Legal updates

At the federal level, labor has seen some welcome changes this year. While policy has not yet changed dramatically, new agency appointments suggest a brighter future for labor.

Marty Walsh has been confirmed as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor. Walsh is a former head of the Boston Building and Construction Trades Council, a member of Laborers 223, and former mayor of Boston, MA. Walsh has expressed strong support for increased workers’ protections, expressing his commitment to ensuring that everyone “receives and benefits from full access to economic opportunity and fair treatment in the workplace.” Even before this confirmation, the Department of Labor had signaled changes to its policy concerning independent contractors, and one permitting employers to required shared tip pools for restaurant workers.

As a representative Marty Walsh has supported the Pro Act, which has broad support today in the U.S. House of Representatives, including the support of Wisconsin’s Representative Mark Pocan. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) would increase protections for workers trying to organize, it would prohibit misclassification of employees as independent contractors that avoids unionization, and it would return to faster elections when workers have indicated an interest in unions.

Peter Sung Ohr, from the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board, has been appointed as the General Counsel to the Board. The General Counsel sets the Board’s agenda on policy, and we will likely see a shift back to increased worker-friendly policies. Ohr has already rescinded the previous administration’s policies on employer rules that interfere with employees NLRA rights, the Board’s approach to neutrality agreements, and guidance on fair representation cases.

Lauren McFerran, previously with union-side firm Washington DC, has also been nominated to be Chair of the NLRB. Yet, changes at the NRLB may be slower because Board members serve on set terms. There is currently one vacancy (of five members) on the Board to be filled, and one employer-friendly Board member’s term expires in August 2021. The next expiration of Board terms does not take place until December 2022 and 2025.