Railroads Back on Track. After months of negotiating—and a very tense last few days—the national freight railroads have reached tentative agreements with the labor unions representing their employees. The agreements avert a national rail strike that threatened to cripple an already-tenuous supply chain system and cost the U.S. economy $2 billion a day. The tentative agreements include wage increases and new language relating to time off. The deal also includes an extended “cooling-off period”—during which strikes and work stoppages are prohibited—in order to give union membership time to vote on the agreements. While ratification is, of course, not guaranteed, and the situation can still go off the rails, there is now at least some light at the end of the tunnel.
Labor Nominees on the Move. On September 13, 2022, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on the nominations of Karla Gilbride to be general counsel of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Jessica Looman to be administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (WHD). Both of these positions have been without a Senate-confirmed appointee for the entirety of the Biden administration (though former EEOC general counsel Sharon Fast Gustafson survived for a few weeks until her removal from her position by the president in early March 2021). The administration is obviously hoping to have these nominees confirmed during the current U.S. Congress, but with the 50–50 Senate, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the administration’s labor nominees (see David Weil, the administration’s previous WHD nominee, for example). If approved by the committee, Gilbride’s and Looman’s nominations will head to the Senate floor for confirmation votes.
PRO Act Push. With the end of the 117th Congress looming, labor unions and their allies in Congress are making a last-minute push to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2021 before it potentially becomes a legislative nonstarter in a Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives in 2023. As part of this push, the House Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing this week entitled, “In Solidarity: Removing Barriers to Organizing.” The committee chair, Bobby Scott (D-VA), and former National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) chair Mark Pearce (appearing as a witness for the Democrats), took the opportunity to advocate for passage of the PRO Act, even though it has already passed the House. The bill remains stalled in the U.S. Senate with forty-seven cosponsors.
DOL Seeks Labor Relations Info From Fed Contractors. On September 13, 2022, the DOL’s Office of Labor-Management Standards published proposed changes to the Form LM-10 Employer Report. Employers are required to complete and submit Form LM-10 expenditures and activities relating to “any agreement or arrangement with a third-party consultant to persuade employees as to their collective bargaining rights or to obtain certain information concerning the activities of employees or a labor organization in connection with a labor dispute involving the employer.” According to the proposal, the change “would require filers to provide an additional item of identifying information—whether the employer is a Federal contractor or subcontractor—and, if so, a short entry indicating the Federal contracting agency(ies) and the contractor’s Unique Entity Identifier (UEI), if the contractor has one.” According to the proposal, the change is necessary, in part, to help ensure that contractors are not being reimbursed for unallowable costs under Executive Order 13494, “Economy in Government Contracting.” Comments are due by October 13, 2022.
OFCCP Extends FOIA Deadline. Speaking of federal contractors, check out Emily M. Halliday’s post on the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program’s extension of time for contractors to object to the release of EEO-1 data to a reporter. The new deadline is October 19, 2022.
Bipartisan Retirement Bill Introduced in Senate. Increasing opportunities for individuals to save for retirement is one of those rare issues in Congress that has bipartisan appeal. Late last week, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced the Enhancing American Retirement Now (EARN) Act (S. 4808). According to a press release, “The EARN Act encourages small businesses to adopt retirement plans, makes it easier for part-time workers to participate in retirement plans, expands the saver’s credit for low and middle-income workers, and allows penalty-free withdrawals during emergencies and family hardships, like natural disasters, domestic abuse, and terminal illness.” The EARN Act joins the Retirement Improvement and Savings Enhancement to Supplement Healthy Investments for the Nest Egg (RISE & SHINE) Act of 2022 (S. 4353) as part of the Senate’s efforts to build on 2019’s Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. In March 2022, the House passed the Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2022 (H.R. 2954). Proponents of these measures are undoubtedly exploring ways to come up with one comprehensive bill that can be passed before the end of the year.
Hats Off to Congress. Last week, in conjunction with Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, the Buzz discussed the ban on the wearing of hats on the floor of the House of Representatives. Well, that ban was originally passed 185 years ago this week. Wearing hats—or going “covered”—was certainly customary in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in the House it took on special meaning, where members wore hats to continue a tradition from the House of Commons, where the practice represented a symbolic distancing from the Crown. But beginning in the 1820s, some representatives—including future president James K. Polk—began pushing for a hat ban in an effort to . . . er . . . tidy things up in the House, where “Members still spat copious amounts of chewing tobacco, smoked cigars, carried weapons, swilled liquor procured from no fewer than 12 vendors in the Capitol, and unfurled newspapers at their desks which they used to prop up their feet during debate.” The ban finally passed in 1837 when one of its proponents, Charles Mercer from Virginia, became chair of the rule committee and was able to sneak the prohibition into a large batch of rules that were approved. The complete prohibition lasted for 181 years until 2018, when the House adopted a rule stating that members “may not wear nonreligious headdress or a hat” on the floor—an accommodation that was implemented, at least in part, due to the election of Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who is Muslim and wears a head covering.