Backgrounder

A Closer Look at the Coronavirus Bills: A breakdown of Democrat labor proposals

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Democrat bill, Minimum wage, Paid time off, Sick Leave

Throughout the negotiations for the last two coronavirus bills, several recurring themes have emerged from Congressional Democrats’ priorities in the labor and employment space. Summarized below are these themes from Congressional Democrats’ proposals that have not been signed into law.

The two larger coronavirus bills that were signed into law, dubbed “Phase 2” and “Phase 3”, are the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. There is likely a “Phase 4” bill will take shape in the coming weeks. Many provisions are not directly linked to immediate Coronavirus relief or would last past the declared emergency.

Key Terms:

FFCRA: the Democrats’ initial draft of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R.6201), but that draft changed significantly before it became law.

PAID: the PAID Leave Act, the bill Democrats introduced to provide expanded paid leave and create a federal paid family and medical leave insurance program. (S. 3515)

TRWFA: the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act (H.R. 6379), the bill Democrats introduced during the Phase 3 negotiations.

Conditions on Federal Financial Assistance

The House Democrats’ “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act” (H.R. 6379) would establish new requirements for companies that accept federal financial assistance due to the COVID-19 emergency.  Some of these would be temporarily imposed on the business, others would be permanent.

  • Employees Select Corporate Board Members – Companies accepting accelerated federal financial assistance would permanently be required to have at least one-third of the members of the company’s directors chosen by employees in a one-employee-one-vote election process.  This proposal was not included in any of the COVID-19 response bills that became law.  TRWFA (bill text)
  • $15 Minimum Wage – Companies accepting federal financial assistance would permanently be required to pay a minimum wage no less than $15 per hour. TRWFA (bill text) A separate clause for Air Carriers accepting financial assistance would have required a minimum wage no less than $15 per hour for a 10-year period.  TRWFA (bill text) These proposals were not included in any of the COVID-19 response bills that became law.
  • Neutrality Agreement – For Air Carriers, any person receiving financial assistance would be required to remain neutral in any communications with employees with respect to any efforts of an employee to organize, recruit, or assist in the organizing of a labor organization. This proposal was not included in any of the COVID-19 response bills that became law. TRWFA (bill text)
  • The Phase 3 bill – CARES Act – did include “neutrality” language for mid-sized companies (500 – 10,000 employees) that receive financial assistance through the new Main Street Lending Program federal loan facility. Another condition attached to the Main Street Lending Program is a requirement for the loan recipient to not “abrogate existing collective bargaining agreements” for the life of the loan plus the next two years. (bill text)
  • Union Seats on Corporate Boards – An air carrier receiving financial assistance would be required to have at least one seat on the air carrier’s board of directors for an individual who is a member or officer of a labor organization representing air carrier employees, with such individual to be named by such organization. This proposal was not included in any of the COVID-19 response bills that became law.  TRWFA (bill text)
  • CBA Protection in Bankruptcy – At air carriers accepting federal financial assistance, collective bargaining agreements could not be rejected during a bankruptcy.  This proposal was not included in any of the coronavirus bills that became law.  TRWFA (bill text)

Paid Leave Proposals

  • Emergency Paid Sick Leave for ALL Workers – Emergency Paid Sick Leave was created by the Phase 2 bill and is now required for employers with fewer than 500 employees.  House Democrats’ first iteration of the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act”, though, would require all employers to immediately give all employees 14 paid sick days when a public health emergency is declared.  This leave would be paid at the employees’ full rate of pay and would be in addition to the company’s previously existing paid leave policies.  Use of this time would be for the employee’s medical needs related to COVID-19 or the medical needs of a family member.  Tax credits were created to offset the cost of this leave, but would only be available to employers with fewer than 500 employees.  After the legislative negotiations for the Phase 2 bill, the emergency paid sick leave requirement was scaled down to only applying to employers with fewer than 500 employees.  During Phase 3 negotiations, Congressional Democrats introduced two bills to expand the requirement for leave to all employers – the “PAID Leave Act” ( 3515) and the “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act” (H.R. 6379).  FFCRA (bill text) TRWFA (bill text) PAID (bill text)
  • Expanded Family and Medical Paid Leave for ALL Workers– Emergency FMLA paid leave was created by the Phase 2 bill and is now required for employers with fewer than 500 employees.  However, during negotiations for Phase 2 and Phase 3, Congressional Democrats pushed for expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act to provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.  Similar to Emergency Paid Sick Leave, these proposals would have expanded the paid leave mandate to all employers.  Employees would be paid at two-thirds their regular rate of pay and a tax credit was created to cover the costs for employers with fewer than 500 employees.  After negotiations of the Phase 2 and Phase 3 bills, the expanded FMLA leave was created, but only required for employees of companies with fewer than 500 employees.  FFCRA (bill text) TRWFA (bill text)PAID (bill text)
  • Earned Paid Leave – Congressional Democrats included a new, permanent paid leave program originally proposed in the “Healthy Families Act” (R. 1784 / S. 840).  Under this plan, all employees could earn up to seven days of paid sick leave.  It would accrue over time, be paid at the employees’ regular rate of pay and could be used for the employee’s medical needs, those of a family member, and for addressing situations that arise from domestic violence, sexual violence, or stalking.  Earned funds could be carried over year-to-year.  This program wouldn’t be tied to a declared emergency and would have no sunset.  It would be required of all employers.  This proposal has not made it into any of the coronavirus response bills that have been signed into law.  FFCRA (bill text)  PAID (bill text)
  • Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program – The PAID Leave Act ( 3515), introduced during Phase 3 negotiations by Sens. Murray (D-WA) and Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. DeLauro (D-CT), would create a national paid family and medical leave insurance program funded through a new 0.4% payroll tax.  This program wouldn’t be tied to a declared emergency and would have no sunset. The Congressional Budget Office recently scored the FAMILY Act, stating it would increase direct spending by $547 billion over 10 years, increase taxes by $319 billion over ten years, and increase the federal deficit by $228 billion over ten years.  Further, CBO estimates the FAMILY Act would increase the Social Security Administration’s administrative costs by $27 billion.  This proposal has not made it into any of the coronavirus response bills that have been signed into law. PAID (bill text)

OSHA Emergency Standards

  • Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) – The House Democrats’ “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act” (R. 6379) would require OSHA to issue an ETS (“Emergency Temporary Standard” for health and safety ) for the health care sector, emergency medical services, “and any other sectors which either OSHA or the CDC designate at elevated risk.”  It would require businesses to develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect workers from exposure to coronavirus.  This proposal was not included in any of the COVID-19 response bills that became law, but several Democrat senators as well as labor organizations called on the Department of Labor to institute this new standard.  FFCRA (bill text) TRWFA (bill text)
  • Permanent Infectious Disease Standard – The House Democrats’ “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act” (R. 6379) would require OSHA to issue a comprehensive, permanent infectious disease standard within two years.  This proposal was not included in any of the COVID-19 response bills that became law. FFCRA (bill text) TRWFA (bill text)

Pension Reforms

  • “Butch Lewis” Multiemployer Pension Reform – The House Democrats’ “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act” (R. 6379) included the “Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act” (H.R. 397) to create a new government loan program for failing multiemployer pension plans.  These loans would be funded through the sale of government bonds.  The legislation was approved by the House in July of 2019; 29 Republicans voted YES with all Democrats. TRWFA (bill text)
  • Creation of Composite Multiemployer Pension Plans – The “GROW Act,” introduced previously by Reps. Roe (R-TN) and Norcross (R-NJ), was included in the House Democrats’ “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act” (R. 6379).  It would allow new “composite” multiemployer pension plans that combine aspects of defined benefit and defined contribution plans.  The multiemployer pension system has a number of failing pension plans that threaten financial condition of workers, retirees, and businesses, as well as the solvency of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC).   TRWFA (bill text)

Click here to download this breakdown of Coronavirus bills. 

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