Biden admin to rescind Trump ‘conscience’ rule for health workers

“The Biden administration is preparing to scrap a Trump-era rule that allows medical workers to refuse to provide services that conflict with their religious or moral beliefs”

“The so-called conscience rule, unveiled in 2018 and finalized in 2019, was blocked by federal courts after dozens of states, cities and advocacy groups sued, and has never been implemented.
Had it gone forward, it would have allowed doctors, nurses, medical students, pharmacists and other health workers to refuse to provide abortions, contraception, gender affirming care, HIV and STD services, vasectomies or any procedure to which they object.”

Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up Big Everything

“mergers don’t just affect consumers: “The world has changed for those workers,” Warren said.”

“Studies have shown that as markets become more concentrated, wages stagnate.”

“Under Warren’s new bill, mergers over a certain size or that consolidate the market too much are forbidden. And consummated mergers that have harmed competition, workers, consumers, or competitors can be broken up.”

Local governments have billions in federal Covid cash and no workers to pay

“State and local governments are struggling to hire and retain workers amid a tight labor market, even as private-sector employment is reaching pre-pandemic levels.

Despite an influx of federal cash they received in response to Covid-19 — much of which remains unspent — and their own booming revenues, governments are having a hard time competing for workers as salaries at private companies rise.

Economists and unions warn that if public-sector employers can’t reverse the trend, it will erode the quality of services like education and slow the overall economic recovery. ”

“Altogether, the public sector has gained back 53 percent of the jobs lost since February 2020, a ZipRecruiter analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data found. The private sector has won back 93 percent.”

“Economists cite a historically tight labor market as one driver of the discrepancy. Employers in every industry are struggling to attract and retain talent, which has put upward pressure on pay and perks such as remote work that governments thus far have been unable to match.

There were a record 11.3 million job openings in January, the most recent month for which data is available — about 5 million more than there are employed workers. At the same time, average hourly earnings have surpassed $31 — a more than 5 percent increase from the previous year.

The year-over-year growth rate for hourly private-sector salaries and wages in each of the past four quarters has exceeded that for state and local governments by the largest margin on record, according to a Pew analysis of Labor Department data.

“Really across the board, many governments are often facing intense competition for workers,” Mike Maciag, who studies the government sector at The Pew Charitable Trusts, said. “Slower [public-sector] wage growth is playing a major role in hindering efforts by a lot of governments to fill openings and retain workers.”

Maciag points to a recent report from Arkansas’ Office of Personnel Management that found competing offers from Walmart, McDonald’s, Amazon and the like were impeding that state’s efforts to fill some positions. All paid significantly more than the state for entry-level jobs — despite the fact that the “complexity and responsibility” of the government roles “far exceeded” that of the private-sector ones, according to the report.”

Immigrants could help the US labor shortage — if the government would let them

“Amid nationwide labor shortages in critical industries, more than a million immigrants are waiting on the US government to issue them work permits. Without these permits, many could lose their jobs, and some already have.

Biraj Nepal, a Nepali asylum seeker living in Woodland, California, has been working as a software engineer in the IT department of a bank for the last four years. Nepal went on unpaid administrative leave starting on January 26 because his work permit expired and the government has yet to process his renewal application. That has left his employer in a lurch: There’s long been a shortage of IT workers, and the pandemic accelerated that trend as companies went remote. Now, nearly a third of IT executives say that the search for qualified employees has gotten “significantly harder.”

If Nepal isn’t issued a new work permit within 90 days of taking administrative leave, his company will, by law, no longer be able to hold his job for him and will likely look for a contractor to fill his role. Under normal circumstances, that wouldn’t be a concern; work permits are meant to be issued quickly so that immigrants can be self-sufficient even while they are waiting on other applications for visas and green cards, which can take months or years to process. But the backlog at US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reached crisis level.”

“The pandemic is partly to blame. Monthslong USCIS office closures and staff shortages have created a backlog of more than 8 million applications across all types of immigration benefits — including green cards, visas, and protection from deportation — and most work permit applicants have to be photographed and fingerprinted in person. USCIS was also plagued by a budget crisis under the Trump administration, and work permit applications spiked last fiscal year to an all-time high of 2.6 million, straining the agency’s capacity.

Under President Joe Biden, USCIS has taken some measures to combat the problem, though has stopped short of automatically extending the validity period of expired work permits as advocates have requested. It temporarily waived fingerprinting requirements for some applicants, exempted spouses of certain visa holders from having to apply separately for work authorization, and extended the validity period of newly issued work permits from one to two years for some immigrants who have been admitted to the US on humanitarian grounds. It has also hired new staff, including 200 people in the agency’s asylum division, to address the backlog. But it’s not clear why the agency hasn’t also adopted the extension policy that activists have called for.

Earlier this month, a federal court vacated two Trump-era rules that had restricted access to work permits for asylum seekers, meaning that their applications could be processed more quickly going forward.

“Agency personnel is addressing outstanding processing issues and making changes to underlying procedures to achieve new efficiencies while ensuring the integrity and security of the immigration system. This includes improving processing times and decreasing pending cases,” said Matthew Bourke, a USCIS spokesperson.

But the backlog remains too large to be solved quickly by USCIS’s new policies or the court decisions. That would require additional regulatory action: In addition to extending the validity of expired work permits, the government could also streamline the application form for work permits to speed up processing, Cruz said. That could help immigrants who can’t afford to wait much longer for their applications to be approved.”

Grocery Shelves Are Empty, but Immigration Waitlists Are Full

“Immigrants frequently fill jobs that native-born Americans are reluctant to do. Unsurprisingly, the largest gaps in the labor market tend to appear where immigrants make up a larger share of the workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 “foreign-born workers were more likely than native-born workers to be employed in service occupations; natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations; and production, transportation, and material moving occupations.” Foreign-born workers make up roughly 17 percent of the U.S. labor force. In each of the struggling sectors mentioned above, more than 20 percent of the workers are already immigrants.

This dynamic isn’t just affecting low-wage jobs. According to Bloomberg, the U.S. is currently experiencing its worst health care labor shortage ever. An estimated 2.7 million immigrants are already working in hospitals. In October, 16 percent of American hospitals reported that they were critically short-staffed and the situation has only gotten worse. These essential jobs need to be filled so desperately that health officials are allowing staff infected with COVID to stay on the job. Many health care workers are experiencing burnout, and immigrants have already proven they can step in and get the job done.

Immigrants won’t solve every labor shortage in the U.S., but letting more people come here for an honest and well-paying job would be a great place to start. The sooner we see more immigrants allowed into the U.S., the sooner we’ll see more milk and meat at the supermarket.”

We’ll never have a normal flu season again

“Before the pandemic, the flu alone could sometimes push hospital systems into crisis mode, where they cancel elective procedures and limit other kinds of care. Now there’s Covid-19, which has done the same thing on its own.

Suddenly conjuring more hospital capacity every winter to handle the expected surges of flu and Covid-19 is not going to happen. Thousands of additional hospital beds are not coming in the next few years, and the US would not have the doctors and nurses to staff them anyway. It will take much longer — years or maybe decades — to improve the gaps in America’s health care infrastructure and workforce that have been exposed during Covid-19.

This means the imperative to “flatten the curve,” to limit the spread of these viruses to stop hospitals from being overwhelmed, will be with us for a long time. But the makeup of the curve will change, measuring multiple diseases instead of one.”

“Vaccination is the best way to stop a bad Covid-and-flu season before it starts.”

“Surveillance is critical, starting with early-warning systems. Public health institutions have long monitored the flu and they are already tracking Covid-19 in a similar manner. Monitoring the amount of virus detected in local wastewater has proven to be a reliable leading indicator of new Covid-19 waves during the pandemic. And widespread, reliable testing will be essential — including at-home tests for both Covid-19 and the flu.”

“Frequent testing lets people know that they should isolate. If they are at higher risk of severe illness, they can get on antivirals quickly. The current therapies are most effective at stopping serious symptoms that could require hospitalization if they are taken within the first few days of an illness. Research in the last decade has found that flu antivirals are too often underprescribed for patients who would benefit most; improving prescription rates is only more critical now that the health system will be contending with both the flu and Covid-19 going forward.”

Biden’s H-1B Conundrum

“I spoke with current and former H-1B holders, U.S. workers, union reps, academics, lobbyists, recruiters and immigration lawyers on both sides of the political spectrum. While they differed on the specifics, many said that the program is used not to fill labor shortages, as corporations insist, but to cut costs. Critics say that businesses regularly game the system to pay H-1B visa holders below market wages, both exploiting foreign workers and stacking the deck against American job seekers.

As a candidate, President Joe Biden promised reform, saying “high skilled temporary visas should not be used to disincentivize recruiting workers already in the U.S. for in-demand occupations.” Now in office, his administration is considering increasing the wages companies have to pay H-1B workers, which would reduce the incentive for companies to hire foreign workers. This summer, it quietly — and unsuccessfully — defended in court a Trump-era rule that would have replaced the lottery system currently used to allocate visas with one that prioritizes the highest-paying jobs. Both Democratic senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa had long been calling for the change, saying in a joint letter that the “H-1B visa program is greatly in need of reform.”

But full scale reform is going to prove tricky for a president who campaigned as a champion for both workers and immigrants. Because while many pro-labor groups say the program lines the pockets of the likes of Google and Facebook at the expense of American workers, immigration advocates, along with business interests, oppose measures to rein it in, saying that doing so will hurt American competitiveness by narrowing access to a badly needed pipeline of high-skilled talent. Politically, H-1B reform is pegging two powerful Democratic constituencies against each other. Meanwhile, getting anything through a sharply divided Congress won’t be easy.”

“H-1B reform could drastically change the landscape of business and immigration in the U.S. There are roughly 600,000 H-1B visa holders in the country, the vast majority from China and India. Most of these jobs are in tech, but companies can also use the program to hire, say, Spanish-language teachers or doctors with special skills.”

“Proponents of the H1-B program say that U.S. firms need access to foreign STEM talent in order to remain competitive, an argument that hinges on the existence of a domestic labor shortage in the tech world. Unemployment in the tech sector is significantly lower than it is for the economy overall, which business groups say is evidence that domestic tech workers are doing pretty well and foreign workers are mostly filling demand above and beyond what the domestic workforce can supply.

The problem is, historically it’s not clear that there has been a labor shortage in tech. Skeptics point to the fact that median wages in the sector haven’t increased everywhere in the country, or all that dramatically. “What happens when there’s something in short supply?” said Ron Hira, an associate professor of political science at Howard University and research associate with the pro-labor Economic Policy Institute (EPI). “You have a price mechanism. In this case, it would be wages. So, anything in shortage you’d see wages going through the roof.” The fact that there haven’t been dramatic wage spikes, he says, suggests that claims of labor shortages in the U.S. are overblown.

Instead, Hira and others believe that corporations have become accustomed to paying below market wages through use of the H1-B program. Employers are required to pay H-1B workers the higher of either the actual wage paid to a worker in a comparable role at their company, or the average wage for similar workers based on occupation, geography and experience. Employers select this “prevailing wage” from four levels set by the Department of Labor.

But an analysis by EPI found that, in 2019, employers certified 60 percent of all H-1B jobs at the two lowest levels — leading to questions about whether corporations were classifying these jobs at artificially low levels to avoid paying higher wages.”

“Wages can be pushed down by other factors, too. H-1B visas are held by employers, which means there are restrictions on the free movement of labor. Foreign workers can’t simply leave the company if their wages aren’t competitive. “I felt like I had no option to negotiate whatsoever,” said a Pleasanton, Calif.-based former H-1B worker and now-green card holder who didn’t want to be identified for fear of professional repercussions. He guesses he was paid 25 to 35 percent less than his domestic counterparts as an H-1B worker.

“People who have been here for 10 years, or even some people who were born and brought up here who’ve been in good jobs making six figures, suddenly they’re losing their jobs just because [their employers] found somebody from India who would do it for $50,000,” said Choudhary.”

“Some argue that the H1-B visa program lifts all boats: There is research showing that an increase in foreign STEM workers as a share of a city’s total employment increases wages for domestic workers more broadly. But for many workers, any aggregate benefits of the program are far outweighed by the costs. In 2015, Disney famously fired over 200 U.S. workers, some of whom said they were made to train their H1-B-holder replacements.”

“One of the biggest arguments made by tech and other companies against making it harder for foreigners to come in on an H-1B visa is that it would dissuade the “best and brightest” from coming to the U.S. But several of the people I spoke with said that’s not always the case. “It’s a mixed bag,” said the Pleasanton, Calif.-based former H-1B worker about the caliber of the H-1B visa holders he worked with.

In recent years, H-1Bs have been awarded by lottery because the number of visa applicants has far exceeded the annual cap. Immigration advocates say that this shows the scope of the need for high-skilled foreign workers. But critics say that has led to a proliferation of mediocre workers.

There’s also the problem of players who want to cheat the system.”

“H-1B visas are good for three years, after which workers may apply for an additional three year extension. After his six years were up, Vikram’s employer initiated the process of applying for a green card for him, but, because of an enormous backlog for people coming from India, the processing time was expected to last at least nine years.

Vikram decided it wasn’t worth it. He still works with his former employers — but now as part of his own business, which he runs from India, charging his American clients half the cost of a U.S. salary.”

““The focus on H-1B, as if it were the way that we get skilled workers into our economy — that’s an artifact of the misuse of the H-1B visa,” said Bruce Morrison, a former Democratic congressman who wrote the legislation that created the H1-B program. “The H-1B program is a non immigrant program. And non immigrant by definition is supposed to be temporary.”

His solution is to expand the current limit of 140,000 employment-based green cards per year. “We still have the same numerical limitations that we had in 1990,” said Morrison. Biden’s immigration bill includes a provision that would increase the number of employment-based green cards to 170,000.

“People who have green cards have a right to become citizens,” says Morrison. “They get to vote, they have the same rights as citizens, they can’t be exploited in a legal sense. These are real values.””

From the Great Resignation to Lying Flat, Workers Are Opting Out

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-12-07/why-people-are-quitting-jobs-and-protesting-work-life-from-the-u-s-to-china?utm_content=business&utm_campaign=socialflow-organic&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&cmpid=socialflow-facebook-business&fbclid=IwAR3Bh5Siln-ciUcON3KGA2G9p0CSxvdhEwfoWtpB4xaw3GESDydZv7jB9Mc

Hating work is having a moment

“Many had expected people to return to the workforce en masse after federal unemployment benefits expired in September. While that’s happened to some degree — the economy added more than half a million jobs last month — there are still many more Americans holding out, thanks to a variety of reasons, from savings to lack of child care to the ongoing risks of the pandemic.

Importantly, the pandemic — as well as government social safety nets like extended unemployment benefits — gave people the time, distance, and perspective to reevaluate the place of work in their lives.”

“There are still more than 4 million fewer people in the workforce than there would be if labor force participation were at pre-pandemic levels. There are 10.4 million open jobs and just 7.4 million unemployed, according to the latest data. Of course, many of these open jobs are bad: They have bad pay, dangerous working conditions, or just aren’t remote (remote positions on LinkedIn get 2.5 times more applications than non-remote, according to the company).

The result is a situation where many employers — especially those in industries with notoriously bad pay and conditions — are having difficulty finding and retaining workers. To counter it, they’re raising wages, offering better benefits, and even altering the nature of their work. Depending on their strength and duration, these various actions could have long-lasting impacts on the future of work for all Americans.”

“In September, a high of 4.4 million people quit their jobs, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which has been tracking this data since 2000. That’s 3 percent of all employment and follows a summer of record quit numbers. Quitting has been especially prevalent in lower-paying, lower-status jobs like those in leisure, hospitality, and retail.”

“In 2021, approval of labor unions grew to 68 percent of Americans, its highest rate in more than 50 years. This is happening as many American workers are attempting to unionize their workplaces. Recent unionization efforts include Starbucks, Amazon, and meal-kit delivery service HelloFresh. Last month was dubbed “Striketober,” as more than 100,000 workers across industries, including workers at John Deere and in film and TV crews, participated in various labor actions. This is one of the many worker trends bulwarked by social media, which is rampant with support for unions.”

Immigrants could fix the US labor shortage

“Companies across the United States can’t find enough employees. One immediate solution is simple: Bring in more foreign workers.

The US needs roughly 10 million people, including low-wage and high-skilled workers, to fill job openings nationwide — and only 8.4 million Americans are actively seeking work.

And despite job openings hitting historic highs in July and extended unemployment benefits ending in September, Americans aren’t returning to work, especially in low-wage industries. At the same time, workers are resigning in record numbers. And though consumer spending has surged this year, businesses don’t have the people to meet demand — to cope, some companies are raising their prices. Supply chain bottlenecks are even threatening to ruin Christmas.

When the economy is fragile, there’s an instinct to shut borders to protect American workers. And indeed, that’s what the US has done during the pandemic, practically bringing legal immigration to a halt and closing the southern border to migrants and asylum seekers. In a normal year, the US welcomes roughly 1 million immigrants, and roughly three-quarters of them end up participating in the labor force. In 2020, that number dropped to about 263,000.

Generally, economic research has shown that the arrival of low-wage foreign workers has little to no negative impact on native-born workers’ wages or employment. And under the current circumstances, welcoming more low-wage foreign workers could address acute labor shortages in certain industries, helping hard-hit areas of the country recover while staving off higher inflation.

The industries currently facing the worst labor shortages include construction; transportation and warehousing; accommodation and hospitality; and personal services businesses like salons, dry cleaners, repair services, and undertakers. All four industries had increases in job postings of more than 65 percent when comparing the months of May to July 2019 to the same time period in 2021, according to an analysis conducted for Vox by the pro-immigration New American Economy think tank. Immigrants make up at least 20 percent of the workforce in those industries.”