United States: Secretary Of Labor Resigns (Beltway Buzz, July 12, 2019)

Last Updated: July 16 2019
Article by James J. Plunkett

The Beltway Buzz is a weekly update summarizing labor and employment news from inside the Beltway and clarifying how what's happening in Washington, D.C. could impact your business.

Secretary of Labor Resigns. On July 12, 2019, Alexander Acosta resigned as Secretary of Labor amid renewed scrutiny of his handling of criminal charges against Jeffrey Epstein while serving as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida from 2005 to 2009. His resignation will be effective on July 19, 2019. Deputy Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella will become acting secretary of labor. This is obviously a significant development, and the Buzz will be watching how this development will impact the U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) policy agenda.

EEOC Nominations. Last week, President Trump nominated current DOL Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Deputy Administrator Keith Sonderling to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If confirmed, Sonderling would join Chair Janet Dhillon and Commissioner Victoria Lipnic to round out the three-member Republican complement on the Commission. Additionally, President Trump also renominated current commissioner Charlotte Burrows, whose term technically expired on July 1, 2019, to a second term. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Commissioner Burrows will continue to serve on the Commission—as long as her nomination is pending—until Congress adjourns. There is no word yet on when the nomination process will kick into gear in the U.S. Senate.

Immigration Bill Passes House. On July 10, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019 by an overwhelming vote of 365–65. The bill would eliminate the per-country caps for employment-based immigrants. The bill now heads to the Senate, where it enjoys significant bipartisan support. However, in recent weeks there has been a debate about amending the Senate's version of the bill to include significant changes to the H-1B program. This could obviously complicate matters in the Senate.

Congress Heats Up. July 11, 2019, was particularly hot and muggy in D.C., so the political optics were great for Democrats on the U.S. House of Representatives Workforce Protections Subcommittee, who held a hearing entitled "From the Fields to the Factories: Preventing Workplace Injury and Death from Excessive Heat." The hearing coincided with the introduction of the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, which would give the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) two years to propose a national standard for exposure to excessive heat in the workplace. Exposure to excessive heat is obviously a vitally important matter, so it has been the subject of multiple federal policy discussions in recent years. For example, in July 2018, scores of advocacy groups petitioned OSHA to develop a national excessive heat standard. Further, in a high-profile decision issued earlier this year, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission vacated a general duty clause citation concerning exposure to excessive heat. While all involved in these various debates no doubt want to protect workers, like everything else in D.C., the devil is in the details.

ETA Chief Confirmed. On July 11, 2019, the U.S. Senate confirmed John Pallasch to head the DOL's Employment and Training Administration (ETA). Pallasch was first nominated in April 2018 and previously served as the executive director of Kentucky's Office of Employment and Training. The ETA oversees federal job training and worker dislocation programs, administers the Office of Foreign Labor Certification, and operates the federal-state unemployment insurance program, among other priorities. Pallasch will obviously play a role in developing and administering the ETA's new apprenticeship effort.

OFCCP Scheduling Letter Changes. Back in April 2019, the Buzz discussed the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program's (OFCCP) proposed changes to its scheduling letter, compliance check letter, and focused review letter. OFCCP has since reviewed the public comments it received in response to the proposal and has forwarded it to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Pursuant to the Paperwork Reduction Act, there is now a second comment period to submit comments to the OMB. The public will have until July 29, 2019, to comment on the proposal, and the OMB is particularly interested in hearing about the utility and burden of the proposed changes.

Wagner Act Anniversary. Last Friday—July 5, 2019, to be exact—was the 84th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's signing of the Wagner Act into law. More commonly referred to as the National Labor Relations Act, the legislation established the National Labor Relations Board, granted employees the right to form and join labor unions, and obligated employers to bargain collectively with such unions. The passage of the act was not without controversy. For example, as the Buzz mentioned a few months ago, a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the act was rejected by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1937. And the act was amended in 1947 by the Labor Management Relations Act, or Taft–Hartley Act, which expanded the Board from three to five members, created an independent general counsel, instituted unfair labor practices (ULPs) for unions (under the Wagner Act, only employers could commit ULPs), and permitted states to enact right-to-work laws.

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