News & Commentary

May 10, 2021

Mackenzie Bouverat

Mackenzie Bouverat is a student at Harvard Law School.

Nikita yesterday joined a flurry of voices commenting on the “labor shortage” reported by American businesses — especially the restaurant industry. In support of the Chamber of Commerce’s call for a repeal of supplemental unemployment benefits, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio echoed Mitch McConnell‘s assertion that businesses cannot fill vacancies because “the government is paying [workers] to not go back to work.” Montana has already taken up the mantle, and announced the cancellation of federal government-funded supplemental benefits, citing the incentive effects of the benefit as his rationale; likewise, the Maine Department of Labor is re-instituting pre-pandemic “work search” requirements for unemployment applicants. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the original author of the pandemic unemployment bonus last year, responds that other factors are at play—namely, ongoing concerns about contracting coronavirus and the unavailability of childcare. As Wall Street Journal’s Heather Long points out, the number of women employed or looking for work fell by 64,000 in the last jobs report; this, according to Long, evidences the fact that so-called worker shortages are related to the inaccessibility of childcare. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh agrees: in an interview with All Things Considered, said that getting women back into the workforce was a key component of full economic recovery, and that childcare was a necessary prerequisite.

The Biden administration intends to name Thea Lee, to head the Labor Department’s international affairs division. Lee, a former AFL-CIO trade official, will oversee the bureau which investigates international labor rights, child trafficking, and forced labor. She will also set policy on imports from China which are suspected to have been produced using forced labor. The role also involves the enforcement of the labor rights provisions of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which was negotiated during Trump’s presidency as a replacement for NAFTA.

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