Monday morning musings for workplace watchers
Hugler’s Return | Pay Equity at the OFCCP?
Ben Penn: The U.S. Labor Department has brought back a former longtime senior official to help coordinate a hiring surge, as the Biden administration seeks to rebuild labor enforcement staffing.
Ed Hugler was formerly the department’s most senior career official and twice served as acting labor secretary over the course of his four-decade DOL career.
DOL agencies this summer are staffing up to the maximum extent possible, despite an uncertain fiscal 2022 funding picture.
Funds from the American Rescue Plan and fiscal 2021 appropriations are expected to support “substantial gains in hiring,” DOL spokesman Egan Reich said in a response that confirmed Hugler’s return as a “retired annuitant.” But additional funding from Congress in fiscal 2022 “and beyond” will be needed to maintain the hires after fiscal 2023, he added.
There is a sense of urgency here, as Hugler’s new role demonstrates.
The hiring and training process takes significant time before new investigators can be deployed effectively in the field.
And DOL leaders surely know the department is behind schedule in preparations to enforce wage and safety standards on new federally funded projects that would materialize if Congress approves infrastructure legislation and a reconciliation bill loaded with spending on social programs.
Hugler has taken on duties that would normally fall to the deputy secretary. Julie Su, who was confirmed to the role earlier this month, has managed a massive state agency in California, but will need time to adjust.
Has progress been made? It’s tough to tell. DOL media reps weren’t able to provide numbers on how many people have been hired or are being targeted for hire this year, but Reich’s statement said nearly every agency at the department has active job postings.
Interviews are being held for positions in senior management down to entry level, including wage-hour investigators and Solicitor’s Office line attorneys, according to three sources briefed on the process.
The department is also aiming to fill a few noteworthy senior career vacancies, such as the Wage and Hour Division’s associate administrator for policy.
There were 168 open DOL positions on usajobs.gov as of late last week, with mine safety inspectors in particular demand.
Brad Allen, vice president of the union representing some 7,000 DOL staffers outside of Washington, D.C., said his members have been stretched thin and welcome new hires.
“I think its very important,” he said. “The existing people are super frustrated with not being able to get the work done.”
The union met with Walsh earlier this year and was encouraged that he’d be able to change the culture in DOL management, Allen added.
But the true test, he said, will come when his union, the National Council of Field Labor Locals, returns to the bargaining table with the DOL’s human resources unit, after contract talks stalled last year.
Also on the DOL hiring front, John Towle, a veteran figure in Boston politics, was brought on this month as Walsh’s executive secretary, a department spokesman confirmed.
Towle has more than three decades of public service experience in Massachusetts. For the last several years of Walsh’s tenure as Boston mayor, Towle was his senior public policy adviser.
Now, he’ll hold a key administrative job. It’s not an outward-facing policy role, but Walsh and his chief of staff, Dan Koh—who held the same gig under Walsh in Boston—have gained a trusted hand to monitor sensitive documents.
“To work with Sec. Walsh and all of the experienced and dedicated professionals at the Department of Labor who work so hard to protect and advance the interests of workers is a unique privilege,” Towle said in a statement.
Paige Smith: Speaking of new faces at DOL, the department’s contractor compliance agency just hired its top policy official, and her track record suggests pay equity will be a focus.
Maya Raghu was director of workplace equality and senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center before joining the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs as deputy director for policy. At NWLC she worked on equal-pay initiatives and other equality-focused policies.
“She’s smart, and measured, and she knows how to get things done,” said Patricia Shiu, the agency’s Obama-era director.
Raghu was one of the lead attorneys representing the NWLC in a lawsuit against the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over a Trump-era move to block collection of workforce pay data from private employers.
“I would expect that she would pursue some sort of standardized pay reporting for the OFCCP,” said Valerie Hoffman, a partner with Seyfarth Shaw who advises employers on OFCCP-related matters.
The agency has a scattered history with collecting pay information from federal contractors. It did so during the George W. Bush administration—before the EEOC proposed taking up the mantle in the Obama years under the direction of Jenny Yang, who is now the OFCCP’s director.
During the Obama administration, the contractor watchdog had wanted to again collect the info from contractors, but didn’t follow through.
Yang has expressed interest in learning how the OFCCP could use data to benchmark pay gaps to address workplace inequities. The agency hasn’t announced any substantive goals for collecting compensation information from employers, and spokespeople didn’t respond to emailed questions about whether it plans to do so.
“My colleagues and I have benefited from Maya’s experience and expertise countless times over the last several years,” said Karianne Jones, a senior counsel at Democracy Forward, which also represented the NWLC in the EEOC pay data lawsuit.
“While we will miss her expertise, I am confident that workers will gain from Maya as the transformative work to tackle inequality and advance fairness and dignity in the workplace continues,” Jones said in an email.
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