Today’s News & Commentary—July 14, 2019
On Friday, July 12, Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta announced his resignation as Democrats and Republicans alike questioned his handling of a sex crimes case involving financier Jeffrey Epstein when Acosta was a federal prosecutor in Florida. Even before last week, when federal prosecutors in New York charged Epstein with new sex trafficking crimes, Acosta’s tenure in the White House had been rocky. Both business lobbyists and some White House officials, including Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, and Joe Grogan, the director of the Domestic Policy Council, viewed Acosta’s pace of deregulation as too cautious. Acosta’s resignation will take effect on July 19, when his current deputy, Patrick Pizzella, will become acting secretary of labor. Pizzella is seen by associates on Capitol Hill as a harder-charging advocate for industry interests, more inclined than Acosta to rapidly reverse Obama-era policies that favored certain workers and unions.
Also on Friday, Bloomberg reported that the NLRB has overturned precedent without giving prior notice or an opportunity for public input at least 10 times during the Trump administration. The first five of those reversals came in December 2017; in 2019, the NLRB has overturned precedents on its own initiative and without inviting briefing five times so far. Those decisions set more employer-friendly rules for determining the legality of workplace regulations, the appropriateness of smaller bargaining units, whether workers are employees or independent contractors, and whether union organizers can access parts of company property. The latest reversal, in Johnson Controls, decided on July 3, overruled the existing framework for determining a union’s representative status when employees provide their employer with evidence that 50 percent of the bargaining unit no longer wishes to be represented by the union. The NLRB has invited briefing in only four cases since 2017. The Obama board, by contrast, called for public briefing a dozen times between 2014 and 2016 alone. “It’s a norm to allow the public to weigh in for a reason,” said Sharon Block, a former Democratic NLRB member and a senior contributor to this blog. “It’s a really important part of the process. The current board certainly hasn’t provided a good reason for breaking with that norm.”
On Wednesday, July 10, the House passed H.R. 1044, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019, by a vote of 365 to 65. The bill would eliminate current per-country caps for employment-based immigrants, which restrict the number of employment-based green cards that can be awarded to immigrants from any one country to seven percent of the total number issued per fiscal year. Under the proposed bill, employment-based green cards would be issued on a first-come, first-serve basis, regardless of nationality. The bill now moves to the Senate, where senators have reportedly reached an agreement on a version of a companion bill, S. 386, that would impose tighter restrictions on immigrant recruitment and create new reporting requirements for H-1B visa sponsors.
Also on Wednesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed two bills that are expected to shrink the pay gap between men and women in the state. New York had previously barred pay differences based on gender, but the new bills provide further protections. One will prohibit employers from asking prospective employees about their salary history, thereby depriving employers of a means of justifying lower pay for previously under-paid female workers. The other will expand existing law to require equal pay for “substantially similar work” performed by people of different classes, including gender, race, age, or sexual orientation. Women in New York are currently paid 88 cents for every dollar earned by men.