July 23, 2021
Ahead of labor reform elements potentially being included in budget reconciliation legislation, Democratic members of the Senate Health, Labor, Education, and Pensions committee stressed the need for comprehensive labor law reform and increased union membership. In contrast, Republican committee members argued for more narrowly tailored reform and asserted the detrimental impact the PRO Act would have on small businesses.
“The need for workers to be able to join together and have a voice in their wages and their working conditions, without fear, remains as important as ever," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), in her opening remarks. “Our labor laws are overdue for an update, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made this need more clear and more urgent.”
Highlighting the ongoing pandemic as evidence of the need to pass the PRO Act was a central theme of the hearing for Democratic committee members, who stressed the need for higher minimum wages and comprehensive paid leave benefits, among other initiatives. Democratic members blamed the continued decline in union membership on coercive employer practices and a weak National Labor Relations Board.
Republican committee members acknowledged the need for greater protections for American workers and updates to federal labor laws, but characterized the PRO Act as an ill-advised, one-size fits all approach that would hurt small businesses. Witness Jyoti Sarolia, Principal & Managing Partner at Ellis Hospitality, a family-owned hotel business operating in California, described the PRO Act as “the most anti-small business bill in the history of Congress.”
Meanwhile, Jennifer Abruzzo was confirmed as General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, by a strict party-line vote of 51-50 (with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tiebreaker). President Biden's nominees to fill two Board seats, David Prouty and Gwynne Wilcox, were voted out of committee and will face a full confirmation vote in the near future. Once confirmed, Democrats will have a majority at the Board. In conjunction with the slew of confirmations from last week, the Biden administration's labor and employment regulatory team is beginning to take shape. Accordingly, employers can expect regulatory action in the labor and employment area to increase considerably beginning in the fall.
Outlook: It is still doubtful that the PRO Act will pass the Senate—it does not have the Republican support needed to clear the filibuster hurdle, and it is unclear whether the bill even has the support of all 50 Senate Democrats. Nevertheless, Senate Democrats are continuing efforts to try to backdoor some of the law’s provisions through the budget reconciliation process. Further, if efforts in the Senate fail, President Biden could impose several of the bill’s provisions on federal contractors through executive order.