Today’s News & Commentary — April 6, 2017

The Department of Labor has once again delayed the implementation of the Obama Administration’s “Fiduciary Rule,” previously slated to take effect on April 10. According to Forbes, the DOL has responded to President Trump’s February 3 executive order to review the rule by postponing the rule’s implementation until June 9. The comment period on issues raised by President Trump remains open until April 17.

Law360 reports that U.S. District Judge Cathy Seibel denied conditional certification to a nationwide class of Papa John’s International Inc. delivery drivers in Durling, et al. v. Papa John’s International, Inc., Case No. 7:16-CV-03592 (CS) (JCM) (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 29, 2017). The drivers alleged that the company failed to sufficiently reimburse them for the cost of their vehicle expenses. The court reasoned that the absence of any evidence of common policy that violates the FLSA is enough for employers to defend their pay practices, noting that evidence of underpaid workers at few dozen corporate stores and two franchisees is insufficient to certify a class comprised of more than 3,300 restaurants.

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCC”) released its 2017 Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) Benchmark of 6.7%. Federal contractors use this figure to evaluate their veteran hiring efforts. This year’s benchmark is slightly lower than 2016’s Benchmark of 6.9%.

As noted on the blog, five women have received settlements totaling $13 million following accusations of sexual harassment by Bill O’Reilly. The revelation sparked an online conversation under the hashtag #droporeilly under which an outpouring of women have described years of workplace mistreatment. The New York Times shares some of these narratives.

Guest Post: A Letter from Sharon Block

Sharon Block is the Executive Director of Harvard University’s Labor and Worklife Program.  She formerly served in the Obama Administration as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Labor and Senior Counselor to the Secretary of Labor. 

Dear Friends:

Two months ago, I walked out of the Frances Perkins Building in Washington and helped turn off the lights on the Obama Administration’s Department of Labor.  As the head of the Department’s policy office and Senior Counselor to Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, I left proud of what we had accomplished to expand opportunity for American workers. I was also acutely aware that much remained to be done.

My life and the condition of our country has changed a great deal during these past two months.  I am thrilled to be embarking on a new professional journey here at the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and honored to have the opportunity to work with Professors Richard Freeman and Ben Sachs, the program’s faculty directors.  I am humbled by the responsibility of taking over the program that my remarkable predecessor, Elaine Bernard, so successfully built over the past 30 years and by the magnitude of the challenges facing American workers today.

I come to the Labor and Worklife Program committed to continuing its core mission:  to take advantage of the unique Harvard University community to bring rigorous, creative and serious problem-solving efforts to meet today’s challenges and prepare for the opportunities of tomorrow.  A key component of my commitment is to continue the proud tradition of the Harvard Trade Union Program.  I believe that it is more important than ever, as the labor movement faces unprecedented challenges, that a new generation of leaders benefit from the unparalleled training that the HTUP has provided for 75 years.

Today’s News & Commentary — March 22, 2017

According to the New York Times, Portland, Maine will try a new tactic to deal with panhandlers: hire them. After Portland’s previous efforts — which included outlawing begging and bulldozing a strip in the middle of a road that had proved popular with beggars — were struck down by the First Circuit as infringing on people’s First Amendment rights and proved ineffective, respectively, city officials adopted a new tactic.  In April, Portland will hire a few panhandlers a day, pay them the city’s minimum wage of $10.68 an hour, and assign them to clean parks and public spaces. Several other cities have already successfully adopted a similar approach, and Portland is following their lead.  A year and a half ago, for example, Albuquerque instituted a jobs program that pays $9 an hour.  The program has created 1,750 jobs and led to the removal of over 60 tons of litter.  The jobs program in Portland will function similarly to the one in Albuquerque.

Alexander Acosta appears before the Senate HELP Committee today.  Politico weighs in on the issues expected to arise: politicized hiring at the DOJ, voting rights, Acosta’s role in Jeffrey Epstein’s plea deal, and DOL regulations governing retirement advice and overtime eligibility.

CNBC and Business Insider report that Goldman Sachs will move jobs out of London and bulk up its European presence by “hundreds of people” as it executes its Brexit contingency plans.  Richard Gnodde, the CEO of Goldman Sachs International, explained that the plans will “be a combination of things. We’ll hire people inside of Europe itself and there will be some movement.”  Goldman plans to invest in infrastructure, systems, and technology, and the movement away from London will “not necessarily result in a net reduction of workers in the U.K.”

Those Job Crushing Regulations

Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress love to refer to regulations as “job crushing.”  When Trump spoke recently at the Conservative Political Action Conference he not only said that companies can’t hire because of regulations, but he also said that “we’re going to put the regulation industry out of work and out of business.”  Trump has already taken steps to make it much harder for government agencies to do their jobs.  When he came into office, he imposed a hiring freeze, and he issued an executive order decreeing that the cost of all new regulations issued by each department or agency for fiscal year 2017 can’t be greater than zero regardless of the benefits to be gained from the regulations.  Now, Trump has proposed a budget that would dramatically slash the budgets of most federal agencies.  Government “regulators” do a great deal of important work to help sand some of the harshest edges off of our capitalist economy.  I’ll leave it to others to talk about the importance of environmental and food safety regulations, but workers desperately need a vigilant Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to protect them from injuries and chemical exposure on the job.  To take just one example, in the last days of the Obama Administration, OSHA issued citations to a manufacturing company after two workers suffered severe hand injuries within ten days due to the company’s failure to install proper safety guards on its machines. While the consequences of inadequate wage and hour regulation are less dramatic, a recent Tenth Circuit case illustrates why there is such a pressing need for the government to monitor workplaces.

Continue reading

Today’s News & Commentary — March 20, 2017

While President Trump has launched a campaign against undocumented immigrants, his administration has not spoken out about the employers who hire them, notes the New York Times in an editorial today. Faulty enforcement and high evidentiary hurdles make holding employers accountable difficult. The Times faults the administration’s one-sided focus on demonizing immigrants while not providing a path to citizenship and putting money into (controversial) solutions to verify employment eligibility, like E-Verify.

Trump’s push to bring back coal jobs (“a delusion,” according to the New York Times in a separate editorial) is prompting Republican legislatures in coal country to reenact looser mine safety laws. Some lawmakers claim that the “federal government can do the inspections just as well as the states”—a seemingly out-of-character stance, until one looks at the current federal government, which has no interest in regulating coal companies and plans to cut the Department of Labor budget by 21%. Other legislatures are passing laws that cut down on annual safety checks (in exchange for a “‘safety analysis’ based on conversations with miners”) and proposing bills that lower standards.

A former law student of Neil Gorsuch claims that the Supreme Court nominee implied that women manipulate companies during interviews to gain maternity benefits, according to NPR. The former student wrote a letter detailing her class experience to Senate Judiciary Committee leaders, which was posted by the National Employment Lawyers Association and the National Women’s Law Center last night.

Labor secretary nominee Alex Acosta will be heard before the Senate HELP Committee this Wednesday, reports The Hill. Acosta, whose hearing was delayed once already, hasn’t faced the same level of criticism as former nominee Andy Puzder. Many are eager to learn more about the Labor tap, who has managed to avoid the spotlight and is a “blank page on policy,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Today’s News & Commentary — March 13, 2017

The confirmation hearing for President Trump’s Labor nominee, Alexander Acosta, has been rescheduled due to scheduling conflicts.  The hearing is now set for March 22.  In the meantime, Acosta has been meeting one-on-one with senators to drum up support for his nomination.  Several Democrats have still not made up their mind on Acosta, Bloomberg BNA reports, and will continue to scrutinize his reputation.

That reputation is mixed, according to The New York Times.  Some — including immigration advocates and his colleagues at Florida International University — believe that Acosta is “a fair leader” who won’t let his conservative values affect his decisions.  But former colleagues claim that during his time at the Justice Department, Acosta sometimes acted out of political expedience, hiring candidates based on political connections instead of merit.

Can an employee be punished for refusing to participate in genetic testing?  Maybe, if a new bill — H.R. 1313, the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act — becomes law.  The bill, which secured House committee approval last week, would allow employers to collect genetic information on employees who participate in workplace wellness programs (read our previous coverage of corporate wellness programs here).  The Washington Post has more.

Continue reading

The Current State of Overtime

The New Rule

In May 2016, the Department of Labor, under the direction of President Obama, issued a final rule updating the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The Department raised the minimum annual salary for employees exempt from overtime pay from $23,660 to $47,476.  The Department set December 1, 2016 as the effective date for the new rule, implementation of which would have affected over 4 million employees.

Underlying the new overtime rule is the desire to protect workers from being over-worked and under-paid.  As the United Food and Commercial Workers union stated in 2015, the previous threshold of $23,660 is below the poverty line, and reflects only one salary threshold increase since 1975.  As long as employers could classify their workers as “managers,” they could avoid paying them overtime.  The new rule would have required employers to either raise the salaries of low-level managers to meet the $47,476 threshold, or reclassify them as hourly employees entitled to overtime pay.  It was intended to encourage employers to spread employment, and hire multiple workers to perform a job rather than forcing a single worker to work 70 hours a week.  Critics argue the rule would hurt small businesses and reduce jobs.

As many employers were making changes to come into compliance with the new rule by the approaching December 1 deadline, a federal judge in Texas ordered a preliminary injunction barring nationwide enforcement of the rule.  A number of private business groups and 21 states had challenged the rule as an overreach of executive power.  The district judge agreed, claiming Congress, not the Department of Labor, should be responsible for making changes to the minimum salary requirement.

Continue reading