According to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, the “largest question” for the incoming administration will be how to “embrace innovation” as part of the changing nature of work, while ensuring a level of workforce protections for participants in the on-demand economy. In his Memorandum to the American People, Perez highlighted the Department of Labor’s regulatory and policy achievements over the past eight years, called on the new Congress to enact federal employment legislation, and urged the DOL under President-elect Trump to prepare for the future of work.
The exit memorandum devotes an entire section to the evolving workplace, noting that the DOL has “expand[ed] the aperture of that conversation from the tech sector and gig economy to ensure that it includes all workers across all industries.” Perez said there is a need for more data on emerging employment trends, which is why the Bureau of Labor Statistics intends to conduct a survey on contingent and alternative employment to provide a clearer picture of those workers who participate in forms of nontraditional work arrangements or “gig work.” The Labor Secretary noted that the current administration awarded grants to innovators to design portable benefits models for on-demand workers. Figuring out ways to ensure gig economy workers receive basic levels of employment protections and benefits while honoring the advantages inherent in this employment model will be a key challenge for the new DOL and policymakers.
In addition to discussing the changing nature of the workforce, the exit memorandum called upon Congress to increase the federal minimum wage, enact a paid sick leave law for private-sector workers, and take steps to combat “unfair scheduling” practices.
The memorandum also touted the administration’s achievements in enacting the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which revamped the country’s job-training laws. Perez urged the incoming administration to use WIOA’s framework “to continue to coordinate efforts of key workforce partners—business leaders, workforce boards, labor unions, community colleges, nonprofits and state and local officials.” Notably, Perez said it was “critical” to continue to engage the business community in this process: “[w]e can’t help people get jobs unless we are talking to the job-creators. We have to make sure training is aligned with the labor needs of businesses.”
The Obama administration’s employment policy legacy, as implemented by the DOL, will likely be reshaped in the months to come. Which regulations and initiatives will remain, and which will be revised, is unknown. What is clear is that the new DOL is inheriting a workforce that is more transient and less dependent on 9-to-5 jobs than in years past.