U.S. House of Representatives Gets to Work. Hours after the Buzz published on January 6, 2023, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was elected Speaker of the House on the fifteenth round of voting. With that, members were sworn in and the House got to work this week. The House acted quickly this week by passing the Family and Small Business Taxpayer Protection Act (H.R. 23) by a vote of 221–210. The bill now heads to the U.S. Senate, where Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) will undoubtedly place it directly into his paper shredder. With Democrats in charge of both the White House and the Senate, this is likely to be a common occurrence throughout the next two years: the House passes a bill and pats itself on the back for doing so, only to have it die in the Senate.
Rep. Foxx in as Labor and Employment Committee Chair. This week, the Republican Steering Committee designated Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) as chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Foxx previously served as chair of the committee from 2017 to 2019 and served twice as the ranking member. (Because of this service, pursuant to Republican rules that prevent members from serving three consecutive terms as the chair or ranking member of a committee, she needed a waiver to take the gavel again.) Accordingly, Chair Foxx is very familiar with the current labor policy issues and activities at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Moreover, the committee has changed its name from the Committee on Education and Labor to the Committee on Education and the Workforce. Why the change? According to the committee:
The American workforce encompasses, or is built upon, many different components: independent contracting, blue-collar work, and franchise ownership to name a few. Using “labor” in the name of the Committee omits the important contributions of many segments of our economy and inadvertently ignores the dignity of the work of those individuals.
While this semantic back-and-forth is nothing new, it highlights the unique politics at play within the labor and employment policy debates.
EEOC Seeks Comment on Draft Strategic Enforcement Plan. On January 10, 2023, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its draft Strategic Enforcement Plan for Fiscal Years 2023–2027. According to the draft document, “the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan is to focus and coordinate the agency’s work over a multiple fiscal year (FY) period to have a sustained impact in advancing equal employment opportunity.” Subject matter priorities in the draft plan include the following:
- Recruitment and hiring, including “the use of automated systems, including artificial intelligence or machine learning, to target job advertisements, recruit applicants, or make or assist in hiring decisions where such systems intentionally exclude or adversely impact protected groups”
- Pregnancy discrimination, including “enforcing the provisions of the newly enacted Pregnant Workers Fairness Act”
- Current events and issues, which encompasses “[a]ddressing discrimination influenced by or arising as backlash in response to local, national or global events”
- COVID-19, which remains an issue, prompting the EEOC to focus on “[e]mployment discrimination associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and other threats to public health”
- Equal pay enforcement, particularly through the use of directed investigations and commissioner charges
- Arbitration provisions and “overly broad waivers, releases, non-disclosure agreements, or non-disparagement agreements”
Comments on the draft strategic enforcement plan are due by February 9, 2023.
EEOC Noms Hope Second Time Is the Charm. Speaking of the EEOC, President Biden has renominated Kalpana Kotagal to serve on the Commission and Karla Gilbride to be its general counsel. Both Kotagal and Gilbride were nominated in 2022 but failed to advance through the Senate prior to the adjournment of the 117th Congress. If confirmed, Kotagal will give Democrats their first majority on the Commission since 2019, and Gilbride will fill a general counsel seat that has been open since March 2021.
Building in D.C.? It’s a Mystery. This week, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser unveiled the city’s 2023–2027 Economic Development Strategy. As part of the goal to grow the city, the strategy calls for the addition of 7 million square feet of residential units. Of course, this is easier said than done, in large part because Washington, D.C.’s building height restrictions make it challenging to build “up.” These restrictions were set forth by the U.S. Congress in the Height of Buildings Act of 1910. Originally enacted in 1899, the act was amended in 1910 to limit the maximum height of buildings to 130 feet on commercial streets (160 feet for Pennsylvania Avenue between the U.S. Capitol and the White House) and 90 feet on residential streets. (Of course, the act has been amended over the years to provide for specific exemptions.) Contrary to popular opinion, these height limitations were not designed to keep buildings below the level of the U.S. Capitol or Washington Monument. Rather, the rumor is that they were originally based on safety considerations and the inability of firefighting equipment to reach beyond certain heights at the time.