Today’s News & Commentary — August 2, 2018

Published August 2nd, 2018 -  - 08.02.181


The NLRB General Counsel has begun to implement parts of a 59-point plan announced in January to reorganize agency operations.  In a memo to regional board directors sent on Monday, Associate to the General Counsel Beth Tursell detailed the immediate formation of a group of dedicated decision-writers for representation cases, as well as a relaxed process by which regional directors can seek the legal advice of the General Counsel.  While characterized as efforts to improve efficiency, both actions signal a greater move toward centralization that may weaken the power of the regional directors, who are viewed by some employers and management-side attorneys as labor-friendly. Tursell’s memo indicated the General Counsel would be working to implement other parts of the plan in the near future.

Yesterday the NLRB invited public comment on whether the Board should overturn or modify the 2014 Purple Communications decision, which gave workers the right to use an employer’s email system for union organizing.  While many have been expecting the Board’s Republican majority to overturn or amend the Obama-era precedent on email use, the decision to solicit public input is a break from the majority’s previous approach to Obama Board rulings.  The Republican majority faced heavy criticism from the Board’s two Democrats and the labor community last year when it issued 3-2 decisions overturning previous Board precedent without seeking public comment.

Bloomberg reports that tensions between White House labor adviser James Sherk and Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta have decelerated the implementation of President Trump’s pro-management workplace agenda.  Sherk is a hard-line pro-business voice and a former researcher at the conservative Heritage Foundation.  He has promoted right-to-work laws and the abolition of the minimum wage.  Many business interests expected Sherk would help push through an aggressive anti-worker and anti-union agenda at the Department of Labor from his post on the Domestic Policy Council, but Acosta has steered the agency in a conservative but cautious direction.  Acosta is a former prosecutor, NLRB member, and law school dean with respect for government who some have speculated is seeking a federal judgeship. Sherk and Acosta sparred most publicly over a personnel decision, when Sherk opposed Acosta’s choice of a former NLRB colleague to head the Office of Labor-Management Standards.

In a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor yesterday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka did not rule out endorsing President Trump for re-election in 2020, noting that the administration was generally “going in the right direction on trade.”  Trumka focused his remarks at the breakfast on the labor federation’s plans for the midterms, which center on winning back blue-collar voters to the Democratic Party through a member-to-member outreach strategy.  He cited Conor Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district as an example of how Democrats could win in rural and suburban areas while talking about bread-and-butter progressive issues.

Yesterday the U.S. Senate passed a bill backing a 1.9 average pay raise for federal employees, rejecting President Trump’s call for a pay freeze.  The House earlier passed a bill that was silent on a pay increase. Under the law governing federal employee compensation, the President’s recommendation for federal employee pay will prevail if Congress makes no mention of a pay raise in the final bill.

On Tuesday the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission publicized the formation of a new Office of Inclusion dedicated to addressing race-based refusal by taxi and for-hire vehicle drivers.  The announcement came after civil rights groups like the N.A.A.C.P., the National Action Network, and the National Urban League came out against the City Council’s plan to institute a one-year freeze on new licenses for for-hire vehicles (with an exception for accessible vehicles), citing discrimination by yellow cab drivers in servicing people of color.  At a press conference outside of City Hall, New York Taxi Workers Alliance President Bhairavi Desai and 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa denounced efforts by Uber and Lyft to divide immigrants and communities of color in pursuit of their corporate agenda.

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