Mulling Future of Labor, Economy: Puzder to Gig Workers

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By Jon Steingart

Looming economic changes and the outlook for labor-management relations took center stage at a webinar to be broadcast Feb. 7.

“Before we look at specific policies, I think we must have a better understanding of what the 21st century workforce looks like and what problems modern workers face,” Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) told Bloomberg BNA after the session. “The workforce has changed substantially since most of our labor laws were written, so it’s important we take a hard look at the needs of today’s workers, especially in terms of the gig and sharing economies,” he said after delivering opening remarks for the webinar, which was recorded Feb. 1 at Bloomberg BNA.

The panel included Paul DeCamp, a principal in the Washington, D.C., region office of Jackson Lewis P.C.; Amanda Wood, director of labor and employment policy at the National Association of Manufacturers; David Rolf, Service Employees International Union international vice president and SEIU 775 president; and James Conigliaro Jr., founder of the Uber Independent Drivers Guild. Conigliaro is also general counsel and assistant directing business representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers’ District Lodge 15. Bloomberg BNA Managing Editor Chris Opfer moderated the discussion.

Some of the topics touched on during the conversation:

  • Automation. Andy Puzder, President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of labor and chief executive officer of the parent company of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast-food chains, has expressed interest in shifting tasks from humans to robots. Critics see this as a heartless way to cut jobs, while others call it a reaction to government-imposed wage increases.
  • Joint Employer. Puzder’s nomination shines a spotlight on wage-and-hour violations the Department of Labor found at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants. He’s expected to counter at his confirmation hearing that the brands are about 94 percent franchised and his company, CKE Restaurants Inc., isn’t responsible for their labor practices. This raises the question of whether it’s fair to hold CKE liable as a joint employer for the alleged misconduct of its franchises.
  • Portable Benefits. With the rise of the gig economy, workers are finding that they don’t have a single employer they can lean on for workplace perks such as health insurance, Social Security contributions and sick leave.
  • Burden on Businesses. Compliance with changes in minimum wage and record-keeping requirements carries costs. Larger businesses may be able to bear them, but mom-and-pop shops could have difficulty keeping up.
  • State and Local Action. Larger outfits that operate across states lines sometimes find themselves keeping up with several regulatory structures. Even in neighboring states, the rules could be drastically different. Uncertainty can put administrative burdens on businesses and shift spending to compliance and away from wages.
  • Future of Unions. Union memberships is declining. Will other worker centers and worker advocacy organizations step in to fill the roles they’ve held in pursuing better workplaces?

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

For More Information

Bloomberg BNA will stream the discussion as a free webinar Feb. 7 at https://www.bna.com/2017-outlook-labor-m73014449617. Advance registration is required.

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