After months of anticipation, the midterm elections have come and gone, and there were quite a few noteworthy developments across the country in terms of labor policy. While the results of the elections overall were generally mixed, the restoration of a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives will put pro-labor members in charge of the House Education and Workforce Committee, which will have a big impact on the focus of the committee to say the least.
Indeed, right out of the gate, the presumptive incoming Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) went on the record saying that he intends to take up a minimum wage bill as the first order of business. In his words: “my expectation is we’d introduce something not identical to the Raise the Wage Act, which is $15 by 2024, but something very similar.”
Scott also observed that “even red states are voting to increase the minimum wage,” which was the case in both Arkansas and Missouri. In Arkansas, voters approved the increase by a margin of 68 percent to 31 percent, with the minimum hourly wage going up from the current level of $8.50 to $11.00 by 2021. Missouri voters similarly voted 62 percent to 37 percent to increase the minimum wage there from $7.85 to $12 by 2023.
In addition to the minimum wage, Democrats are expected to take up their so-called Better Deal, which would include a radical rewrite of federal labor law. As a recently released U.S. Chamber report highlights, a pair of bills has already been introduced to stack the deck against employers in favor of organized labor, and one can be certain that the bills will be introduced again when the new Congress starts in January. While it would seem unlikely that the Senate would pass the proposals or that the president would sign them, the fact they have widespread support among House Democrats offers important insight into where their priorities lie.
The Workforce Democracy Act (S. 2810 and H.R. 5728) and the Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act (S. 3064 and H.R. 6080) would eviscerate right-to-work laws currently on the books in 27 states, implement card check union recognition, potentially impose government dictated contracts on employers, expand joint employment liability, and allow intermittent strikes and secondary boycotts, among other measures.
With the midterms now having passed, employers can expect to see the introduction of more potentially harmful legislation, increased oversight of cabinet agencies, and more scrutiny of employment practices. At the same time, despite the election results, there may be opportunities to advance balanced legislation involving retirement security and immigration reform. That would be a far more positive direction for the new majority to take.