I Love the Smell of Jet Fumes in the Morning. The smell of jet fumes permeated Washington, D.C., this week as senators scrambled to tie up some loose ends before heading home for the August recess. When Congress returns in September, the Buzz will be watching how the U.S. Senate addresses pending nominees for secretary of labor and at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (more on this below). Legislatively, we will be monitoring the Senate’s treatment of bills relating to immigration, retirement, healthcare (repealing the “Cadillac tax”), and LGBTQ protections, among other matters.

EEOC Nominees Confirmed. On August 1, 2019, the Senate confirmed Charlotte Burrows for a second term as a commissioner on the EEOC and Sharon Fast Gustafson as general counsel of the Commission (these were two of the 66 confirmations that occurred in the Senate on August 1). Burrows remains the only Democrat on the Commission. Gustafson, who is a solo practitioner, will be the EEOC’s first general counsel in the Trump administration. Among other cases, Gustafson represented the employee in a 2015 case that the Supreme Court of the United States decided concerning pregnancy discrimination. Still waiting for a hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is EEOC nominee Keith Sonderling, who is currently with the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division.

DOL Finalizes Retirement Rule. On July 29, 2019, the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration finalized a rule that “makes it easier for small businesses to offer retirement savings plans to their workers through Association Retirement Plans (ARPs), which would allow small businesses to band together to offer retirement plans to their employees.” The rule allows certain employer groups and professional employer organizations to be considered “employers” for purposes of establishing multiple-employer defined-contribution retirement plans (MEPs) under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. Accompanying the rule is a request for information (RFI) on “whether to amend [DOL] regulations to facilitate the sponsorship of ‘open MEPs’ by persons acting indirectly in the interests of unrelated employers whose employees would receive benefits under such arrangements.” Comments on the RFI are due by October 29, 2019. The final ARP rule is scheduled to become effective September 30, 2019.

Railroad Board Finalizes Decertification Rule. On July 26, 2019, the National Mediation Board—the federal agency that “helps to maintain the flow of interstate commerce in the airline and railway industries through representation, mediation and arbitration services”—issued a final rule that streamlines the union decertification process for employees covered by the Railway Labor Act. The final rule simplifies the decertification process and abandons the previous “indirect” decertification process, which required employees to first sign cards to be represented by a “straw man.”

Bipartisan Paid Leave Plan Drops. Earlier this week, Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) announced a new paid leave proposal that would allow new parents to take an advance of up to $5,000 on their future child tax credits, which would then be offset in future years. Bipartisanship on this issue is a good thing, but the Buzz wonders if this proposal has enough juice to get members of both parties excited.

Master of Puppets. Many critics accuse politicians in Washington, D.C., of being puppets of some outside influencer. So perhaps it was fitting that earlier this week, actual puppets made an appearance at a briefing held in the Rayburn House Office Building. On July 29, 2019, the Congressional Internet Caucus Academy held a briefing on how Congress impacts and influences the music industry. During the briefing, Kevin Erickson, director of the Future of Music Coalition, used several different puppets to explain intellectual property matters in the music industry. The Buzz thought this was quite an effective presentation. And at least in this case, we know who is pulling the strings.