Members Look to Changes in 2021 and Beyond in Future Workplace Policy Council Labor and Employment Meeting

December 11, 2020

“Following these elections there is so much uncertainty, and so much to consider, which makes discussions like these critically important,” Future Workplace Policy Council Chair Johnna Torsone, CHRO of Pitney Bowes said during our Fall Labor and Employment Conference that looked ahead to a very different next few years.

What is the future of employee voice?  HR Policy Global Affairs Director Alan Wild moderated an exploration of how American labor laws could be modernized to reflect the 21st century workplace.  He noted that new forms of employee voice—for example, online activism—are conflict-focused rather than resolution-focused.  Oren Cass, Executive Director of American Compass, asked, “Is government going to step in with ever-increasing regulation and mandates?  Or are we going to want workers to have power so they can work things out with employers?  We should lean into the latter one.”  Andy Stern, former SEIU president and Senior Fellow of the Economic Security Project, noted the critical need for experimentation at the local and state level, and for unions to diversify sources of income to operate more like businesses providing a skilled workforce for employers.  The lack of trust in government and business highlighted by the populist movement on the left and the right presents a roadblock to making impactful change, noted Sharon Block, former NLRB Member and Executive Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.

HR Policy President and CEO Tim Bartl led a panel on the future of diversity and inclusion.  Morgan Lewis Partner and former EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum suggested several steps to enhance diversity and inclusion, including developing disaggregated workforce, senior executive working groups and an employee-led diversity and inclusion council that engages employees throughout the organization.  Fortney & Scott Co-Founder and former DOL Acting Solicitor David Fortney pointed to the need to be aware of the Title VII prohibition against discrimination on the basis of race and sex in seeking to bolster the participation of women and minorities.  Cardinal Health CHRO Ola Snow, bringing the practical perspective, noted her organization’s emphasis on creating diverse talent pipelines rather than quotas.  Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, pointed to the Harvard admissions lawsuit as potentially significant in terms of Title VII in how lower courts react to it, if the Supreme Court takes it up and finds that Harvard engaged in illegal discrimination.

Policy veterans’ view on what the next four years could bring:  HR Policy Senior Labor and Employment Counsel Roger King moderated a lively discussion where veteran policymakers peered into the looking glass on the state of labor and employment policy over the next four years.  The panel discussed the wild swings in policy direction between administrations, particularly at the NLRB, and how the pandemic has created a sharp focus on the inadequacies of our system to provide needed protections to workers.  Also discussed were the potential for greater litigation that can come with greater government involvement, passing costs down to consumers during a time of economy distress.  The panel featured former NLRB Chair Wilma Liebman, former EEOC Commissioner Victoria Lipnic, former DOL Assistant Secretary for Policy Chris Spear (now CEO of the American Trucking Associations), and former DOL Wage and Hour Division head David Weil.

Johnna Torsone and HR Policy staff led a panel on the election’s impact on labor and employment laws, including likely COVID-19 workplace safety standards, potential executive orders from the Biden administration, expanded joint employer liability, immigration, paid leave, diversity and inclusion, and data privacy.  The staff were joined by Patricia Insley, Senior Vice President, Human Resources at Lincoln Financial Group and Pamela Richardson, Labor and Employment Counsel at American Water.