Infrastructure, Federal Contracts, And Unions, Oh My!

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Vinson & Elkins LLP

We all know that April showers bring May flowers, but this year April showers might have also brought more unions. Last week, President Biden, through an executive order, created the Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment (the “Task Force”). Led by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, the Task Force will focus on “mobilizing the federal government’s policies, programs and practices to empower workers to organize and successfully bargain with their employers.”

Within 180 days, the Task Force will produce a set of recommendations addressing two issues: (1) how to better utilize existing polices, programs, and practices to promote worker organizing and collective bargaining in the federal government; and (2) what new policies are needed to implement the Task Force’s stated mission of empowering union organization across the country. By addressing these two issues, the Task Force hopes to accomplish four goals:

  1. ensure that the federal government is a “model employer” with respect to encouraging unionization in the federal workforce;
  2. facilitate worker organizing across the country;
  3. increase worker power in underserved communities; and
  4. increase union membership across the country.

Federal contracts seem like fairly fertile grounds for the Task Force to achieve its stated goals — especially through those contracts that will stem from President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, a plan that seeks to invest in infrastructure across the United States to the tune of roughly $2 trillion. As we saw last week, when President Biden raised the federal contractor minimum wage to $15 (discussed more here), the president has a tremendous amount of power to unilaterally alter employment-related terms with respect to federal contracts. The Task Force could easily recommend that the president, through executive order, implement various pro-union-related measures under the theory that such measures would further the president’s obligation to promote efficiency in government contracts.

Given the Biden administration’s current focus on worker organization, we believe it prudent for employers to refresh their understanding of various legal issues that arise in the context of a unionized workforce. To that end, we will address some key union issues related to property rights, elections, and terminations over the next couple weeks.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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