PUNCHING IN: Contractor Watchdog on the Move?


Monday morning musings for workplace watchers


By Chris Opfer and Ben Penn

Contractor Watchdog on the Move? | DOL’s Joint Employer Decision| Election Season, Again

The Trump administration is expected to unveil its full 2018 budget request in the coming weeks, an Office of Management and Budget spokesperson recently told reporter Jay-Anne Casuga. It’s going to take more than a little SlimFast to accomplish the Labor Department belt tightening that Trump called for in last month’s “skinny” budget request. The detailed version should give us a better idea of just what programs he wants to slash to get to the 21 percent DOL spending reduction he proposed.

At least some folks who do business with Uncle Sam are also waiting to see whether the budget request includes a proposal to fold the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs into the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

The Heritage Foundation has been calling for the move, which would make the EEOC responsible for enforcing nondiscrimination and affirmative action requirements for federal contractors, in addition to its job policing bias in the private sector workplace discrimination. Some think the OFCCP is ripe for rejiggering as part of Trump’s plan to streamline government operations.

“Details will be released with the full budget in the second half of this month,” the OMB spokesperson told Jay-Anne last week, in response to a question about a possible merger. For an administration that seems to live in the “no comment” zone, that response will probably prick up some ears.

So is OFCCP moving to NoMa? If nothing else, the EEOC building offers a fresher set of digs than Frances Perkins. Give us your best budget predictions at copfer@bna.com and bpenn@bna.com or via Twitter: @chrisopfer and @benjaminpenn.

Ben Penn: Bloomberg Law subscribers can check out my exposé today on the new political direction at the DOL’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs. ILAB is considered by some folks from the business and labor communities as a critical agency in implementing the White House’s trade agenda by eradicating foreign labor abuse.

The $60 million cut in ILAB grants called for in Trump’s skinny budget represents about 75 percent of the bureau’s annual appropriation. I’m told a reduction of this magnitude would make it pretty much impossible for new trade negotiations to prioritize worker protections overseas as a means of leveling the playing field for U.S. workers.

ILAB has avoided some cuts in the past, thanks to supporters in the Capitol. It’s not clear who might be ILAB’s champion be on the Hill now that the old friend of the bureau, former Senate labor committee leader Tom Harkin, is enjoying retirement.

CO: Democrats and their supporters are licking their chops over issues some think give them a fighting chance to win back some control of the government in 2018, whether it’s the Comey saga or Republican-backed moves to put Obamacare on life support. At least one labor union, however, is focusing its fire on a slew of state and local elections coming up later this year.

“We’ve got 67 mayoral and city council elections in 2017, two big gubernatorial races and some down ticket stuff that we are actively gearing up for,” Chris Sloan, the director of government affairs for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, recently told me. “I think the landscape for 2018 will become much more clear in the third and fourth quarter of this year. That’s when we’ll determine how and where we play. We are looking at some of the 2017 elections as sort of a petri dish for what we can do.”

The two governor races are in purple states: Virginia and Pennsylvania. Primary contests next month will determine who gets party bids to replace Terry McAuliffe in the governor’s mansion in Richmond. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) is looking to ward off Republican challengers in a state that Trump carried last year.

BP: Jani-King, which calls itself the world’s largest commercial cleaning franchise company, may find out today whether the Trump administration will carry on the Obama DOL’s crusade to take on its entire business model. 

Last fall - shortly before the election - the department sued Jani-King for unpaid wages, after a four-year investigation found allegations that janitorial franchise operators are actually direct employees of the company, owed minimum wage and overtime pay. A judge shot down the initial lawsuit, then the solicitor’s office filed an amended complaint last month. That was a week before Labor Secretary Alex Acosta reported for duty.

DOL has until today to file a response to JaniKing’s request to dismiss the case. I’ll be paying close attention to the docket as a test of how fast Acosta’s leadership translates to revising the David Weil fissured economy philosophy. 

CO: A new law aimed at protecting gig and other contract workers goes into effect in New York City today. The Freelance Isn’t Free Act requires employers to pay gig workers on time and to give them a written contract spelling out the details of their deals. Perhaps most importantly, according to Freelancers Union founder Sara Horowitz, is that the law gives lawyers an incentive to take up cases for workers who get stiffed.

“The law provides for double damages and attorney fees in order to create a market for lawyers,” Horowitz told me last week. 

The Freelancers Union is actively helping workers lawyer-up. The group released a smartphone app over the weekend that connects workers with attorneys, who themselves are members of the union. It gives attorneys on the platform 48 hours to respond to an inquiry. 

“You get matched with two lawyers and you pick one,” Horowitz said. “You could conceivably be talking to a lawyer who is familiar with the law within a day.”

Just make sure you pay them on time.

BP: We’re punching out. Daily Labor Report subscribers can check back in with us during the week for updates. One major American company is stepping up its lobbying efforts on an interesting labor issue, and Tyrone Richardson has the details. Paternity leave for pro athletes? Carmen Castro-Pagan is taking a look. Martin Berman-Gorvine is reporting on another type of benefit for workers: student loan repayment.

See you back here next Monday morning.