A shameful attack on American democracy dominated the headlines yesterday, as hundreds of right-wing protesters-turned-rioters, incited by President Trump, stormed the U.S. Capitol Building in an effort to prevent lawmakers from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. The attack, which left four dead, delayed the certification vote by several hours. Legislators reassembled shortly thereafter, however, and certified the election late Wednesday night. Leaders of both parties have condemned the President and rioters’ attempted coup d’etat, as have union leaders across the board. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the attack “one of the greatest assaults on our democracy since the Civil War.”
Wednesday’s chaos overshadowed some major news out of Georgia, as well, as the Associated Press officially declared Jon Ossoff the winner of Tuesday’s U.S. Senate runoff against incumbent David Perdue (R-GA). With Democrat Raphael Warnock already projected to win his own runoff election against Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, Georgia is now poised to deliver Democrats control of an evenly divided Senate, with Vice Kamala Harris serving as tie-breaker. Unified Democratic control of Washington is likely to have major implications for the labor movement as it looks to push an ambitious workers’ rights agenda in the coming years.
Perhaps the most immediate effect of the Georgia runoffs will be to undercut several last-minute, anti-worker regulations by the Trump administration. Just yesterday, the Labor Department published a final rule making it easier for employers to reclassify their workers as independent contractors. The new rule bases independent contractor status on a five-part test composed of two core factors ((1) the worker’s control over his or her work; and (2) his or her opportunity for profit based on individual initiative) and three instructive “guideposts” ((3) the amount of skill required for the job; (4) the permanence of the work relationship; and (5) whether the work is part of an integrated unit of production). The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates that the rule would cost workers around $3.7 billion annually. Meanwhile, Trump’s Department of Agriculture is scrambling before Biden’s inauguration to finalize a rule that would permanently speed up poultry plant lines, a move decried by poultry worker advocates. While most final rules take years to roll back, the Congressional Review Act (CRA) allows Congress and the President to repeal regulations issued in the past 60 legislative days with a simple majority vote in both chambers. With Democrats now set to claim control of both political branches in Washington, these midnight rulemakings may find themselves on the chopping block.
While the outlook of other pro-worker legislation remains unsettled, Democratic control of the Senate also dims conservatives’ hopes of further weakening workplace safety protections. After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) failed to secure a liability shield for businesses against COVID-related lawsuits last month, conservative groups like the Business Roundtable began preparing to pressure the incoming Congress to revisit the issue in 2021. With Democrats in full control of Washington, however, the prospects for such legislation appears far dimmer. As Bloomberg Law and other news sources have pointed out, as well, arbitration clauses, state workers’ compensation laws, and a high standard for gross negligence claims in most states have prevented a long-feared wave of COVID-liability litigation from ever materializing, reducing the impetus for legislation.