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Beltway Buzz, March 31, 2023
Friday, March 31, 2023

Michigan Repeals Right-to-Work Law. Late last week, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law legislation repealing the state’s right-to-work law, which was enacted in 2012. Right-to-work laws allow for voluntary unionism by prohibiting the conditioning of employment on joining or paying fees to a labor union. Michigan is the first state to repeal a right-to-work law in fifty-eight years. Christopher R. Mikula and Eric C. Stuart have the details.

OFCCP’s Yang Departs for White House. Jenny Yang, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), departs the agency today, March 31, 2023, to serve on the White House Domestic Policy Council as deputy assistant to the president for racial justice and equity. OFCCP Deputy Director Michele Hodge will assume the role of acting director of OFCCP. At this time, there is no word on whether President Biden will nominate a permanent director. During her time at OFCCP, Yang instituted the Contractor Portal, by which contractors certify their affirmative action plan compliance, and she rolled back Trump-era directives to increase OFCCP’s enforcement capabilities.

Nomination News. It is said that “personnel is policy” in Washington, D.C., so developments about agency nominees are always significant, to wit:

  • The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) advanced the nominations of Jessica Looman to serve as administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) and Kalpana Kotagal to serve as a commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Both nominees were originally put forward in the previous Congress, but they were not confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Their nominations now await a vote on the Senate floor. Looman, WHD principal deputy administrator, has been serving as the de facto leader of the division, while Kotagal’s potential confirmation would swing the political balance at the EEOC in favor of Democrats for the first time in the Biden administration.

  • The HELP Committee is expected to hold a confirmation hearing on April 20, 2023, on Julie Su’s nomination to be secretary of labor. Su was confirmed as secretary of labor on a party-line vote in July 2021, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Su’s confirmation as secretary is a slam dunk. First, more Democratic senators (including a number of vulnerable incumbents) are up for reelection this time around. Second, recent Senate votes opposing both the DOL’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing rule and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule—the president vetoed the resolution to rescind the ESG rule and is likely to veto the effort to rescind the WOTUS rule—demonstrate that at least some Democrats are willing to deviate from the administration’s agenda.

NLRB Debuts “Know Your Rights” Initiative. This week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) debuted its “Know Your Rights” card series “to educate workers on their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.” As part of the announcement, the Board introduced two trifold cards that are “designed to be printed, folded, and used by workers in the workplace.” The first card concerns protections for immigrant workers, while the second card deals with rights of union-represented employees to have a representative accompany them to disciplinary meetings. The Board states that additional workers’ rights cards will be issued in the future. At the outset, the initiative recalls—though, admittedly, is different from—the Board’s ill-fated notice-posting rule, which was abandoned in 2014.

Republican Subpoena Rankles NLRB and Democrats. Well that escalated quickly. Last week, the Buzz discussed the subpoena that Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, had issued to an official at the NLRB. That action did not sit well with the Board or Foxx’s counterparts across the aisle. First, late last week, the Board’s Office of Congressional and Public Affairs sent Foxx a letter characterizing the subpoena as an “unprecedented action [that] significantly threatens interference with ongoing investigations and litigation, infringement of parties’ due process rights, and compromise of the integrity of the Agency’s processes.” Then, this week, the committee’s ranking member, Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), sent Foxx a letter accusing her of violating the committee’s rules governing the issuance of subpoenas. Foxx responded by issuing a press release rejecting Scott’s arguments, as well as a rumor that the NLRB Office of Inspector General was investigating Foxx as a result of the subpoena. It appears that this matter isn’t going to end anytime soon.

Seward’s Folly. This week in 1867, then-U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward struck a deal with Russia’s minister to the United States, Eduard de Stoeckl, to purchase Alaska. A little more than a week later, on April 9, 1867, by a vote of 37–2, the U.S. Senate approved the treaty with “the Emperor of all the Russias” to cede the Alaska territory to the United States. The U.S. House of Representatives took some more convincing and refused to approve appropriations for the purchase until the summer of 1868. The $7.2 million dollar purchase price is the equivalent of about $150 million in current dollars. Despite the bargain price, at the time the purchase was ridiculed by the American press as “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox.”

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