After winning back the House on Tuesday, Democrats plan to grill Labor Department officials about some of their proposals, which they have safety and transparency concerns about.
Democrats have long had questions about the U.S. Department of Labor’s approach on issues such as child labor in health care jobs and not informing the public about an analysis that did not favor one of their proposed regulations on tipping.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), who will be chair of the Education and Workforce Committee, told Bloomberg Law about his plans and said, “If you’re having a regulatory change, the law requires you to produce the evidence to support the change.”
In December, the department proposed a rule rescinding parts of Obama-era tip regulations and allow employers who pay the minimum wage to take workers’ tips. The department said it would allow “back of the house” workers, such as dishwashers and cooks, who don’t typically receive tips, to be part of a tip-sharing pool. But the rule wouldn’t actually prevent employers from just keeping the tips.
According to Economic Policy Institute research, tipped workers would lose $5.8 billion a year in tips as a result of this rule. Women in tipped jobs would lose $4.6 billion annually.
After doing an internal analysis of the proposal, Department of Labor decided to scrub it from its proposal after it also discovered workers would be robbed of billions of dollars. Staff then changed the methodology to get a more favorable analysis, but Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and his team were reportedly unsatisfied with even that analysis, so with the approval of the White House, they took it out. Later reports from Bloomberg showed that White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) staff said the proposal of changes to tipped worker pay rules should include professional estimates of the impact for tipped workers but Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, worked with Acosta to scrap the analysis entirely, Bloomberg Law first reported.
In December, Saru Jayaraman, president of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a non-profit that advocates for improvement of wages for low-wage restaurant workers, said the proposed rule would push a majority-women workforce “further into financial instability, poverty, and vulnerability to harassment and assault.”
Democrats on the committee, as well as other Democrats in Congress, wrote a letter to the department in February stating that if the department withheld the analysis, it “raises serious questions about the integrity of the Department’s rulemaking process.” They also demanded more information about meetings and further communication about the analysis.
Democrats also wrote a letter to Acosta and Mulvaney in August citing their concerns about a department proposal to allow teenagers to work more hours in health care positions that under current regulations, are considered unsafe for them. The department has said that exempting power-driven patient lifts from these regulations makes sense because use of the equipment would be “safer for workers than the alternative method of manually lifting patients.”
The department has said that teenagers would have to receive 75 hours of training and at least 16 hours of supervision by a nurse in the proposed rule.
But in their August letter, Democratic lawmakers said they want scientific reviews from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
“While we believe in expanding job opportunities for young workers, I am sure you would agree that this should not be done at the expense of their health, safety, and lives,” Democratic members of Congress wrote.