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BPAA Federal Policy Update - April 9

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LABOR & MINIMUM WAGE

  • Bloomberg Government reports, “White House Aims to Staff Up Wage & Hour Division” – The White House is working behind the scenes to staff the Labor Department with more political appointees for the Wage and Hour Division, sources with knowledge of the matter tell Bloomberg Law. The WHD, which regulates and enforces minimum wage and overtime laws, is short on political staff as it seeks to overhaul an Obama administration approach that was despised by the business community. Under President Donald Trump, the agency has only two politically appointed officials and is still awaiting the Senate confirmation of a WHD administrator who was nominated more than six months ago. By comparison, there were nine political appointees at the WHD in the final years of the Obama administration, including Administrator David Weil. The White House’s willingness to hire more officials at the WHD suggests the calls from business representatives this past year to accelerate the dismantling of the Obama-era wage-hour agenda are now being heard. Officials have already signaled a more business-friendly approach to minimum wage and overtime enforcement. The staffing push is fueled in part by several heavy-lifting tasks already underway at the agency. That includes drafting a proposed rule to expand workers’ access to overtime pay, but in a more moderate way than attempted by the Obama administration.

 

  • Bloomberg Government reports, “Labor Dept. Tries to Reassure Businesses at Launch of PAID Pilot” – The Labor Department launched its self-reporting project April 3 by issuing new details that may entice more participation from some businesses, while scaring off others. An employer that submits a self-audit showing it owes back pay to workers but is denied from participating in the program by the DOL Wage and Hour Division will likely not be exposed to a new investigation, the WHD stated in an expanded set of questions and answers. This addresses a key concern expressed by management attorneys in the weeks since the DOL announced the pilot March 6. “If WHD declines an employer’s request to participate in the program, the employer’s request to participate will not serve as the basis for a future investigation, unless WHD has reason to believe that health or safety are at risk (for example, if there are child labor violations),” the division stated. The department went live with the Payroll Audit Independent Determination, or PAID, program by publishing a series of guidelines that attempt to inform businesses how to confess to their past minimum wage and overtime violations. Lawyers for management and workers have been asking skeptical questions recently but said the WHD may resolve some of their issues by publishing more information about the parameters of PAID. Read more about the program at the DOL Website here: https://www.dol.gov/whd/paid/

 

The Washington Examiner reports, “SEIU slashes funding for $15 minimum wage movement” – The Service Employees International Union, one of the nation's most powerful labor groups, last year chopped funding on its push for a $15 minimum wage at fast-food restaurants to the lowest level in four years. The union poured $13.3 million into the effort in 2017, down from $14 million in 2016 and as much as $23 million in 2014, according to Labor Department filings. The SEIU has been the main organizing force behind the nationwide push for raising the minimum wage. It’s not clear why the union has been cutting back on the funding. Its activism was initially part of an effort to organize workers at fast-food restaurants, which the organizers tried to present as a grassroots effort led by the workers themselves

HEALTH INSURANCE

The National Restaurant Association is partnering with UnitedHealth Group to offer expanded insurance options to small businesses. As the Trump administration is loosening rules around association health plans, the Restaurant & Hospitality Association Benefit Trust is offering 120 different plans to members with two to 99 employees. The plans comply with the Affordable Care Act's coverage rules, according to the association. "This solution can offer smaller companies some of the same advantages available to larger employers," said Dawn Sweeney, CEO of the National Restaurant Association, in a statement announcing the venture. President Donald Trump issued an executive order in October calling for agencies to expand the availability of association and short-term plans in a bid to drive down premiums and expand coverage options. The Department of Labor in January proposed rewriting ERISA regulations to let more groups qualify as associations that can purchase coverage outside the Obamacare markets. Those new rules, which would also make association plans available to small business owners with no employees, have not yet been finalized. Obamacare supporters fear that such proposals could further splinter the individual and small group markets, leaving behind a disproportionately sick population. That could further destabilize the exchanges and drive up already skyrocketing premiums.

FOOD & BEVERAGE

  • The Washington Examiner reports, “Could sports leagues be contributing to America’s obesity problem?” – Sponsorship deals between food and beverage companies and professional sports leagues may be contributing to the nation's obesity problem, according to the director of the National Institutes of Health. NIH Director Francis Collins cited a study that examined how deals between major sports leagues like the National Football League and Major League Baseball and food and beverage companies could create confusing messages about physical fitness and eating habits. “Among the 10 sports organizations that young viewers watch most, from the NFL to Little League, the NIH-funded research team identified dozens of sponsors and hundreds of associated advertisements promoting food and beverage products,” Collins wrote in a blog post. “The vast majority of those ads touted unhealthy items, including chips, candies, sodas, and other foods high in fat, sodium, or sugar, and low in nutritional value.” He added that these relationships mean the sports leagues are effectively encouraging bad eating habits. The NIH-funded study sought to explore the paradox of sports fans celebrating athletes “at the pinnacle of physical fitness while being bombarded by advertisements in the stadium and on TV that promote unhealthy eating habits,” Collins said. The study comes as federal figures show that in 2015-2016, more than 18 percent of young people in America were obese, along with nearly 40 percent of American adults. The study found that food and non-alcoholic beverage deals accounted for almost 20 percent of all corporate sponsorships for the leagues in 2015.

 

The New York Times reports, “In Nafta Talks, U.S. Tries to Limit Junk Food Warning Labels

ALCOHOL

  • Stat News reports, “New alcohol-advertising research stopped with NIH branch director’s arrival” – The branch of the National Institutes of Health that studies alcohol abuse has not funded any new research by outside scientists specifically on the effects of alcohol advertising since its current director took over in 2014, according to a STAT analysis of grants. At least seven such studies were funded in the decade before George Koob became director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 2014. No new grants have been awarded since.

 

Vox reports, “The alcohol industry gave the government money to prove moderate drinking is safe” – Over the weekend, the New York Times published a bombshell report on alarming ties between the alcohol industry and the National Institutes of Health. Specifically, five alcohol companies helped fund — and potentially shaped the design of — a 7,800-person randomized controlled trial overseen by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a center at the NIH. The trial is supposed to answer the long-simmering question of whether moderate drinking truly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. The most shocking detail in the story: The researchers behind the study reportedly persuaded alcohol industry executives to fund them by arguing the trial “represents a unique opportunity to show that moderate alcohol consumption is safe and lowers risk of common diseases” — before they had even enrolled their first patient. The study “is not public health research — it’s marketing,” Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health, told Times reporter Roni Caryn Rabin. The story is, without a doubt, troubling and raises many questions about research integrity at NIH. For now, the agency is investigating the debacle

 

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