Democratic Edge in Senate Opens Slim Path for Office Payments

Parliament-approved workplace legislation, which later passed away during the last Congress in the Republican-controlled Senate, still faces a difficult path to get into law, even if Democrats have a slim majority in both houses.

Democrats will have a razor-thin edge in the Senate thanks to Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff’s victories in Georgia’s January 5 runoff elections that resulted in a 50:50 split. Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris will be able to break votes once she is sworn in on Jan. 20, but the Democrats will have no margin for spillage.

Some Democratic labor and employment laws could be restarted in the new Congress with the expectation of better prospects in the Senate, but the filibuster will allow Republicans to effectively require 60 votes to pass legislation. This will force Democrats to work with Senate Republicans, creating a significant barrier to parliament-passed legislation that goes against the traditional orthodoxy of GOP politics.

However, House Democrats may also struggle to move as many bills off in the workplace as they did in the last two years when they signed measures to increase the minimum wage, strengthen union rights, reduce gender pay gaps, and protect pregnant women and older workers.

Their majority fell from more than 35 seats in the last Congress to just 11 seats, which changed the political calculation for spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) And the committee chairs. Further legislative action to combat the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact will continue to dominate the debate, and Pelosi could face greater opposition within its own conference, said James Plunkett, a senior government relations advisor at Ogletree Deakins.

“It’s not that you can just take the list of bills, hand them over, and send them to the Senate,” said Plunkett, former director of labor policy at the US Chamber of Commerce. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

The Democrats will either reintroduce the labor and employment laws that the House passed during the last Congress, or address the same issues with amended bills, said Marc Freedman, vice president of the Chamber on Workplace Policy. He said there was “no question” that these lawmakers will revisit their “unfinished business”.

Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Currently the highest-ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, is believed by Hill insiders to be the most likely to wield the hammer. But with 50 senators each in the Republican and Democratic assemblies, it is difficult to predict how the payroll and employment accounts will perform on the committee or what their prospects will be when they complete this stage.

A 50:50 vote with the vice president breaking ties leaves no room for error in the Senate, but if legislation has a chance there it could also be a problem for the House legislature as it is no longer free will vote, said Freedman.

“It’s one thing to push the legislation through the house knowing that it will die in the Senate,” he said. “Postponing legislation is another thing because you know it might stand a chance in the Senate. You start looking at things more closely. “

Potential for GOP support?

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which the House passed by 329 to 73 votes in September, is likely to have the easiest time to get approval from the new Congress, said Judy Conti, director of government affairs for the National Employment Law Project for employee representation.

The bill would give pregnant workers the right to workplace accommodation such as water breaks or seating. Its purpose is to clear up the ambiguity left by the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling on the placement of pregnant workers. In addition to the broad support from both parties in the house, the measure was also approved by the Chamber of Commerce, said Conti.

“There is no excuse not to take this up and pass it on quickly,” she said.

Other measures, such as protecting older workers and closing the gender pay gap, could also get Republican support, Plunkett said. The lean Democratic majorities will allow some of their workplace bills to get a test in both the Senate and House of Representatives, he said.

“In recent years,” he said, “there hasn’t even been an opportunity for this vote.”

‘Unfinished business’

Other laws affecting workers and their employers that the House approved during the last Congress but died in the Senate include:

  • the Act to Increase Wages, passed in July 2019 by 231–199 votes, which would gradually increase the federal minimum wage and eliminate minimum wages for employees with tips;
  • The Right to Organize Act (PRO), passed by a 224-194 vote in February 2020, which would provide for fines for unfair labor practices as part of a major union-friendly revision of the National Industrial Relations Act;
  • The Paycheck Fairness Act, passed in March 2019 by 242 to 187 votes, which would strengthen the Equal Pay Act with the aim of closing the gender pay gap;
  • The Act to Protect Older Workers from Discrimination, passed in January 2020 by a vote of 261 to 155, would make it easier for workers to prove that employers have committed or opposed discrimination based on age or disability for being oppose a bias based on a protected characteristic.
  • The Ending Injustice of Forced Arbitration Act, passed in September 2019 by 225 to 186 votes, banning the enforcement of arbitration agreements that apply to employment, consumer, antitrust or civil rights matters;
  • the Law on Preventing Violence at Work for Healthcare and Social Services Workers, passed in November 2019 with 251–158 votes, which would require the Occupational Safety and Health Agency to develop an ordinance to prevent violence at work in health and social services ; and
  • The Multi-Employer Pension Rehabilitation Act (Butch Lewis), passed by 264-169 votes in July 2019, would create an agency in the Treasury and an associated trust fund to aid the collapse of collapsing multi-employer pension funds.

House of Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) Speaks about PRO Act during a February 2020 press conference.

Photographer: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / Bloomberg

Scott sees “obligation”

As the Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) will oversee the Senate’s schedule and decide which actions can be considered for a full Chamber vote. Typically, getting bills to speak for a vote requires overcoming Republican opposition and overcoming the 60 votes to block a filibuster, said Sarah Binder, a political scientist at George Washington University and the Brookings Institution.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) Is optimistic that Senate democratic scrutiny will allow more laws to become law and that the law to end injustice in compulsory arbitration will be reinstated in the new Congress, said spokesman Andy Phelan .

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Who chairs the House’s Education and Labor Committee, said he looked forward to Senate Democratic leaders “to continue the work of House Democrats and prioritize bills that bring justice to our public Reach the school system, ensure all Americans can work and retire with dignity, expand access to quality, affordable health care, and help communities through the COVID-19 pandemic. “

In the last Congress, Scott introduced the Wage Increase Act, the PRO Act, and the Act to Protect Older Workers from Discrimination.

“After four years of chaos and dysfunction,” Scott said in a statement, “it is up to Congress to make real change for all Americans.”

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