After a patriotic, relaxing, and at times, moving mid-summer Holiday, many of us in the United States got back to work this week. The Way asks, “Is it too early to start thinking about Labor Day?” We take a look at a host of labor-related activities making waves this week.
A LABOR HAUL
The Labor Department announced that the U.S. economy added 224,000 jobs in June, despite previous concerns that employment and growth projections were weakening. Professional and business services led with 51,000 new jobs. The DOL’s report indicated that employment in the “for-hire” trucking industry totaled 1.519 million in June — a gain of 36,800 jobs over the same time frame last year. The transportation and warehousing sector added 23,900 jobs, with freight-producing sectors like manufacturing and construction adding 17,000 and 21,000 jobs, respectively.
HALLS OF CONGRESS
This week, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzed several graduated wage increase bills and concluded that raising the U.S. minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025 would boost wages for 17 million workers, but would cause 1.3 million people to lose their jobs. Representative Bobby Scott’s (D-Va) bill to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024 is scheduled for a vote in the House next week. The measure is expected to pass, but critics of the bill expect it will face opposition in the Senate and the White House.
The National Labor Relations Board made it easier for employers to oust a union if a majority of workers no longer support that union. The NLRB ruled that an employer that makes an “anticipatory withdrawal of a union” will not be exposed to an unfair labor practice charge if the union lacked majority support when the contract ended. In a second, similar ruling, the NLRB afforded employers greater control over public areas (e.g., cafeterias or restaurants) located on their private property. After 38 years of precedent, employers can now generally prohibit non-employee union representatives from engaging in organizational activity in their public spaces.
And finally this week, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced a stakeholder meeting for its Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH). The session will take place on July 17 and July 18 in Washington, D.C. The agenda includes updates from OSHA directors and interactive discussions on proposals related to “confined space” welding. The meetings will also clarify the requirements for the fitness of personal protective equipment in the construction industry. The meetings are open to the public and we’ll report back on the outcomes of these working sessions.
The U.S. Labor Department is seeking to expand apprenticeships in the United States. The DOL issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to develop industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs). In a second move, the department announced $200 million in awards to 23 academic institutions engaged in public / private matching partnerships with corporations looking to expand apprenticeships and close the skills gaps. The award programs focus on advanced manufacturing, health care, and information technology.
However, the DOL has excluded construction apprenticeships in this matching program. The construction industry is the single largest source of apprenticeships in the country. The Labor Department indicated that the construction industry should not be eligible to form its own IRAPs, but would continue to use the existing federal oversight program known as the Registered Apprenticeship system. The DOL is accepting public comment on the rule through August 26, 2019.
Making Our Way Around the Country
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D-NJ) signed into law a measure that creates a rebuttable presumption for first responders suffering from diseases that have been known to be caused by chemicals, pathogens, and other hazardous materials. In a move supportive of 9/11 first responders, the new Garden State law addresses, “risks of exposure to carcinogens, communicable diseases, radiation and related hazards to health, already especially high for fire, police, emergency, medical and other public safety workers, and is further increased by the duties of such workers in response to catastrophic emergencies, epidemics, and terrorist attacks.” The measure is effective immediately.
The Supreme Court of Colorado ruled that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on the government’s imposition of “excessive fines” applies to fines levied on corporations by the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC). The case at bar involved fines levied against an employer for failing to secure workers’ compensation coverage. The justices focused on the proportionality of each daily fine, and not the aggregate fine. The court sought to avoid a rule that would “incentivize employers to forego workers’ compensation coverage for as long as possible,” only to argue that total fine was excessive.
The Wisconsin Compensation Rating Bureau proposed a reduction in workers' compensation insurance rates by more than 8.8%, citing a three year drop in premiums. If approved by the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, the rates would be effective by October 1, 2019. Staying in Madison, Governor Tony Evers (D-WI) signed the state budget into law, while using 78 partial vetoes, to allocate $80 million in state funds for a 2 percent annual general wage adjustment for most state employees, and nearly $36 million for hourly wage correctional officers and youth counselor positions, effective January 1, 2020.
THOSE WERE NO FIREWORKS
Back to our lead story this week, U.S. Geological Survey recorded two powerful earthquakes in Southern California over Independence Day, measuring 7.1 and 6.4 on the Richter scale. Friday’s quake in the Mojave Desert could be felt in Las Vegas. True story. California Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) estimated the quakes caused more than $100 million in damage. He declared a state of emergency and called the seismic events a “wake up call.” Officials at the California Department of Insurance and the California Earthquake Authority are raising awareness of the need for specific earthquake insurance up and down the California’s fault lines, as some estimates suggest less than 10% of Californians are covered for earthquake losses. Stay steady, California.