With help from Shayna Greene
HOLES AT THE TOP: President Joe Biden on Tuesday tapped Susan Tsui Grundmann to serve as the chair of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the body that oversees labor-management disputes across the federal government.
The position opened up when the calendar flipped, as time ran out for previous chair Ernest DuBester. His nomination for another term at FLRA was one of dozens that didn’t get taken up by the Senate before the end of 2022.
As such, DuBester and others in the same position would have to be renominated by the president and restart the confirmation process entirely. This hassle has become fairly commonplace in recent years and is one of several things critics cite as evidence that the confirmation process is badly broken. Some would-be public servants even withdraw their names as a result of these delays.
But the White House rolled out its first collection of renominations of those willing to stick things out on Tuesday. The list is heavy on ambassadors and judicial nominees, but a few labor picks were tucked in as well.
Included were Kalpana Kotagal to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Karla Gilbride to be the EEOC’s general counsel, and Cathy Harris to chair the Merit Systems Protection Board. (A post previously held by Grundman, as it happens.)
DuBester was not on that list, nor was Jessica Looman — whom Biden nominated last year to head the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division — though that doesn’t mean these folks won’t resurface in the coming months.
One positive for any impatient nominee is that the Democratic Senate majority going from 50 to 51 means that committees will no longer be evenly split between the parties, sharply lowering the chances of deadlocked votes, which was a major source of confirmation delays the past two years.
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NO WHITE SMOKE YET: Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become speaker of the House has become an ordeal, failing to secure the necessary votes from his party three times Tuesday.
The internecine discord is also holding up other leadership votes, including which Republican will lead the newly renamed Committee on Education and the Workforce. The committee was first named that back in the 1990s but the title has see-sawed between that when the GOP is in charge and Education and Labor when control flips to Democrats.
Republicans have also set their sights on negating the resolution passed last year allowing congressional staff to unionize — which several Democratic offices have done in recent months — as part of a slate of rule changes for the 118th Congress.
The Congressional Workers Union, which celebrated the ratification of its first contract just days prior, blasted Republicans as “anti-democracy” and vowed to try and fight it.
LEVIN JOB HUNTING: Andy Levin has explored joining the Biden administration as the Michigan Democrat’s congressional term expired, the Detroit News reports.
“If there’s a great fit, then you’ll hear about that,” Levin told the paper. “And it’s a possibility.”
Levin previously worked for Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm when she was governor of Michigan, and he was a major ally of unions during his time in Congress.
NLRB TARGETS TESLA: The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against Tesla accusing the carmaker of illegally discouraging workers from discussing their pay with one another, Bloomberg reports.
“Tesla management also repeatedly ‘told employees not to complain to higher level managers’ about working conditions, according to the filing, which Bloomberg News obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.”
SCALIA FILES: Former Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia dialed up ex-Attorney General Bill Barr for advice after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, according to a transcript of Scalia’s testimony to the House select committee investigating the incident.
Scalia said that Barr had encouraged him to resign — a suggestion Scalia did not ultimately act on.
“Bill did tell me you should resign. That was Bill’s advice,” the transcript states.
Scalia also said that he conferred with fellow cabinet members Elaine Chao and Betsy DeVos, both of whom resigned in the aftermath of Jan. 6, 2021.
“I thought that trying to work within the administration to steady the ship was likely to have greater value than simply resigning, after which point I would have been powerless to really affect things within the administration,” Scalia said.
More agency news: “Retirees Are One Reason the Fed Has Given Up on a Big Worker Rebound,” from The New York Times.
FARMWORKER REFORMS LAY FALLOW: The 117th Congress failed to pass immigration and farm labor laws, which means workers will keep waiting for stronger protections.
What could have been: “The Senate proposal — a version of which had passed the House — would have made key changes to the existing H-2A temporary visa program for agricultural workers. It would have provided visas to employers who currently can’t use them, modified wage requirements and offered some protections for laborers. It also would have created a path to legal status for certain workers,” NPR reports.
More workplace news: “Small Businesses Find Some Relief From Hiring Woes,” from The Wall Street Journal.
MICROSOFT RECOGNIZES VIDEO GAME UNION: Quality assurance testers at ZeniMax Studios announced they were unionizing Tuesday after parent company Microsoft voluntarily agreed to recognize them.
ZeniMax Workers United will represent about 300 workers and be under the umbrella of the Communications Workers of America. Microsoft, which is seeking regulatory approval to acquire Activision Blizzard, last year said it would not stand in the way of employees’ organizing.
“Microsoft has lived up to its commitment to its workers and let them decide for themselves whether they want a union,” CWA President Chris Shelton said in a statement.
More union news: “‘Most Pro-Union President’ Runs Into Doubts in Labor Ranks,” from The New York Times.
PENSION PROBLEMS: State pension plans took a beating last year amid the stock market downturn and 2023 could be even more trouble, our Sam Sutton reports.
An extended rough patch could also become a political headache for ambitious blue state governors like California’s Gavin Newsom, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Phil Murphy of New Jersey.
“There’s going to be acute fiscal pain and pressure the more you ignore the cost,” said Leonard Gilroy, a senior managing director of the Reason Foundation’s Pension Integrity Project.
CALI FAST FOOD BILL PAUSED: A group temporarily halted the Fast Food Recovery Act from being enacted, which could raise the industry’s minimum wage to $22/hour, among other measures.
Save Local Restaurants — which includes International Franchise Association, the National Restaurant Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — filed a lawsuit on Thursday and won a temporary restraining order against the law.
Unions say that the bill would allow workers to have a seat at the table in terms of regulating pay and health standards, “while opponents claim food prices would soar as much as 22%, bringing further hardship to those already suffering under the highest inflation in a generation,” USA Today reports.
More state news: “Right-to-work repeal would skip Michigan teachers, public sector employees,” from the Detroit News.
YESTERDAY’S PRICE IS NOT TODAY’S PRICE: The Biden administration is planning to up the fees for employment-based visas, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The change is intended to raise more money for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The fees for citizenship and asylum applications will reportedly stay the same.
“The agency is required to review its fee structure every two years, but new fees haven’t been added since 2016, during the Obama administration.”
More immigration news: “Colorado plans to send more migrants to New York,” from POLITICO New York.
— “Social Security denies disability benefits based on list with jobs from 1977,” from The Washington Post.
— “As Pro-Union Sentiment Reaches a Fifty-Year High, U.S. Law Remains Pro-Management,” from The New Yorker.
— “Wage Inequality May Be Starting to Reverse,” from The Wall Street Journal.
— “Union-friendly changes in the works at U.S. labor board,” from Reuters.
— “Inspired by ‘Office Space’ film, Washington software engineer steals over $300K from employer, prosecutors say,” from CNN.
— “What’s Gone at Twitter? A Data Center, Janitors, Some Toilet Paper.” from The New York Times.
THAT’S ALL FOR SHIFT!