Today's New York Times is reporting that President-Elect Barack Obama will nominate California Representative Hilda Solis as his administration's Secretary of Labor, the cabinet-level position that oversees the Department of Labor.
John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO (a coalition of labor unions) praised the appointment of Solis to the position. And not without good reason: Solis has been a champion of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which labor unions have made their #1 legislative priority for 2009. The EFCA would , among other things, require employers to recognize a union as the exclusive bargaining agent for its employees based solely on a "card check" process rather than a secret ballot election. If passed, it is expected to drastically increase union organizing and unionization rates.
Of course, if the unions are happy about the Solis pick, you can bet some employers are not. As reported in the Times, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a pro-employer group, expressed "disappointment" over the selection of a labor secretary that supports EFCA, but promised to work with Solis.
The selection of Solis should not come as a surprise: President-Elect Obama has voiced his support for EFCA and other pro-employee legislation, and was expected to select a like-minded labor secretary. This selection does not, however, mean that EFCA will pass without a fight. Don't be surprised if the Republicans use their filibuster power either to delay its passage or to win some pro-employer concessions before allowing it to pass.
In case you missed it, Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States! And both houses of Congress will be controlled by Democratic majorities. Wondering what this will mean for labor and employment law? So are we! But we've gone a step further and made some educated guesses on what to watch out for.
- The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). The EFCA would be the most wide-ranging revision to federal labor law in 50 years. It would, among other things, require employers to recognize a union as the exclusive bargaining agent for its employees based solely on a "card check" process rather than a secret ballot election. If passed, it is expected to drastically increase union organizing and unionization rates. The Stoel Rives World of Employment will be watching this one very closely.
- The Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Tradeworkers Act (RESPECT). No, it's not an Aretha Franklin song. The "RESPECT" Act would reverse the NLRB’s recent rulings that clarified the requirements to be a "supervisor" under federal labor law. RESPECT would dramatically increase the number of employees who could unionize. Sock it to me!
- The Paycheck Fairness Act and the Equal Remedies Act. These statutes—competing versions to address the same issue—would reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Ledbetter ruling addressing the statutes of limitations under Title VII. Both would enable plaintiffs to press viable claims going back much further in time.
- The Civil Rights Act of 2008. The proposed amendments to the civil rights laws would make numerous changes including removal of damage caps on sex, religion, and disability discrimination, as well as retaliation lawsuits.
- The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). ENDA would amend Title VII to add sexual orientation as a protected class.
- The FOREWARN Act. This amendment to WARN would increase the notice period for plant closings or mass layoffs from 60 to 90 days.
- Minimum wage. President-elect Obama has also expressed his support for raising the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by 2010.
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). President-elect Obama has also indicated his support for expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover companies with 25 or more employees (currently 50).
The U.S. Congress is currently considering legislation that would impose significant penalties on employers who improperly classify employees as "independent contractors" to avoid paying for benefits.
The Employee Misclassification Prevention Act (S. 3648) was introduced in the Senate on September 29, and is sponsored by Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.). Features of the bill include:
- Amending the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to prohibit the misclassification of an employee as an independent contractor, providing for liquidated damages and civil penalties of up to $10,000.
- Requiring employers to keep records on and notify workers of their employment or independent contractor classification and their right to challenge that classification.
- Requiring state unemployment insurance agencies to audit employers who misclassify employees.
- Allowing the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service to share information on cases where employers misclassify workers.
- Requiring the Department of Labor to perform targeted audits focusing on employers in industries that frequently misclassify employees.
- Directing the Department of Labor to establish a Web site that summarizes the rights of employees under the FLSA and other federal laws.
A companion bill, H.R. 6111, was introduced in the House in May. Don't expect this bill to become law as long as President Bush is in the White House, but with a likely democratic majority in Congress and a new President, passage of the bill appears very likely. Employers should be aware of the existing risks of incorrectly classifying employees as "independent contractors," including claims for unpaid overtime, minimum wage claims, benefits claims, workers' compensation liability, and tax penalties.