Today, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh testifies before the Senate Health Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on his nomination to become the next Secretary of Labor. Despite his reputation as a card-carrying union member, Walsh also has developed close ties with business interests during his time as mayor, easing his path to confirmation in a closely divided Senate. Not so for other Labor Department nominees; yesterday it was reported that President Biden plans to tap Julie Su, head of California’s Labor & Workforce Development Agency, to become Assistant Secretary of Labor under Walsh. Su, a Harvard Law School graduate who worked for legal aid before serving in state government, enjoys a much chillier relationship with business groups. Meanwhile, one temporary appointee at the Department of Labor (DoL), former Washington state Employment Security Department Director Suzi LeVine, has come under scrutiny for her mixed record running the Evergreen State’s unemployment insurance program, which was rocked by fraud scandals last year. Three congressional Republicans—Dan Newhouse (WA), Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA), and Cathy McMorris Rogers (OR)—have penned a letter to Biden expressing concern with the possibility that she might be appointed to the post permanently.
As Mackenzie reported earlier this week, Democrats in D.C. are moving full-speed-ahead to pass a $1.7 trillion coronavirus relief bill early this spring. Biden hunkered down with aides in the White House on Wednesday to mount his legislative push, and aides have signaled that he remains committed to raising the minimum wage and securing $1,400 stimulus checks (although he appears open to limiting eligibility for the latter). On the other end of the Capitol, meanwhile, the House voted 218-112 on a budget resolution, triggering a complex legislative process known as reconciliation, which allows Congress to sidestep the Senate filibuster and pass tax and spending bills with simple majorities. Reconciliation’s substantive scope is limited however, however, and it remains unclear whether Democrats’ push for a $15 per hour minimum wage can pass through a reconciliation bill. While Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders remains bullish on the measure, opposition from moderate Democrats poses yet another hurdle.
Despite skepticism in Washington over raising the minimum wage, economists increasingly agree that raising the minimum wage under current conditions is worthwhile. While some holdouts, such as conservative economist David Neumark, continue to point to the threat of killing jobs, research by Arindrajit Dube, arguably the world’s leading expert on the subject, suggests that the risk of employment loss is not particularly high. In addition, a recently released, comprehensive report of the effects of minimum wage increases on 75% of low-wage workers over the past 40 years show significant benefits and little evidence of job loss.
As Congress’s gears slowly turn, President Biden’s flurry of administrative policymaking continues apace. On Tuesday, President Biden dismissed all 10 Trump-appointed members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP), which helps to resolve labor disputes with federal employees, giving members until 5PM that day to resign or face termination. Citing the lack of Senate confirmation of FSIP members, unions had challenged the legal authority of the panel in court until last month, when they withdrew objections following Biden’s inauguration. Meanwhile, DoL announced last week that it would discontinue the Trump’s Administration’s Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) Program, which promised employers a way to avoid liquidated and punitive damages for wage and hour violations if they voluntarily confessed their sins. Perhaps most consequentially, the Department proposed yesterday to postpone by 60 days the enactment of two midnight rulemakings by the Trump administration regarding employee classification and tip pooling. The landmark employee classification rule would simplify the test for employee status to make it easier for employers to classify workers as independent contractors without the minimum wage, while the tip pooling rule would allow businesses to pay more of their employees a reduced tipped minimum wage.
Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to approve a measure mandating a $5 hourly hazard pay bonus for grocery workers across the city. The ordinance follows in the footsteps of other local governments across the West Coast that have passed similar measures, including Seattle, Montebello, Santa Monica, and Long Beach, and the LA County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote soon on a similar plan for unincorporated areas. The vote represents a major victory for labor groups, particularly the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 770, which earlier this week decried an announcement by Kroger that it would close two stores in Long Beach in response to that city’s hazard pay ordinance.