Minimum Wage Increase Booted From Stimulus Package. Even before members of the U.S. House of Representatives could vote on their $1.9 trillion stimulus package, the parliamentarian of the U.S. Senate had ruled that the provision in the package that increased the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour could not be included in any legislation that would pass the Senate. Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough found that the provision violated the rules of the budget reconciliation process, which Democrats have been using to advance the stimulus package, as the process bypasses the legislative filibuster and requires a spending bill receive only 51 votes for passage in the Senate. For political reasons, the House is expected to keep the minimum wage provision in its version of the package anyway. Don’t expect Democrats to give up on increasing the minimum wage, however, as they will undoubtedly explore future legislative opportunities to address the issue. As for the stimulus package, it is expected to pass the House later today and then head to the Senate.
Equality Act Passes House. On February 25, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act (H.R. 5) by a vote of 224 to 206, which included 3 Republican lawmakers who voted for the bill. Nonnie Shivers has all the details on the historic legislation that would codify sweeping protections for LGBTQ individuals. The next stop for the bill is, of course, the U.S. Senate, where its proponents will have to convince at least 10 Republicans to support the legislation—a tall order. However, because this bill is such a priority for congressional Democrats, it could present an interesting test case for how long they are willing to stick with the legislative filibuster.
Joint Employer. Again. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of the joint-employer policy debate. In this week’s episode, on February 23, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division sent the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs a proposed rule titled “Joint Employer Status Under the Fair Labor Standards Act.” At this point, we don’t know whether the proposal will simply rescind the previous administration’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) joint-employer rule (which is currently tied up in litigation) or amend the current rule. When the proposal will be made available to the public for comment is similarly unknown. However, what we do know is that the Biden administration likely favors an interpretation of the FLSA joint-employer regulation that expands the universe of entities that can be considered employers of certain employees and therefore liable for wage and hour violations.
House Set to Vote on PRO Act. This week, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (whose first name is a spin on his Danish father’s first name, Steen, in case you were wondering) announced that the House of Representatives would vote on the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act sometime during the week of March 8, 2021. The PRO Act, a broad package of proposed pro-union changes to U.S. labor law, has 209 cosponsors, including 3 Republicans. The bill is expected to pass the House and face an uphill battle for passage in the Senate, as long as the legislative filibuster holds. The Buzz will be following this one closely.
President Biden Rescinds Visa Ban. On February 24, 2021, President Joe Biden revoked Proclamation 10014, issued in April 2020, which banned individuals from seeking entry to the United States on immigrant visas. The ban had been set to expire on March 31, 2021. In revoking the ban, President Biden reasoned that suspending the entry of immigrants into the United States “harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world.” President Biden’s action does not affect an additional entry ban, issued in June 2020, which applies to H-1B, H-2B, J-1, and L-1 visa holders.
DOL Expands UI Eligibility. On February 25, 2021, the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration issued new guidance that expands the circumstances in which workers may be eligible to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)—the CARES Act unemployment insurance (UI) program for workers who are not traditionally eligible for unemployment insurance (such as independent contractors). Pursuant to the guidance, which is retroactive to the beginning of the PUA program (with some limitations), PUA eligibility has been expanded to include three additional COVID-19–related situations and categories of workers: (1) individuals who refuse to return to work that is unsafe or to accept an offer of new work that is unsafe; (2) certain individuals providing services to educational institutions or educational service agencies; and (3) individuals experiencing reductions of work hours or temporary or permanent layoffs as a direct result of the pandemic.
“Carefully Guarding and Preserving the Union of the Whole.” On February 22, 2021, on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered President George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address. The Buzz has discussed this neat Senate tradition in the past. Every year since 1896, in observance of Washington’s birthday, a senator reads Washington’s address—one of the most important texts in U.S. history—in which the first president of the United States declined to seek a third term of office and urged national unity. The Farewell Address (which is actually a letter) is 7,641 words and usually takes about 45 minutes to read aloud. (Senator Portman’s recitation lasted just over 42 minutes.) In 1985, Senator Paula Hawkins (R-FL) set the record for shortest delivery time: 39 minutes. On the other side of the spectrum, Jennings Randolph (D-WV), a former university professor of public speaking, took 68 minutes to deliver the speech in 1962.