Monday morning musings for workplace watchers.
Su on the Move|FAA Labor Provisions
Rebecca Rainey and Ian Kullgren: Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su has spent the start of 2024 on the road, stumping on behalf of the Biden administration’s workforce investments and promoting the most “pro-union” president in modern history, just as the presidential race begins to heat up.
Already this year, she’s traveled to Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Connecticut, Nevada, Alabama, and Wisconsin, and made at least two speeches at events in D.C.
“Acting Secretary Julie Su has been crisscrossing the country talking with workers, employers, and leaders about the historic investments of the Biden-Harris Administration,” Grace Hagerty, deputy press secretary at the DOL, said in a statement to PI. “In her conversations, Acting Secretary Su highlights the good jobs and equitable opportunities created under President Biden’s leadership, and the transformative power of a good job on our communities.”
Last week, Su spoke to a room of union leaders about women leaders in the transportation sector at a soiree hosted at the AFL-CIO headquarters to celebrate Shari Semelsberger, secretary-treasurer of the federation’s Transportation Trades Department. She spent plenty of time afterward mingling with AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and other bigwigs.
In January, Su trekked to Wauwatosa, Wis., to meet with apprentices and tout the Biden administration’s efforts to drive green energy investments like electric vehicle charging stations and infrastructure. She also met with nurses, local representatives, and business leaders in Connecticut to discuss workplace safety issues, job training programs in manufacturing, and unemployment insurance modernization.
And while she was in Las Vegas last month, Su joined a panel on artificial intelligence at the Consumer Electronics Show and a roundtable discussion with Arriba Las Vegas Worker Center. The center was a recipient of a 2023 workplace safety training grant from the DOL, and has also advocated for more protections for immigrant workers.
Su’s packed public schedule promoting worker training investments and the pro-union efforts from the White House is not unexpected, given how frequently President Joe Biden deployed her predecessor Marty Walsh as a face of the administration.
But it also comes as unions are asking for more from elected leaders to win their support.
Unions historically have endorsed Democrats in presidential races, using their vast organizing structures and armies of volunteers to turn out voters. But the alliance between Democrats and union rank-and-file has been tenuous since 2016, when blue-collar workers supported Donald Trump, costing Hillary Clinton the “blue wall” in the Midwest.
Trump has been trying hard to win those workers back in 2024. He rips on electric vehicles in nearly every stump speech, saying that the pivot from gas-powered cars will lead to mass layoffs and hollowed-out communities. And he stokes the divide between union members and leaders, telling the former group that the latter can’t be trusted.
That rhetoric may not be falling on deaf ears. The United Auto Workers didn’t make things easy for Biden to receive their endorsement last month, even after he walked the picket line in Michigan. The Teamsters took it a step further, meeting with Trump at their Washington headquarters Jan. 31. The union’s president, Sean O’Brien, has said leadership wants to hear from both candidates before making a decision—a tacit acknowledgment that members aren’t a lock for Biden.
Diego Areas Munhoz: After nearly eight months, senators have finally advanced legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, including a slew of workforce provisions. But more controversial proposals were left on the sidelines.
Despite support from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and organized labor, senators in the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee didn’t include a measure that would withhold federal funding to airports that don’t pay service workers—such as baggage handlers, security guards, and cabin cleaners—at least $15 an hour during the bill’s Feb. 8 markup.
Major unions such as the Service Employees International Union, Unite Here, and the Communications Workers of America had been pushing for Sen. Ed Markey’s (D-Mass.) Good Jobs for Good Airports Act (S.753) that could impact over 300,000 workers.
The unions argued these workers are paid very low wages and have few benefits, as thousands of service workers at major airports in states that abide by the federal minimum wage, such as Dallas-Fort Worth International, earn about $7.25.
Last summer, service workers rallied in about 20 US airports for better working conditions, leading to strikes at major hubs in Washington D.C., New York, and Boston.
“Airport service workers are often over-worked and they are often under-paid and we have a moral obligation to do right by these workers—to ensure they are fairly compensated for their hard and grueling work,” Markey said during the markup.
Markey offered his bill as an amendment during the legislative session last week, but withdrew it and didn’t request a roll call vote. Senators usually refrain from voting on amendments that aren’t previously agreed on to avoid a “poison pill” measure that could affect the larger bill’s passage.
Republicans—who have mostly opposed efforts to raise the federal minimum wage to $15, citing concerns of raising costs for employers and taking away jobs—didn’t support Markey’s bill.
The Senate FAA reauthorization bill did include several other workforce provisions, however.
Senators approved an expansion of educational grants for the pilot, airplane technician, and manufacturing workforce. The bill would also create the Women in Aviation Advisory Committee to focus on bringing more women into the air industry.
The bill would also require the FAA to issue guidance for crew members—such as flight attendants and pilots—who need to express breast milk during non-critical phases of flight. A similar provision was included in the House FAA bill that passed in June 2023.
Under the legislation, air carriers would also have to report to the FAA a plan for employees to prevent and respond to hostile behavior and assault during travel, a measure drafted in response to a dramatic rise in unruly passenger reports since the Covid-19 pandemic.
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