— Legislative Action

Unemployment Benefits Extended in NC

An executive order was issued on Wednesday by North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue that will extend long-term unemployment benefits to 25,000 jobless workers in the state.  The federal government pushed back the deadline for extended unemployment benefits to the end of February, but required states to make the change to their systems of calculations and deadlines as well to be eligible to get the federal funds.  Governor Perdue could have called a special session of the General Assembly to make this change, but chose to go the quicker route and issue an executive order.  The extension provides much needed benefits to unemployed workers.  More coverage here.

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Recess Appointments Made to NLRB

President Obama this past week appointed three members to the National Labor Relations Board.  They include Sharon Block, who most recently served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional Affairs with the US Department of Labor; Terence Flynn, who was Chief Counsel to current NLRB Board Member Brian Hayes, and; Richard Griffin, formerly General Counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers.  More information on the new members of the Board may be found here and here.  The members were sworn in on Monday.  President Obama needed to appoint these members by recess appointment in order to keep the NLRB properly functioning.

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NLRB to Speed up Unionizing Elections

On December 21, The National Labor Relations Board voted 2-1 in favor of new steps to increase the speed of union elections.  The Board hopes to keep election and campaign time to less than 21 days.  Often, there are long delays to unionizing elections because of legal challenges brought by the employer.  The Board wants to require that these challenges be postponed until after the employees have voted for or against the union.  These changes were first proposed in June and the NLRB held public hearings and reviewed thousands of public comments.  The new rules will likely be challenged by employers in court.  More coverage here.

This was the Board’s last major policy decision before it lost one member, which leaves it without a quorum to act.  President Obama has nominated Sharon Block and Richard Griffin to the Board.  Ms. Block is currently deputy assistant secretary of Congressional affairs with the Labor Department.  Mr. Griffin has served on the board of the AFL-CIO Lawyers Coordinating Committee since 1994 and is general counsel to the International Union of Operating Engineers.  Republicans may well block these nominations in an effort to prevent the Board from functioning at all.  More coverage here.

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Congress Extends Unemployment Benefits for Two Months

Shortly before Christmas, House Republicans finally gave in and sensibly agreed to the two-month extension for extended unemployment benefits.  When Congress returns after recess, debate will resume on whether to further continue the vitally needed unemployment insurance programs.  For more information on North Carolina’s Extended and Emergency Unemployment benefits, see the Division of Employment Security’s site, here.

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Republicans Still Blocking Extended Unemployment Benefits

The House and Senate still have not come to an agreement on extending unemployment benefits for jobless workers.  The federal unemployment provisions for emergency and extended benefits are set to expire during the first week in January.  The U.S.  Labor Department estimates that 3.6 million jobless Americans will lose benefits by March if nothing is done to extend the federal program.  Currently the states finance up to 26 weeks of jobless benefits with the federal government adding up to 73 weeks of benefits, totaling 99 weeks of possible unemployment benefits.  The average unemployed workers is out of work for 41 weeks.  Republicans in Congress seek to reduce the maximum total number of weeks to 59, add unreasonable eligibility requirements, and implement pervasive drug-testing of all unemployed workers.  All of these proposals further prevent economic recovery, undermine the spirit of the unemployment system, and essentially tar the unemployed as drug addicts.  Republican obstructionism and inaction has reached a critical point, and without action on these issues the nation will face even greater hardship than the Great Recession has already inflicted.  More coverage here.

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North Carolina Judges Diaz and Eagles Confirmed to Join Federal Bench

Ending two ridiculously long waits, the Senate has finally confirmed Charlotte Judge Albert Diaz to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and Greensboro Judge Catherine Eagles to the Middle District of North Carolina.  Both will be excellent judges, and their confirmations have been long overdue.  Other North Carolina nominations are still pending though.  Former Magistrate Judge Max Cogburn was unanimously approved by Senate Judiciary Committee a couple of weeks ago for a seat on the Western District of North Carolina federal court, but has not gotten a confirmation vote in the full Senate yet.

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Unemployment Benefits Extended through 2011; More Help Needed

On Friday, President Obama signed the large tax cut bill that includes an extension of extended unemployment benefits through the end of 2011.  While, the extension of those benefits was sorely needed, it is extremely unfortunate that the bill did not include additional spending measures that would stimulate the economy.  As further evidence that the Great Recession continues, the latest report shows that North Carolina lost 12,500 jobs in November, more than any other state, pushing the statewide unemployment rate to 9.7 percent.  Without further assistance, the economy is unlikely to grow enough to create the needed amount of jobs.  And, 2011 state budget cuts, which are starting to be discussed, are likely to make things even worse.

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Advances on Protecting Whistle-blowing and Social Networking of Employees

Two recent positive developments to report.  First, breaking new ground, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has charged a company with illegally firing an employee after she criticized her supervisor on her Facebook page.  The NLRB’s press release is here.  Coverage here.

Under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, all employees — even those not represented by a union — are protected from retaliation when they engage in “protected concerted activity.”  Although social networking is new, the NLRB has taken the commonsense view that employees have the right to jointly criticize their employer through Facebook, just as they would over the water cooler.

Second, the large financial reform law (Dodd-Frank) passed earlier this year includes some expanded provisions that support whistle-blowers in the financial industry.  The SEC has now issued rules further defining this program.  Coverage is here.  Note also that the Dodd-Frank Act contains protections against retaliation toward whistle-blowers.

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EEOC Issues New GINA Regulations

On November 9, 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued its final regulations implementing the employment-related provisions in Title II of the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act of 2008 (GINA).  Details on the new regulations can be found at the Federal Register and at the EEOC.

Under Title II of GINA, it is illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information. Title II of GINA prohibits the use of genetic information in making employment decisions, restricts employers and other entities from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information, and strictly limits the disclosure of genetic information.  More details on GINA can be found at the EEOC.

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Congress Provides Funds to Save Teacher Jobs

Last week, the Senate finally passed the $26 billion package to aid states that are still reeling from the effects of the recession.  The legislation provides $10 billion to retain teachers who might otherwise lose jobs to cutbacks, and an additional $16 billion to help states with rising health care costs.  The bill was quickly passed by the House and signed by President Obama.

Of that amount, North Carolina received about $300 million to save teachers’ jobs.  North Carolina leaders are now figuring out when and how to use the money.  Obviously, one possibility would be to use some of the funds to re-hire teachers and teaching assistants who were recently laid off due to budget cuts.  Also, some amount may be saved till next year, when the state’s deficit will reach its highest level.

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