing on Saturday that her new target for passing the bill is by October 31. Centrist Democrats expressed disappointment that the infrastructure bill continues to be linked to Democrats efforts to advance its larger $3.5 trillion spending package that is focused on “human infrastructure,” or social and climate change priorities. Progressive Democrats, however, continue to say they will not support the infrastructure bill in the House, unless it moves in tandem with the spending package. Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) continues to hold firm that he will not accept a spending package that exceeds $1.5 trillion, amid reports that President Biden and Democratic congressional leaders are pushing for an upper limit of $1.9 to 2.3 trillion. Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema (Democrat) also remains firm on the need to lower the spending package’s topline, but she has not shared publicly her topline number.
USTR Touts Focus on Labor Provisions. This week, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai chaired the trade session on “Making Trade Work for All” at the 60th Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Ministerial Council Meeting (MCM) in Paris, France. A readout from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) reflected the participants discussed linking trade and labor commitments in free trade agreements, incentivizing Responsible Business Conduct, addressing labor risks in global supply chains, and addressing challenges posed by non-market economies.