CHICAGO — Laws focused on employment and labor are meant to make clear the rights of employees and the responsibilities of employers.
However, with labor regulations being made on federal, state and local levels, too often these rights and responsibilities are as clear as mud.
For example, in Texas, the state legislature is trying to take control of labor regulations to end what proponents say has created a mess with confusing local laws.
Those opposed to the effort say it amounts to state overreach.
Patrick Garcia, president of Division Laundry & Cleaners in San Antonio, is very familiar with the challenges of changing employment laws.
“Our business associations, for example, sued the city of San Antonio for mandating paid sick leave. The state ruled it unconstitutional,” he shares. “Another example was the city allowed four propositions to get on the ballot. Again, the state ruled them unconstitutional.”
As with many things, the events of the past three years have made a mark on labor/employment law and regulations. How has it changed because of the past three years?
How does this affect laundry operators today, and how can they keep track of changes on federal, state and local levels to remain in compliance?
LABOR LAW DURING THE PANDEMIC
Michael Flores, vice president of human resources for Prudential Overall Supply headquartered in Irvine, California, says that his company had different federal and state pieces impact its workplace, but the effect, overall, was negligible.
“It wasn’t it huge for us,” he says. “There were some in-person meetings that maybe we couldn’t hold, but those are really maybe more tied to the pandemic just as a state of caution for us rather than any pieces of legislation.”
Certain labor laws did come into great focus, however.
“I think primarily around probably wage and hours, and I think the impact there was there were a lot of folks that weren’t coming back to work—not so much from our previous workforce—but we just had a difficult time filling our roles,” Flores shares.
“And so because of that, the people that we did have working for us, there was a lot of overtime. We had to be cautious around just wage and hour pieces. We were working people too much where we were kind of moving up against the maximum hours the folks could work, and so we watched that.
“There was obviously cost involved at that because we were paying premium cost for that time-and-a-half labor.”
“It’s been hard to find people who are willing to work in all areas of employment, not just our industry,” adds Garcia. “We must be more creative in our retention and recruiting efforts.”
Of course, many of the regulations laundries had to work with over the past few years centered on hygiene practices.
“During the pandemic, we had to deal with constantly changing best practices with respect to masking, social distancing and vaccinations,” Garcia points out.
“We had our own internal rules and we had comply with, especially at the county level, just some pieces around hygiene, making sure that our janitorial staff was really focused on upkeep around our different locations, to make sure that we were spraying down all the tabletops, especially in the lunch areas,” says Flores.
“Keeping people distanced, which we did, especially early on through the pandemic, really trying to keep groups and different employees further apart. Things like a napkin holder that can normally be home to five folks at a time was reduced to either two or three, depending upon the county and the location.
“Those types of things impacted business, but I would say that those were somewhat negligible. There weren’t really any large material impact for us.”
He says the greatest challenge was keeping up with the local county rules.
“We’ve got 34 different locations, I don’t know what the total number of counties that we operate in, but let’s say it’s around 20, really understanding what those county requirements are,” Flores explains.
“Here in California, when you look at Los Angeles County, Santa Clara County, specifically, those are areas where they were really stringent. And we had to think about federal rulings, state rulings for all the states and we operate in, but probably the most complex were the counties. They were the ones that were probably the most restrictive; they were the ones that had the most changes.”
TRACKING LABOR LAW CHANGES
Flores says that to keep track of all of the employment/labor law changes, Prudential had a safety manager who dedicated a large percentage of his time “just being kind of the other COVID expert.”
“He would not only get the information, but he was really responsible for any of our policy and practice changes as well as our communication responsibilities,” he says.
“If you don’t already have a relationship with a labor and employment law specialist or certified HR consultant, you need to develop one,” adds Garcia.
“One of our trade associations puts on an annual Labor and Employment Law Conference, which provides updates and coverage of ‘hot topics.’ That same trade association also has a government affairs committee that keeps tabs on state and local developments in this area.”
Flores points out, “It’s really more of a monitoring exercise, just going out specifically to different agencies and their websites.
“We centralized all that monitoring with one of our safety managers, so his job was to make sure that we were up to speed on everything, making sure that we were compliant with everything and as we get more relaxed in different jurisdictions, let’s make sure that we’re communicating that also.”
But just because pandemic regulations have eased doesn’t mean laundry operations can relax their labor/employment law monitoring efforts. Change is a constant when it comes to labor law.
“The so-called Protect the Right to Organize Act (also known as the PRO Act), would essentially re-write the National Labor Relations Act,” Garcia shares.
“For example, under current law, an employer can insist on a secret ballot election conducted by the NLRB to determine if employees want to be unionized. Under the PRO Act, an employer would be forced to recognize the union and begin bargaining merely by a union organizer presenting an adequate number of signed authorization cards—regardless of what the organizer said or did to get those cards signed.”
Check back Tuesday to read about changes in labor law inspections and enforcement, plus effects from the past three years.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR RESOURCES
Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Worker Rights page: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/workers
WHD resources for employers: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/employers
Occupational Safety and Health Laws and Regulations: https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs
OSHA Employer Help: https://www.osha.gov/employers
OSHA Worker Rights and Protections: https://www.osha.gov/workers
Summary of DOL Major Laws: https://www.dol.gov/general/aboutdol/majorlaws
State and local government resources: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/state/state-local-government-resources
Go to DOL.gov for the most up to date information, tools and news. For questions, call the department at 866-4-USA-DOL (866-487-2365).
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].