Last week, outgoing Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez released a farewell “Memorandum to the American People.” It mostly reads as a recap of the DOL’s news releases over the past several years, touting various DOL initiatives and advocating for further changes, like increasing the minimum wage and mandating paid family leave. The memo must strike a bittersweet note for proponents of the current DOL’s direction. One can pretty safely infer that most of the progressive proposals discussed in the memo – other than perhaps some form of paid maternity leave – are going precisely nowhere under the incoming Trump administration. To the contrary, most observers expect the DOL to roll back many Obama-era changes under the leadership of Trump’s pick for labor secretary, fast-food executive Andy Puzder. If, that is, Congressional Republicans don’t beat them to the punch.
That reality is certainly what prompts the most interesting part of the farewell memorandum, which is its repeated references to action at the state and local levels. For example, the memorandum lauds the fact that 18 states have increased their minimum wages since President Obama called for a minimum wage hike in 2013. It also applauds new state and local family and sick leave laws, noting that the DOL has supported state and local action through “several rounds of paid-leave analysis grants to hep state and local officials examine the feasibility of establishing or expanding paid leave policies.”
Secretary Perez goes on to encourage state and local governments to continue this trend:
While we wait for Congress to act, City and state governments should continue their progress in these areas, and voters should continue to exercise their voices in favor of higher wages and more supportive workplace policies, as voters in several states did this year.
In this area at least, Secretary Perez is likely to get his wish, at least in certain parts of the country. This is a legal blog, not a political one, so I’ll leave the debate over whether paid leave and increased minimum wages are good public policy to the economists and politicians. What I can say with some degree of certainty is that this growing patchwork of state, county and city mandates is making things more complicated for employers. Greater complexity means greater opportunity for errors, greater legal risk, and higher legal costs. All of this may or may not benefit workers and the economy, but it’s at least good news for employment lawyers.