During his presidential campaign and since his election in November 2020, President Biden has stressed his commitment to strengthening workers’ rights and improving work conditions in the U.S. He identified three primary focus areas to that end: Tamping down corporate abuses of power in the employment context; incentivizing workforce organization and collective bargaining; and improving the standards for pay, benefits, and protections at all workplaces. Chief among these, he has voiced support for increasing the federal minimum wage – which has sat stagnant at $7.25 per hour for over a decade – to $15 per hour.
Several other goals have also crystallized in the Biden administration’s early days. Some of these are tied directly to efforts to blunt the economic and other devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on workers. These include expanding unemployment benefits through September 2021, providing back hazard pay to frontline and other essential workers; renewing and expanding coverage of the paid sick and family leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act; and authorizing OSHA to issue and enforce a nationwide COVID-19 protection standard.
Outside of the pandemic response context, other policy goals include adopting a relaxed, straightforward test for determining joint employer liability under the FLSA and labor laws; making misclassification of employees as independent contractors a substantive violation of federal law; requiring employers bidding for federal contracts to demonstrate historic compliance with labor and employment laws; and dramatically expanding the definition of an employee under the National Labor Relations Act to capture more workers currently excluded as independent contractors and supervisors.
With the Senate now under narrow democratic control, it remains to be seen whether – and how – the administration can achieve these goals. If President Biden is unable to accomplish his desired ends through formal legislation, he may turn to executive orders to implement his new policies.