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HISTORIC FIX TO NEW YORK’S PART-TIME UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM A WIN FOR WORKERS; BOOSTS NEW YORK’S ECONOMIC RECOVERY BY ENCOURAGING RETURN TO WORK

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NEW YORK, June 10, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — This week, New York’s legislature and Governor Cuomo announced a historic deal to fix the state’s worst-in-the-nation unemployment insurance rules for part-time work that were disproportionately hurting low-and-moderate income workers, especially Black and Brown workers, and holding back New York’s economic recovery. Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Al Stirpe championed this long overdue reform.

Unlike in virtually all other states, New York’s unemployment insurance rules arbitrarily and sharply reduce an individual’s benefits when they return to work part-time a few hours a day spread over several days. The poorly designed policy unduly complicates decision-making by employers and workers considering a partial return to work, hurting hundreds of thousands of part-time workers across the state.

The new pair of measures (S7148 and S1042), collectively revamp New York’s partial unemployment system so that it reduces benefits based on earnings the worker receives from part-time employment, rather than the arbitrary days-worked approach. Currently, the system disincentivizes part-time work by taking away almost all unemployment benefits when a person works just a few hours per week spread out over three or four days.

The new law also establishes an earnings disregard equal to one-half of a worker’s weekly UI benefit. It puts New York on a par with its five neighboring states and a total of thirteen states nationally and the District of Columbia, which all provide for comparable or more generous partial unemployment benefits. The reform especially reduces the heavy burden on part-time workers whose hours are spread over three or four days per week.

In addition, the law requires New York State’s Department of Labor to implement an immediate interim fix by allowing workers to work up to 10 hours a week without reduction in part-time unemployment benefits, up from the current 4 hours. The full reforms implemented in the new law are scheduled to take effect by April 2022.

This historic reform is a meaningful step for New York economic recovery and for the 600,000 workers who currently receive part-time unemployment benefits. More than two-thirds of recipients come from low-and moderate-income industries including accommodations, food services, healthcare, social assistance, and retail and more than half are workers in Black and Brown communities.

“Making critical updates to New York State’s antiquated Partial Unemployment Insurance system is a huge win for working families across our state. By changing the way we calculate eligibility we are ensuring New Yorkers who are working part-time or being called back to work at reduced hours can do so knowing that they will be able to provide for their families no matter how many days and hours of work they are offered each week,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos, the bill’s Senate sponsor.

“For far too long, New York’s unemployment insurance benefits wrongfully penalized claimants seeking part-time work,” said Assemblymember Al Stirpe, the bill’s Assembly sponsor. “These arbitrary regulations have made it incredibly difficult for many part-time workers to make ends meet. After the significant challenges of the pandemic, our state should not have a system with a disincentive to part-time work built in. Instead we should have a system that helps our families get back on their feet and encourages economic recovery and growth.”

“Central to New York’s recovery is getting people back to work,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “Expanding and increasing part-time unemployment insurance benefits will encourage New Yorkers to seek out and secure meaningful part-time work, while ensuring their income is supplemented appropriately to help them get back on their feet. This legislation passed by the New York State Senate Majority stands up for working-class New Yorkers whose hours were cut due to the pandemic or who were left unemployed and will help them in returning to the workforce. I thank Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Al Stirpe for championing this critical legislation, which will support New York’s economic recovery.”

“My colleagues and I in the Assembly Majority believe in putting New York families first and we know that unemployment benefits are a lifeline for families, especially during this health and economic crisis,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “Many workers have faced a reduction in their hours or are only able to find part-time work, and this legislation ensures that they can take that work without losing their unemployment benefits. This change is critical as families and businesses work to get back on their feet. I would also like to thank Assemblymember Al Stirpe for commitment to getting this bill across the finish line.”

“Throughout the pandemic, New York’s stingy partial unemployment rule has been denying urgently needed benefits to workers whose hours have been cut — and now that the pandemic is easing it’s punishing workers who return to work part-time. NELP thanks Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe, and the legislative leadership for championing this long overdue common-sense reform, and Governor Cuomo for supporting it,” said Paul Sonn, State Policy Program Director at the National Employment Law Project.

“Our research makes it clear that the reform will benefit both the unemployed, incentivizing them to take on part-time work and moderately increase their total income, and employers and the economy overall, supporting a return to work that helps businesses and allows workers to keep their skills current and mitigating the adverse effects of prolonged periods of high unemployment,” said James Parrott, Director of Economic and Fiscal Policies at the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School.

“With the passage of this legislation, New York State moves from one of the worst to one of the best states for part-time workers supporting the most vulnerable and essential workers in our economy. This new system allows more part-time workers to collect unemployment at a time when they need it the most,” said Nicole Salk, Senior Staff Attorney, Legal Services NYC.

“New York has transformed an outdated and unfair part-time Unemployment Insurance system to the benefit of our clients and all hard-working New Yorkers who will no longer be penalized for obtaining part-time work. We applaud State Senator Ramos and Assemblymember Stirpe for their leadership on this important reform,” said Young Lee, Director of the Employment Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society of NYC.

“With the majority of partially unemployed workers being low and moderate income workers who are disproportionately people of color, this long overdue reform to the unemployment insurance system will help reduce material hardship for people who want to return to work. We are grateful for the leadership demonstrated by Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe, and the Governor in making this vital reform a reality,” said Jason Cone, Chief Public Policy Officer of Robin Hood.

“We are proud to be part of the coalition that fought for and won big improvements for New York’s unemployed workers,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “Many non-essential retail workers were laid off during the pandemic and are returning to what are now part-time jobs. These workers and countless others will now be able to return to work part-time without losing their entire unemployment benefit. As a result of the leadership of Senator Ramos and Assemblymember Stirpe, New York will have a faster economic recovery from the pandemic and tens of thousands of unemployed workers will be able to get back to work and still provide for their families.”

“As a statewide legal services organization, we handle many cases where a worker inadvertently loses all of their benefits simply by working a few extra hours.  The effect of the cliff is devastating and unfair. We applaud Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe and the Governor for implementing this historic reform,” said Kristin Brown, President and CEO of the Empire Justice Center.  

“This historic legislation will benefit thousands of New Yorkers who seek to sustain themselves during this time of economic uncertainty, while also creating a more economically just unemployment system for the future. NCLEJ applauds Senator Ramos and Assemblymember Stirpe for supporting low-wage workers and passing this bill,” said Jarron McAllister, Penn Law Fellow at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.

“As an organizing project centered around the impacts of COVID, we believe that passing this bill will greatly improve New York State’s recovery, including getting people back to work. We thank Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe, and all of the legislative leadership for their work on this bill and for Governor Cuomo for signing it,” said Paul Getsos, Project Director of United Together Stronger Tomorrow.

This blog originally appeared at Nelp on June 10, 2021. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: For 50 years, NELP has sought to ensure that America upholds, for all workers, the promise of opportunity and economic security through work. NELP fights for policies to create good jobs, expand access to work, and strengthen protections and support for low-wage workers and unemployed workers.


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IN 21 STATES ENDING ALL PANDEMIC UI PROGRAMS EARLY, 3 IN 4 WILL LOSE ALL JOBLESS AID

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Nearly 4 Million Workers to Lose Lifeline Unemployment Payments Starting June 12

NATIONWIDE — In the 21 states ending early their participation in all federal pandemic unemployment programs, three quarters of the workers now receiving jobless aid—nearly 2.3 million people—will be left with no state or federal jobless aid at all, according to a new analysis released today by the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

The greatest numbers of workers affected by the pandemic unemployment cutoffs will be in Texas, Ohio, Maryland, Georgia, Indiana, Arizona, Tennessee, Missouri, South Carolina, and Florida. In Texas, a staggering four in five workers (81.9%) currently receiving unemployment payments—totaling 1.2 million workers, 59.3% of whom are workers of color—will lose all unemployment income support.

“The post-pandemic recovery has barely started. Employment remains far below pre-pandemic levels. Millions of people are still out of work and need the income support from unemployment insurance to get by,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “So it’s unconscionable that these 21 Republican governors have unilaterally decided that no one in their state needs any pandemic jobless aid anymore and that it’s OK to pull the plug on these programs early.”

“This severe, abrupt, and ill-advised cutoff of pandemic jobless aid hurts the workers and families who need that income support, harms the small businesses that depend on those workers to spend money as customers, and will set back the economic recovery in those states,” added Dixon.

The first wave of premature cutoffs begins on Saturday, June 12, in four states: Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi, and Missouri. Alaska will be ending only the $300 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) weekly supplemental payments, while the other three states will be terminating all pandemic unemployment programs. Twenty-one more states will follow suit through June and early July, although NELP has argued that the U.S. Department of Labor has legal authority to ensure that all eligible workers continue to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits through September 6.

More than 3.9 million workers in 25 states will lose the weekly $300 FPUC payments. Workers of color will bear the brunt, as nearly half (over 46%) of unemployment insurance (UI) recipients in those states are Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other people of color.

Workers losing out on lifeline payments will face an economy that is far from fully recovered. The May jobs report showed 9.3 million people unemployed, with another 5.3 million only working part-time but still seeking full-time work. The economy is down 7.6 million jobs (5%) from pre-pandemic Feb. 2020 levels. With families still reeling from loss, lack of childcare, and ever-present concerns about getting sick on the job, FPUC and all UI funds remain a crucial lifeline.

“The past year has demanded bold solutions to unprecedented levels of unemployment, with the additional federal unemployment funds serving as a necessary stopgap in lieu of structural reform. At this pivotal moment, elected officials need to get behind critical reforms to prevent future failures of our unemployment system, so we can avoid the type of harmful actions we’re now seeing at the state level,” said Dixon.

Federal pandemic programs are still helping millions of people and their families get through the worst economic crisis in over a century. For jobless workers and their families in states where Republican governors have opted out, the ramifications will be far-reaching:

  • Over 3.9 million workers will lose the weekly $300 FPUC supplement in the 25 states.
  • 3,951,578 people receiving unemployment payments as of May 15 will be affected—all of them losing the $300 weekly FPUC benefit supplement and more than half (57.5%) abruptly losing all unemployment benefits.
  • In the 21 states ending participation in all of the pandemic programs, nearly 2.3 million people, who represent 74.5% of those receiving unemployment benefits in those states, will be left with no state or federal unemployment aid at all.
  • Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other people of color are nearly half (over 46%) of UI recipients in the states ending pandemic unemployment programs early.
  • Of the 25 states cutting pandemic unemployment payments, 11 of them have 40% or higher people-of-color UI recipients, and eight have 50% or higher.

With unemployed people spending money at higher rates, federal assistance helps stimulate the economy just as businesses and industries begin to reopen, in addition to keeping families afloat. States that are prematurely ending federal pandemic unemployment programs threaten to stymie a fuller recovery.

READ THE DATA BRIEF:
3.9 Million Workers Face Premature Cutoff of Pandemic Unemployment Programs

This blog originally appeared at Nelp on June 8, 2021. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: For 50 years, NELP has sought to ensure that America upholds, for all workers, the promise of opportunity and economic security through work. NELP fights for policies to create good jobs, expand access to work, and strengthen protections and support for low-wage workers and unemployed workers.


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Card-carrying union member Walsh, Biden’s Labor nominee, wins businesses’ respect

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When Marty Walsh leaped straight from the top of a trade union federation to Boston City Hall in 2014, local businesses braced for the impact of a labor leader and his progressive policies.

They had little to fear from the new mayor. The following year saw “arguably the biggest building boom in the history of the city of Boston,” as one city official described it, with a record 70 development projects under way by July 2015 — including a rising rate of new construction using nonunion jobs. Walsh would go on to convince companies including Reebok, GE and Lego to relocate their headquarters to the city, as well as to draft the city’s first small business plan.

It’s that track record that has many national business leaders today optimistic that they will have Walsh’s ear when he assumes the helm at the U.S. Labor Department despite the fact President Joe Biden, who nominated him, ran on a platform that was widely panned by corporate America as potentially the most labor-friendly in history.

“He does have this reputation for bringing people together,” Glenn Spencer, senior vice president of employment policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said of Walsh, who will have his confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate HELP Committee. And “his background is in the building trades, which tends to focus on getting things done, as opposed to some other parts of the union movement.”

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to get the outcome we’re always seeking. But we hope that there’s an opportunity to weigh in and perhaps move things in a more positive direction.”

Unions and trade associations alike point to Walsh’s experience in Massachusetts, where he served as a state representative and head of the Boston Building and Construction Trades Council before running for mayor in 2013, as grounds for optimism.

Walsh “is a pragmatist, and he wants to get stuff done,” Drew Schneider, director of labor and employment policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, said. “He’s been in government for a long time, and the reviews we’ve heard are positive.”

Local labor officials were surprised at the talks he facilitated as mayor “that would never occur between big business, between unions, between environmentalists,” Sean O’Brien, president of Boston’s Teamsters Local 25, said. “So he has a strong, strong characteristic of bringing people together; listening before making decisions. He’s got the ability to broker relations and or mediate any potential conflict.”

Unions that backed Walsh for the job preached his consensus-building abilities as they lobbied for his nomination.


“Workers really need real clout, but I don’t think it’s an either-or situation,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said. “Ultimately, just like in the 1940s when business understood that worker clout could actually help their bottom line, the same is true right now.”

The issues of workforce training, vaccine incentivization, unemployment insurance and multiemployer pension plans are all areas where businesses say they anticipate being able to find middle ground with a Walsh-helmed Labor Department.

“The [unemployment insurance] system needs some upgrades, and that’s a place where we think there could be some bipartisan support and we could work together on fixing that,” Spencer said. And “the secretary-nominee comes out of the union world; he understands these multiemployer [pension] plans and how important fixing them is.”

But on other issues, including the overtime rule and independent contractors, employers anticipate some disagreement: “Just look at the fights we had with the Obama administration,” Ed Egee, vice president of government relations and workforce development at National Retail Federation, said.

And certain legislative priorities like the Protecting the Right to Organize Act — which would rewrite decades-old labor laws to strengthen unions — that Walsh will be responsible for shepherding on the Hill are nonstarters.

“The PRO Act is so beyond the pale of reasonable legislation,” Egee said. “That is completely unworkable for any employer, large or small. And it would have an absolutely devastating impact on workers.”

“I mean, at some point, they have to decide whether they want a relationship with the business community, or do they want the PRO Act? They can’t, probably, have both.”

The first hump will undoubtedly be the issue of workplace safety, which Biden has vowed to address rapidly amid the pandemic. The president has signed an executive order directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to examine whether issuing an emergency temporary standard, which would create an enforceable set of guidelines for employers, is necessary — and if so, to issue one by March 15. Trade associations are jostling to make their voices heard as they look to ensure that any standard takes into concern the businesses it will affect.

Should the agency deem a standard necessary, there are various forms it could take that would be more amenable to employers. Illustrations of this can be found at the state level, where local governments have in some cases taken the matter of workplace safety into their own hands.

“The Virginia standard, the Michigan standard take [employers’] efforts into account,” Egee said. “They’re workable standards.”

But California has “a completely unworkable standard,” he said. “Even the best-intentioned employer could not possibly comply with the black-letter law of the California regulation.”

With California Labor Secretary Julie Su — who steered the agency while the state’s standard was implemented — being tapped by Biden as deputy U.S. Labor secretary, it’s not unlikely the agency will choose a similar path.

Some are expressing skepticism that Walsh will be able to appease business while still acting as Biden’s labor chief.

Former Labor Secretary “Tom Perez … said a lot of the same things and wanted to have everybody at the table and welcomed all views, and at the end of the day, we don’t think any of our concerns were reflected in their actions,” said Marc Freedman, vice president of employment policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “So we would hope that Secretary-to-be Walsh listens to our concerns, and maybe gives them a little bit more attention than what we saw in previous Departments of Labor that opened up with the same message.”

And those on the left are cautioning against even attempting to negotiate with companies, in a manifestation of the thin line Biden will have to walk as he attempts to appease business and unions.

“The United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Restaurant Association and other trade associations will cut him off at his knees if he attempts to do anything bold,” former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said. “In other words, my advice to him is: Don’t negotiate.”

“Washington is a different place than Boston or Massachusetts. You’ve got to be extremely tough.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on February 3, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.


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Unions disagree over Biden’s Labor secretary pick

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Union leaders are hoping to influence Joe Biden’s pick for Labor secretary — but they’re increasingly at odds over who should get the job.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and some of his organization’s largest affiliate unions are singing the praises of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who previously led the city’s Building and Construction Trades Council and could appeal to construction workers who supported President Donald Trump. But other unions in the federation are publicly pushing Rep. Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat who worked as a labor organizer and ran the state’s job training program before he was elected.

The federation, which spans 56 unions representing over 12 million of the more-than 14 million unionized workers in the U.S., was supposed to discuss the potential Labor secretary pick and a possible endorsement at a meeting of union presidents who serve on its political committee on Friday. But that didn’t happen and another meeting hasn’t been scheduled, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

The split over Walsh and Levin was the reason why, one of the people said. “A number of the presidents were sort of furious at the whole thing,” said the person, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations.

Union leaders have long been expecting to hold sway in a Biden administration, given his support for workers’ right to organize — and the Labor Department will play the leading role in implementing Biden’s sweeping pro-worker agenda, making the role an obvious choice for organized labor to weigh in.Biden met on Monday with Trumka and the heads of Service Employees International Union, United Auto Workers, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and United Food and Commercial Workers.

But the early division over potential candidatescould make it difficult for Biden to choose someone who would win support from all sides of the labor movement. It’s also unclear whether any of the white male candidates whom unions are supporting would appeal to the Biden camp, which is trying to build a diverse Cabinet.

Also in the mix for the position is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s been courting the Biden camp — and, according to CNN, the AFL-CIO — as he pushes himself for the job. California Labor Secretary Julie Su, who is well-regarded by unions in her state, is another contender.

Biden and his team have said they do not expect to make any Cabinet appointments until closer to Thanksgiving, and those close to the transition say announcements for leaders at higher-profile agencies such as the Treasury and State Departments are likely to come before the Labor Department.

Unions will unify behind whomever Biden chooses, Trumka said in an interview.

“Once the nomination is made, everyone will get on the same page,” he said. “Because I have no doubt that the person Joe Biden will name will be an effective friend of workers and do right by working people.”

Still, Trumka and others in the labor movement are trying to put their thumbs on the scale.

The AFL-CIO’s two largest affiliates, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, threw their weight last week behind Walsh. Trumka, while stopping short of endorsing Walsh, said he would be a “great choice.”

But not everyone has fallen in line: United Auto Workers and Utility Workers Unionof America sent letters to Biden’s transition team Tuesday backing Levin, who serves on the House Education and Labor Committee. National Nurses United and Communications Workers of America have thrown their weight behind Levin as well.

Levin has stronger ties to labor than some of the other names floated, with time spent as an SEIU organizer and more than a decade working for the AFL-CIO. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he also served in the Labor Department during the Clinton administration and as Michigan’s chief workforce officer under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

“Levin has both the knowledge and the expertise and the connections, both in the labor movement and in the broader progressive movement, including the environmental movement, to really be effective and a forceful advocate for families,” Economic Policy Institute President Thea Lee, who worked with Levin at the AFL-CIO, told POLITICO.

Levin was elected to represent Michigan in the House in 2018 after his father, longtime congressman Sander Levin, decided against running for reelection. So far, he’s not openly campaigning for the Labor Department job.

“The power behind this, if it’s happening, is not me,” Levin said in an interview. “I’m humbled to have people I’ve worked with shoulder to shoulder for decades saying they’d like for this to happen.”

Walsh, for his part, led Boston’s Building and Construction Trades Council before becoming mayor, credentials that may help a Biden administration draw in workers from the other side of the aisle: 75 percent of construction workers who made political donations gave them to Trump’s presidential campaign.

Walsh and Biden also have a well-documented personal relationship: Not only did Biden speak at the mayor’s 2017 inauguration, but the pair have been spotted together in Walsh’s city at the anniversary of the Marathon bombings, at a Stop & Shop workers rally and even on a dinner date.

“He’s a friend and knows Joe: They’ve worked together on numerous occasions,” Trumka said. “They have the relationship I think is necessary.”

Current and former union officials have raised concerns about revelations of corruption under Walsh’s watch as mayor, including one city employee who pled guilty in September 2019 to accepting a $50,000 bribe. But Trumka was quick to dismiss those: “It’s nonsense,” Trumka said. “It had nothing to do with him.”

Walsh, for his part, has stayed tight-lipped.

“I’m excited about what a Biden-Harris administration means for Boston,” he said in a statement. “While it’s an honor to be mentioned among the many highly qualified individuals being considered for a role in the Biden Administration, I am focused on my job as mayor of the City of Boston.”

This article originally appeared at Politico on November 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump’s rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

A D.C.-area native, Megan headed south for a few years to earn her bachelor’s degree in business journalism and international politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now settled back inside the Beltway, Megan’s on the hunt for the city’s best Carolina BBQ — and still rooting for the Heels.


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Bernie Sanders Is Actively Running for Labor Secretary

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I?Vt.) is active­ly reach­ing out to allies in a bid to build sup­port for being picked as Sec­re­tary of Labor in the Biden admin­is­tra­tion, accord­ing to a Wash­ing­ton source who spoke to Sanders directly. 

Sanders’ inter­est in the posi­tion was report­ed by Politi­co in Octo­ber, pri­or to Biden’s vic­to­ry in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. At the time, Sanders said he was focused sole­ly on the elec­tion ahead. Last week, Axios report­ed that Biden’s team was ?“con­sid­er­ing an infor­mal ban on nam­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic U.S. sen­a­tors to the Cab­i­net if he wins,” which would pre­clude Sanders from being selected. 

If that is the case, Sanders him­self is not let­ting it slow him down. This week, he has already begun mak­ing calls to allies in pol­i­tics and the labor world, say­ing that he wants to make a run at the posi­tion of Labor Secretary. 

Phil Scott, the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor of Ver­mont, said last month that he would appoint a replace­ment who would cau­cus with Democ­rats should Sanders leave the Sen­ate to join the Biden admin­is­tra­tion, a move that means Democ­rats would not be at risk of los­ing a valu­able Sen­ate vote. Still, the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom is that Biden’s abil­i­ty to get very pro­gres­sive cab­i­net sec­re­taries like Sanders con­firmed hinges on the Democ­rats tak­ing con­trol of the Sen­ate?—?an uncer­tain propo­si­tion that would require them win­ning two runoff elec­tions in Georgia. 

Oth­er names float­ed recent­ly as pos­si­bil­i­ties for Biden’s Labor Sec­re­tary include for­mer Cal­i­for­nia Labor com­mis­sion­er Julie Su, AFL-CIO econ­o­mist Bill Sprig­gs, and Michi­gan con­gress­man Andy Levin?—?him­self a for­mer AFL-CIO offi­cial. Major unions have not come for­ward with for­mal endorse­ments, but all of the can­di­dates have their back­ers inside orga­nized labor. (Levin has already received the pub­lic sup­port of Chris Shel­ton, the head of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­i­ca.) Though Biden’s record is not as pro­gres­sive on labor issues as Sanders, he ran as a vocal ally of unions, and his choice for Labor Sec­re­tary will be expect­ed to have strong pro-union bona fides. 

The news that Sanders is still try­ing for the posi­tion is sure to ener­gize pro­gres­sives who believe that they are owed sig­nif­i­cant rewards for their sup­port of Biden dur­ing the cam­paign. After Biden won the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry, he formed a task force with sup­port­ers of both him and Sanders, which issued a set of rec­om­men­da­tions wide­ly seen as a tool to pull Biden to the left. Hav­ing Bernie Sanders as Labor Sec­re­tary would give him an inside perch from which to launch efforts to put those rec­om­men­da­tions into prac­tice inside the administration. 

Today, Biden’s tran­si­tion team announced the mem­bers of its Agency Review teams, which are tasked with prepar­ing each fed­er­al agency for the new admin­is­tra­tion. Among the 23 mem­bers assigned to review the Depart­ment of Labor is Josh Orton, a senior advi­sor to Bernie Sanders. Orton declined to com­ment on Sanders’ pur­suit of the agency’s top job. A spokesper­son for Sanders’ office also declined to comment.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.


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New unemployment claims fall below 1 million for the first time in five months

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The number of workers filing jobless claims last week fell to 963,000.

New unemployment claims fell last week to 963,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday, the first time in months the figure has been less than 1 million.

An additional 488,622 laid-off workers filed for jobless aid under the new pandemic unemployment assistance program, created for those not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits like the self-employed and gig workers.

Though the numbers are gradually falling, the report indicates workers are still being pushed out of their jobs at historic levels during the coronavirus pandemic.

New applications filed in state programs are still far above the previous record of 695,000 in 1982, fueling concerns that the economic recovery may not be fully under way.

In total, more than 25 million people are currently receiving jobless benefits, according to DOL.

Why it matters: Another week of elevated unemployment claims is likely to add more pressure on lawmakers to reach a deal on another coronavirus aid package. Despite nearly three weeks of negotiations, party leaders are no closer to a deal, and it’s likely the stalemate will drag into September.

A major sticking point in the talks is how much extra aid Congress should give to laid-off workers. President Donald Trump signed a bill in March that included an extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits, but that payment expired on July 31.

Democrats want to extend the extra jobless aid into 2021. But Republicans don’t want the benefit to continue at $600, arguing that it paid some workers more to be unemployed than they earned at their jobs and would encourage people not to return to work.

To prod negotiations along, Trump over the weekend signed an executive action that would offer jobless workers an extra $400 a week. But, the move would require states to opt in, implement a new system, and fund one-fourth of the aid. Governors of some states have complained that Trump’s plan would be too expensive or logistically impossible.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on August 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.


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New unemployment claims rose last week to 1.4M, ending months of declines

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The Department of Labor data will likely fuel the urgency in Washington to quickly extend enhanced federal pandemic unemployment benefits.

Unemployment claims rose to 1.4 million last week, up about 100,000 from the week before, the Labor Department reported, ending 15 weeks of consecutive declines in new applications.

An additional 975,000 people applied for aid under the temporary federal pandemic unemployment assistance program, created to provide jobless aid to workers ineligible for traditional unemployment benefits, such as gig workers.

The increase in the number of workers seeking new aid comes as several states like California, Texas and Florida have closed some businesses down again, and coronavirus cases have shot up across the United States.

More than 30 million Americans are currently on unemployment and several states have delayed reopening plans in recent weeks — shrinking the already small pool of available work. 

“The combined effect of rising layoffs, expiring unemployment benefits and escalating coronavirus outbreaks sets up a perfect economic storm that could easily derail the weakening economy’s fledgling recovery,” said Glassdoor Senior Economist Daniel Zhao in reaction to the report.

The data will fuel the urgency in Washington to extend the enhanced federal pandemic unemployment benefits set to expire this weekend, as lawmakers debate another economic rescue package. 

Republicans were originally opposed to continuing the extra $600-a-week jobless benefit, but are now on board with offering more federal unemployment aid — at a lower amount. 

However, it’s already too late to prevent a lapse in benefits for millions of workers. Some states with antiquated systems won’t be able to update their computers in time to prevent a gap.

The rise in jobless claims confirms economists’ fears that despite declines in the unemployment rate in May and June, the economy is still scrambling to recover from the pandemic-induced shock.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office forecast earlier this month that unemployment will continue to climb, peaking at 14 percent in the third quarter of this year.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on July 23, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.


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How Does FMLA Work and What Should I Know About Hiring Minors for Seasonal Work?

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The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives eligible employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave each year. In addition, employers must maintain employees’ group health benefits during the leave as if employees continued to work instead of taking leave. 

Also, employees are also entitled to return to their same or an equivalent job at the end of their FMLA leave.

This article will look at some of the details of this important employment law.

What is FMLA? 

The FMLA is a federal law enacted in 1993 that entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons.

How does FMLA work?

Eligible employees are allowed to take 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for any of the following reasons: 

  • The birth of a child and to care for the newborn within one year of birth;
  • The placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for that child within one year of placement;
  • To care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who’s experiencing a serious health condition;
  • An employee’s own serious health condition that makes him or her unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;
  • Any qualifying emergency or urgent need stemming from the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty” ;

or 

  • Twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury, or illness if the eligible employee is the servicemember’s spouse, child, parent, or next of kin (known as “military caregiver leave”).

Who’s Eligible for FMLA?

The eligibility requirements are the same for all employees, no matter the reason for the requested leave. There are four elements that an employee must satisfy to be eligible for FMLA. The employee must:

  1. Work for a covered employer (see below);
  2. Have worked for the employer for at least 12 months as of the date the FMLA leave is to begin;
  3. Have at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the 12-month period immediately prior to the date the FMLA leave is to begin; and 
  4. Work at a location where the employer employs at least 50 employees within 75 miles of that worksite as of the date when the employee gives notice of the need for leave.

To What Employers Does the FMLA apply?

The FMLA applies to all:

  • Public agencies, such as all local, state, and federal employers, and local education agencies (schools); and
  • Private sector employers who employ 50+ employees for at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, including joint employers and successors of covered employers.

Can an Employer Deny FMLA? 

Yes, in some situations—mainly because the employer or the employer doe not meet the eligibility criteria.

An employer can deny FMLA leave for non-qualified events or for employees who aren’t covered. So, employees who work for a covered employer but don’t qualify for FMLA may be denied FMLA leave. Again, in order to qualify for benefits, an employee must be employed with the company for at least 12 months and worked for at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the leave. The employee must also work at a location with 50+ employees or with 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

In addition, private sector employers aren’t required to provide FMLA benefits if they have fewer than 50 employees. As a result, an employee who would otherwise be eligible for FMLA can be denied if his or her employer isn’t required to offer the benefits. 

How Does the Law Protect Someone under the FMLA? 

The FMLA protects a covered employee from harassment, discrimination, or interference from employer for requesting time off. An employer is prohibited from interfering with, restraining, or denying the exercise of FMLA rights, retaliating against the employee for filing a complaint and cooperating with the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD), or bringing private action to court.

In addition to this protection from any form of workplace retaliation or discrimination resulting from an employee’s leave, an employer is required under the FMLA to do the following:

  • Reinstate the employee to his or her same position or a comparable position when he or she returns to work after their leave; and
  • Maintain the employee’s group health benefits while they are on leave. 

An employer who doesn’t reinstate a returning employee is in violation of the FMLA and is liable for lost wages. If an employer cancels the employee’s benefits illegally while he or she is on FMLA leave, the employer may be required to pay for damages resulting from the lack of health care coverage. 

What Should I Know About Hiring Minors For Seasonal Work?

Employers should know that the U.S. Department of Labor allows children who are 14 or 15 years of age to be employed outside of school hours in a variety of non-manufacturing and non-hazardous jobs for limited periods of time and under specified conditions. Note that any work not specifically allowed for 14- and 15-year-olds, as listed in the Department’s child labor regulations, is strictly prohibited. 

However, youths who are 16 or 17 may be employed for unlimited hours in any occupation other than those declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. When a youth reaches the age of 18, he or she is no longer subject to the federal youth employment provisions.

Minors hired for seasonal work most likely would not be eligible for FMLA because the positions are seasonal in nature and would not satisfy the 12-month requirement.

About the Author: Kurt R. Mattson is the President of Union Legal Research. He has spent more than 30 years in the legal services industry as a research attorney, writer, editor, and marketer. 


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Democrats say DOL keeping workers in the dark about paid leave

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“They’re not stupid,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said. “They know how to get the word out. They just don’t want to.”

An Indiana truck driver denied paid leave while experiencing coronavirus symptoms. An Arizona HVAC employee paid for just two of 13 days spent in self-quarantine. A California USPS worker rejected for paid leave when caring for her child whose school was closed.

These are just a few of the 700-plus cases that employees who became temporarily entitled to paid leave under coronavirus response legislation have brought against their employers.

Though the Families First package enacted emergency paid leave for as many as 60 million workers, many report being uninformed, misled or in some cases, even threatened by their employers over the new benefit.

DOL says it is educating workers on their rights to the emergency paid leave to the best of its ability, including by fielding phone calls and hosting what it says is hundreds of outreach events. But Democrats and worker advocates say the agency could be doing more and may even be purposely keeping employees in the dark in an attempt to “run the clock” before the provisions expire in December.

“They’re not stupid,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said. “They know how to get the word out. They just don’t want to.”

More than half of Americans are unaware of or believe they are ineligible for the paid leave protections enacted via the coronavirus response legislation, according to a poll released in May by the National Partnership for Women and Families. And a poll released in June by the Paid Leave for All campaign found that just 53 percent of voters have heard a great deal or some about the provisions.

“I don’t think people really understand what their rights are,” said Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), who chairs the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. “We have to do a better job.”

DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, which is responsible for enforcing the Families First paid leave provisions, employed 756 investigators at the end of April, a DOL official told POLITICO. The agency has concluded more than 700 cases related to the legislation, the official said, and there are “hundreds more” under way.

Much of the agency’s education surrounding workers’ entitlement to paid leave under Families First is tied to these cases, the official said. When the division receives a complaint from an employee, part of investigators’ job is to educate the employer in question on the provisions.

The division has also conducted more than 500 outreach events related to Families First, published an online series of FAQ pertaining to the legislation and posted a “Notice of Rights” in more than 10 languages about the provisions for employers to send employees.

That’s “a significant accomplishment, given that prior to March 2020, federal law had never broadly required private employers to provide paid leave,” a DOL spokesperson said in an email.

“[T]he public has taken notice of this material — since [Families First] was enacted, more than 25 million people have visited WHD’s website,” Labor Deputy Secretary Patrick Pizzella wrote in an op-ed this month.

But these steps are not enough, Democrats and advocates say.

“We provided $15 million [to DOL] to administer paid leave,” DeLauro said. “So far, [WHD] have $2.5 million that have been spent on outreach efforts. They don’t want to do it.”

Being active on social media, giving interviews to radio stations and local newspapers, conducting outreach at Covid-19 testing sites and food bank lines and hosting press conferences with mayors and governors are all ways that DOL can and should be going about getting the word out, DeLauro said.

“Congress has put the money on the table, now it is time for this administration to step up and educate Americans on the options and resources available to them,” Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) said in an email.

“This is just a failure on behalf of the administration,” Dawn Huckelbridge, the director of Paid Leave for All campaign, said. “They should be … deploying media, public service announcements, radio, local press. This should be a full ‘know your rights’ campaign.”

“We haven’t seen an effort or an investment or a lot of concern even from the Department of Labor.”

The Wage and Hour Division is working to set up “public awareness campaigns” that involve radio and TV outlets, the DOL official said. The official was unable to provide a timeline for when the campaigns will go into effect.

Aura Hernandez is a McDonald’s employee in California who became entitled to paid leave under Families First. When she developed coronavirus symptoms, she used up all of her accrued time off — and then her employer asked her to come back to work, even though she still felt sick, Hernandez said.

She was never informed that she had additional paid leave available to her under Families First — not even when she threatened to quit. She is now on strike.

“They did not explain what were my rights,” Hernandez said through an interpreter. She never received nor saw a “Notice of Rights” or other educational materials at her place of work, she said.

“The Department of Labor must do more in terms of public education and outreach to publicize the entitlements under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) said. “With now more than 100,000 COVID-19-related deaths in the United States, the burden cannot fall all onto the workers to understand the various nuances of these newly developed benefits.”

Democrats and advocates point to DOL’s guidance implementing Families First, which excluded employers of health care providers and others from having to comply with the law.

“The Department of Labor gutted the emergency paid leave protections that were passed by Congress, so it’s not a surprise that they’re neglecting their duty to make sure workers heard about them,” Huckelbridge said.

Adams said her subcommittee is working to schedule an oversight hearing at which lawmakers can hear from DOL officials, paid leave advocates, workers and others.

“Sometimes we just have to put the questions out there, ask the question again, because they may be doing more than we think they’re doing,” Adams said. “But we need to know.”

And Democrats may address the issue in their negotiations with Republicans over the next round of coronavirus aid, DeLauro said.

“When we get to dealing with the Senate on this, we’ll get maybe more specific with regard to the kinds of efforts they should be doing,” she said.

With the provisions scheduled to sunset in December, officials have less than six months to educate workers on what they’re entitled to.

“We only really have so much time here,” DeLauro said. “They’re gonna run the clock. That’s what they’d like to do.”

In the meantime, advocates are doing their best to fill in the gaps.

“The advocate community is trying to step up,” Huckelbridge said, citing Paid Leave for All’s website as well as a “know your rights video” the campaign is set to release this month. “But this is the job of the government, and this is a program that they need to fully implement and educate people about.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 4, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.


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Unemployment drops in May to 13.3 percent as states reopen

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The rate reflects parts of the economy reopening in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The unemployment rate dropped to 13.3 percent in May, amid a push for a reopening economic rally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

The economy gained 2.2 million jobs last month, as states started relaxing stay-at-home orders and opening for business.

President Donald Trump, who has been prodding governors to reopen state economies, took credit for the reversal.

“Really Big Jobs Report.” Trump tweeted in reaction to the numbers. “Great going President Trump (kidding but true)!” He also announced a Friday morning press conference at the White House to discuss the report.

The unexpected jump follows a historic 14.7 percent unemployment rate in April, the highest recorded since the economic downturn of the 1930s.

Economists were bracing for an unemployment rate close to 20 percent in the May report, aligning with weekly applications for unemployment insurance climbing above 40 million in recent weeks.

The payroll company ADP reported a 2.8 million drop in May of nonfarm private payrolls earlier this week.

“The biggest payroll surprise in history, by a gigantic margin, likely is due to a wave of hidden rehiring,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics wrote in reaction to the number.

“Businesses which let people go in large numbers in March didn’t need to post their intention to bring people back on Indeed;” he said, “they just needed to call/text/email.”

The unexpected number likely understates the extent of the economic pain felt last month. Economists warned large numbers of people have been classifying themselves as employed but absent from work in the survey, which can artificially suppress the unemployment rate.

The figure also reflects the situation in the middle of May, which is when the agency surveys Americans to get a snapshot of the workforce.

While the unemployment rate for adult women, adult men, white workers, Hispanic workers dropped from April to May, it rose slightly for black workers to 16.8 percent.

Notably, the number of workers who say they have permanently lost their job, increased by 295,000 in May to 2.3 million.

The leisure and hospitality industry, which was battered by state stay-at-home orders and shed more than 8 million jobs in April and March, added 1.2 million jobs last month.

But even as jobs gains were seen elsewhere, employment in government continued to decline, shedding 585,000 jobs in May for a total loss of 1.5 million jobs in two months.

Most of those losses were in local government — a major employer for black workers, and one factor contributing to the black unemployment rate holding steady even as the overall rate declined.

The jobless rates for teenagers (29.9 percent) and Asians (15 percent) also saw little change from April to May.

Heidi Shierholz, former chief economist at the DOL, noted that while May’s job growth is a positive sign, the U.S. jobs level “remains in absolute crisis.”

“In May, we added 2.5 million jobs,” wrote Shierholz, who is now with the Economic Policy Institute. “But in March and April, we lost 22 million, so we are still down 19.6 million jobs.”

The damage to the economy is forecast to be long lasting. The nonpartisan CBO estimates that unemployment won’t even near pre-pandemic levels — which was at 3.5 percent in February — by the end of next year.

The May jobs report lands amid a debate in Washington over whether to extend the unemployment benefit program created to help jobless Americans weather the pandemic.

With more than 40 million unemployment claims filed throughout the pandemic, Republicans argue that an additional $600 weekly unemployment payment authorized in a March assistance bill will discourage Americans from getting back to work and stymie the recovery.

But, former congressional economists from both Republican and Democratic administrations warned lawmakers earlier this week that more aid may be needed.

A failure to extend the benefits will “hinder our ability to recover,” said Douglas Elmendorf, who led CBO from 2009 to 2015. He said benefits should stay in place until the national jobless rate falls back down to 6 percent.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 5, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter. Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.


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