Week Ending January 17, 2020

       Senate Clears New NAFTA Trade Deal with Labor Protections

  • Federal Investments in States and Localities Matter
  • Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
  • Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act
  • USMCA Agreement Passes in the Senate
  • House Moves to Protect Student Borrowers

Federal Investments in States and Localities Matter

The House Budget Committee held a hearing on Wednesday titled,  “Why Federal Investments Matter: Stability from Congress to State Capitals.” The committee heard testimony from several witnesses representing states and localities. Federal funding constitutes more than 30% of state budgets, going to health care, education, infrastructure and other services. The witnesses discussed how federal funding helps them meet the challenges that state and local governments face when there is budget uncertainty.

  • Budget Uncertainty: To help stabilize the economy, the federal government should not cut spending for vital public services. If anything, increasing federal investment in public services will help stabilize the economy and strengthen the workforce. To help states and localities deliver the necessary resources and services to their communities and residents, it is important that they have predictable budgets. Congress’ failure to pass appropriations bills in a timely manner and its increasing use of continuing resolutions (CR) also  creates uncertainty for state and local governments. When this occurs, contingency plans are often put in place to fill any unexpected gaps. Federal government shutdowns affect state and local economies since so many services and jobs are funded by Uncle Sam. Again, when this occurs, states and localities have to find funding to fill this void or their citizens go without certain services.

What You Need to Know: AFSCME submitted a statement for the official record that outlines how providing federal funding, instead of cutting federal investments, for important programs actually helps the economy for all Americans. 

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act 

On Tuesday, the House Education and Labor Committee marked up the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694). It passed out of committee by a vote of 29-17. This bill requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers unless doing so poses an undue hardship on the employer. It also protects workers from retaliation, intimidation or threats. 

  • The Value of Protecting Pregnant Workers: Reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers not only allows expectant mothers to stay healthy over the course of their terms but is essential for children, family members and the entire health care system. It also precludes them from having to choose between a healthy pregnancy or financial security.

What You Need to Know: Many pregnant workers are working longer into their pregnancies. And, despite the passage of “Pregnancy Discrimination Act” (PDA) of 1978, discrimination still exists. Many pregnant workers continue to face discrimination at an alarming rate – they are unable to take restroom breaks, are denied the ability to have water bottles, are expected to lift heavy materials, and are not provided a stool when they request one even if it is appropriate for the assignment or job function. Pregnant women must be protected in all sectors with no exceptions. AFSCME supports this bill and will continue to monitor it as it moves to the House floor for a full vote.

Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act 

On Wednesday, the House passed the bipartisan “Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA) (H.R.1230).” In a 261-155 vote, the House reaffirmed that older Americans should have the same rights and be treated with the same dignity and respect as other workers.

  • Why POWADA is Needed: Statistics reveal that three in five older workers report experiencing some form of discrimination on the job. These data reveal that this form of discrimination disproportionately affects women and people of color who more often reveal they’ve seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. POWADA would help to restore older workers’ rights under current law. This bill also helps to remedy legal barriers put in place by Supreme Court decisions that have made it far more difficult to prove age discrimination.

What You Need to Know: Discrimination based on age is wrong and unfair. POWADA is bipartisan legislation to restore fairness to older workers. It rectifies unfair court decisions that created unreasonably high burdens of proof in cases and provides remedies for workers who experience retaliation when they report age discrimination. AFSCME sent a letter to all members of the House encouraging their support. This legislation now moves on to the Senate,  where Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are the lead sponsors.

USMCA Agreement Passes in the Senate

This week the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) agreement passed the remaining Senate committees: Appropriations, Commerce, HELP, Budget, Environment and Foreign Relations. The Senate Finance Committee passed the implementing bill last week and the full House passed the measure with bipartisan support in late December. The full Senate passed the agreement with bipartisan support, by a vote of 89-10. The president will sign it into law.

  • Example for Future Trade Agreements: This trade agreement sets a new standard for future trade agreements. It includes strong labor standards with enforcement mechanisms. In particular, it includes a provision called the Brown-Wyden worker protection amendment, which allows factories to be inspected and Mexican workers to report company violations of their rights. These violations will be resolved by an Interagency Labor Committee (ILC) in a timely manner. Products from Mexico will be denied entry to the U.S. if labor violations are not corrected. The new agreement eliminates a drug patent protection that would have led to high drug costs.

What You Need to Know: Although the U.S. and Mexico have passed the deal, Canada still needs to ratify the agreement before it goes into effect. This will likely take place later this month when the Canadian Parliament is in session.

House Moves to Protect Student Borrowers

The House passed H.J. Res. 76 by a bipartisan vote of 231-180 on Thursday. The resolution repeals the Trump administration’s changes to the “borrower defense to repayment” rule, standing up for students who have been deceived by predatory colleges to pay for expensive degrees that provide essentially no education or training.

  • The Borrower Defense Rule Protects Students: In 2016, the Department of Education (ED) issued a rule to ensure that millions of defrauded student borrowers could have their student loans canceled. However, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos decided to side with predatory colleges over students and has twice tried to undermine this rule. When those attempts were ruled illegal, DeVos issued a new, third rule that will take effect in July. 

What You Need to Know: AFSCME strongly opposes ED’s rule and Devos’ efforts, which would make it nearly impossible for students to receive debt relief. Millions of students have been wronged, especially students from low-income families, veterans, first-generation college students and students of color. These students deserve protection from fraud, relief from their unfair debt, and the opportunity to seek a real degree that will help them earn a living. The Trump administration opposes the House resolution so it’s not likely to be voted on by the Senate.

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