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Advocacy & Policy Update - January 11, 2021



Labor Secretary Nomination

On Friday, January 8, President-elect Joe Biden formally announced Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as his nominee for Department of Labor Secretary. Labor groups have shown their support for Walsh’s nomination hailing his support for the right to organize and his pro-worker agenda. Walsh was a former Boston Building and Construction Trade Council leader. If confirmed, Walsh will be faced with the challenges of leading an agency tasked with supporting a weak labor market, overseeing new emergency federal unemployment insurance programs, assisting state unemployment agencies, and be responsible for new requirements for employers to protect their workers from the coronavirus.

Regarding his agenda following the nomination Walsh said, “We can defend workers' rights, we can strengthen collective bargaining, we can grow union membership, we can create millions of good-paying jobs with investments in infrastructure, clean energy and in high-tech manufacturing — along with the workforce training to help get those people into those good jobs."

HELP Committee

After last week’s Democratic victories in two U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia, Senator Patty Murray (WA) is set to become chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Murray, a former preschool teacher, has served as the ranking Democrat on the committee since 2015 and will replace Senator Lamar Alexander (TN) who retired at the end of the last Congress.

H-1B Visas

On Thursday, January 7, the Department of Homeland Security released a final rule that would get rid of the random lottery selection process for H-1B visas and instead give priority in visa slots to employers who are offering the highest-paid positions. The rule will not go into effect until March 9, meaning the Biden Administration could delay or abandon its implementation. Biden has said he wants to work with Congress on temporary visa reform and that he supports expanding the number of high-skilled visas after certain reforms.

Gig Worker Classification Rule

On Wednesday, January 6, the Department of Labor (DOL) released a final rule that would make it easier for businesses to classify workers as ‘independent contractors’ who are not protected under federal minimum wage and overtime law. It would create an ‘economic realities’ test to determine whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) - which requires that employees be paid at least the federal $7.25 hourly minimum wage and receive time and a half pay for working more than 40 hours in a week, among other protections. Independent contractors, frequently used by app-based companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash, aren't covered under the FLSA.

The Trump administration's new test analyzes how much control workers have over their job duties and their opportunities for profit or loss, a rule change that the DOL says will likely result in more employers classifying their workers as independent contractors.If a worker's status is still unclear after reviewing those factors, employers must then consider the skill required for the job, "the degree of permanence of the working relationship" and whether the work is "part of an integrated unit of production." The new test allows businesses to more broadly classify their workers as independent contractors under the FLSA compared with under the Obama administration, which took the position that most workers should be considered employees under federal wage laws.

The rule change is supported by business groups, who face lower costs and have less legal liability when their workers are classified as independent contractors. But Democrats and President-elect Joe Biden oppose expanding independent contractor status and contend that the rule change would open the door for more workers to be inappropriately classified as contractors and stripped of their rights under federal labor law. The rule is scheduled to take effect in early March, meaning the incoming Biden administration could easily delay its implementation or scrap it altogether.

Click here to read the press release on the rule.

Unemployment Rate

On Friday, January 8, the Department of Labor (DOL) Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the jobs report for the month of December, which indicated that the U.S. economy lost 140,000 jobs last month - below expectations of 50,000 from economists and the first monthly drop since April. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7% compared to a 6.8% estimate. President Trump will leave office with fewer Americans employed than when he entered the White House. Restaurants and bars were among the hardest hit, as coronavirus infections rise and cold weather makes it harder to operate.

Click here to read the full report.

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