Category Archives: Labor & workforce

Latest COVID-19 Job Toll: 112,000 in Virginia Last Week

by James A. Bacon

The latest unemployment claims are in, and they’re brutal — more than twice the level in Virginia (and across the country) of last week, which was, by far, the worst week in the history of the United States. For the week ending March 28, the number of seasonably unadjusted initial claims was 112,497 — up from 46,277 the previous week.

The map from the Virginia Employment Commission website above shows the geographic distribution of unemployment claims. In raw numbers, the layoffs look worse in Virginia’s major metropolitan regions — Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Hampton Roads. But it’s no surprise that the number of job losses will be highest in the most populous parts of the state. What the maps do not show is the job losses expressed as a percentage of the workforce. In that light, the jobs claims in the western part of Virginia (basically Lynchburg west) look dreadful.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond has been surveying employers in the Fifth Federal Reserve district, which includes Virginia, since late February. The questionnaires asked how the spread of COVID-19 has impacted businesses, and how the businesses expected the virus to impact operations. Both questions show a marked deterioration in expectations between Feb. 27 and March 18. Continue reading

Virginia Should Issue Immunity Certificates

Yesterday I argued that Virginia should allocate a chunk of its COVID-19 helicopter dollars from the federal government to conduct widespread testing for the presence of coronavirus antibodies. If the antibodies are present, the person presumably is immune to the sickness and should be free to re-enter society and the workforce.

Turns out, the Germans are planning to do just that. The Telegraph reports that Germany plans to introduce coronavirus “immunity certificates.” Researchers plan to test 100,000 members of the public at a time and issue documentation to those who have overcome the virus.

Explains Gerard Krause, the epidemiologist leading the project: “Those who are immune can then be given a vaccination certificate that would, for example, allow them to be exempt from any (lockdown-related) restrictions on their work.”

After saving lives, the No. 1 priority of the Northam administration must be to expedite a return to economic normalcy. Public health authorities in Virginia should bend every effort to make immunity certificates a reality.

— JAB

Plan Now for COVID-19 De-Mobilization

by James A. Bacon

Everyone wants to put people back to work as soon as the COVID-19 virus recedes, whether that’s month or two or three from now. In video discussion above with Dr. Alan Dow, Richmond creativity consultant Scott Wayne (at right) argues that we need to begin thinking now about how to do that. The process could be trickier than we realize.

Essentially, the question is this: Do we let some people re-enter the workforce earlier than others?

It’s fine to let young, healthy people back in the workplace, but how about older workers or those who have medical conditions that might put them at risk? Would delaying the return of older workers constitute a form of age discrimination? What obligation do employees have to disclose private health information about medical conditions that put them at greater risk? Employers must balance competing priorities of public health vs. individual rights.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, John H. Cochrane discusses the same issues. “Governors must … use this time to work with businesses on a plan for reopening the economy in a way that mitigates health risks.” Continue reading

A Look at Richmond and COVID-19

By Peter Galuszka

Here is a roundup story I wrote for Style Weekly that was published today that explains the effects of COVID-19 on the Richmond area. Hopefully, BR readers will find it of interest.

It was a tough piece to report. The impacts of the deadly virus are very complicated and multi-faceted. An especially hard part was trying to keep with the fast-changing news, notably the number of new cases and deaths. We were updating right up until the story closed Monday afternoon. It was hard to talk to people with social-distancing and closings.

The experience shows the delicate balancing act between taking tough measures to stem the contagion and keeping the economy going. My view is that tough measures are needed because without them, it will all be much worse, particularly more illness and death as the experience in Italy has shown.

Incredibly, our utterly incompetent president, Donald Trump, now wants to focus on the economy more than taking necessary containment steps. It’s far too soon for that. Regrettably, a number of Bacon’s Rebellion commenters are sounding the same irresponsible tune in keeping with their big business and anti-regulation laud of free market capitalism. Continue reading

Worst Possible Time for a Minimum Wage Hike

by James A. Bacon

As Virginia businesses contend with event cancellations, widespread self-isolation, and other fallout from the COVID-19 epidemic, Governor Ralph Northam has a critical decision to make: Does he sign minimum wage legislation into law or not?

Even as the epidemic began spreading in the United States earlier this month, the General Assembly saw fit to pass a law that will increase the state minimum wage in increments from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour by 2023. Business lobbies opposed the legislation on the grounds that it would impose a crushing burden on many businesses, especially those that employed low-skilled workers.

Now, some two weeks later, public concern about the epidemic is focusing on the economic impact of the social-distancing strategies pursued to contain the spread of the virus. Here in Virginia the hospitality, retail, and restaurant industries are expected to get hammered as people curtail travel and dining out, and as emergency measures severely restrict business operations. Continue reading

Virginia’s Top Employment Cop Adds Enforcers

Virginia’s Powerful Top Employment Cop, Attorney General Mark R. Herring

By Steve Haner

The final state budget is still in negotiation, but it could add as many as five new enforcement staff to the Office of the Attorney General to seek out and prosecute discrimination in Virginia’s workplaces, using old and new definitions of what is prohibited. The price tag looks to be about $600,000 per year.

The Virginia Senate proposed budget amendments to that agency’s budget for three new people to enforce two pending Senate bills. The House of Delegates budget added five new lawyers and staff, based on its versions of those same two bills plus two additional bills granting the Attorney General new tasks and powers.

Some of the bills have been discussed previously on Bacon’s Rebellion. Both the House and Senate are passing versions of the Virginia Values Act (such as House Bill 1663 ) and both have bills to prohibit and punish discrimination against pregnant workers (see House Bill 827). That bill has not been discussed, but it creates the same opportunities for the aggrieved to sue in court for actual and punitive damages.  Continue reading

Minimum Wage and Medical Insurance

Question of the Day: If Virginia enacts a minimum wage increase, how many employers will respond by cutting fringe benefits like medical insurance?

Kennon Morris, president of the Virginia Forest Products Association, raises the concern in a Free Lance-Star op-ed today. Here’s his prediction of what would happen in rural Virginia: The minimum wage “would force many businesses to shut down, cut jobs, or hire part-time workers without benefits.”

Foes of the minimum-wage hike have focused mainly on the impact on jobs. But employers may choose other ways to control costs. One possibility is scrapping company-subsidized health plans — encouraging employees enroll in Medicaid or buy Obamacare. I would love to see an analysis of how many workers potentially would be affected and what the fiscal impact on state and federal government would be if thousands suddenly became medical wards of the state.

— JAB

Moderation? Senate Holds Back House On Issues

By Steve Haner

With two weeks remaining in the 2020 General Assembly session, the tendency to procrastinate (and perhaps some buyer’s remorse) has several key issues still pending. Here is an update on some  previously discussed on Bacon’s Rebellion.

The moderating impact of the narrow 21-19 split in the Virginia Senate, with several of those Democrats needing to be sensitive to more rural constituencies, is on full display. The defeat of the assault weapons ban is not the only example, just the most reported example.  Continue reading

Proud to Be a Virginian

Graphic source: Texas Public Policy Foundation

Virginia does not just employ more than its proportional share of military employees compared to other states, it ranks among the top 5 in the country for enlistments — specifically, the ratio of first-time enlistments to the number of civilian employees. Virginia does not stand alone. It is part of a regional cluster of states extending to North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama, where young men and women contribute disproportionately to the Armed Services.

As Chuck Devore points out in Forbes, military recruits come disproportionately from the middle class. Local culture and tradition play an important role in the decision to join the military, as does familiarity with uniformed service. For whatever reason, the South Atlantic states have an especially strong tradition of military service.

— JAB

Non-Union Construction Workers Need Not Apply

Photo credit: Joint Base Langley-Eustis

by Ben Brubeck

Democratic leadership in control of the General Assembly for the first time since 1993 is close to sending legislation to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk that would raise the cost of construction and maintenance of schools, affordable housing, roads, transportation and other infrastructure projects critical to keeping Virginia economically competitive. Taxpayers should take note of the financial impact of these measures on infrastructure and development in their communities—and its anti-competitive effect on opportunity for Virginia’s construction industry.

Bills sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (SB 182) and Del. Alfonso Lopez (HB 358) has already been passed by their respective chambers following last week’s General Assembly crossover deadline. These bills would rescind a 2012 statute requiring state agencies to use a fair and open competitive bidding process to procure contracts for the construction of public works projects. The existing statute will be replaced with a controversial policy permitting government-mandated project labor agreements, or PLAs, on state and local construction projects. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Antifa Hoax, Goose Sauce, Selling Nova Bike Trails

Hate crime hoaxes not just for minorities anymore. According to Willfred Reilly, the expert on hate crime hoaxes, the fastest-rising category of hoaxes is perpetrated by whites, as white groups take a lesson from the Left’s grievance-and-victimhood playbook. The latest instance involves a Civil War reenactor by the name of Gerald Leonard Drake, reports the Washington Post. Two years ago an undetonated pipe bomb was discovered at the annual reenactment of the Battle at Cedar Creek, in which Drake, a 61-year-old Virginia man, participated. A series of threatening letters issued under the name of Antifa followed, and the 2018 event was canceled. “We will make Charlottesville look like a Sunday picnic!” said one letter. Now the FBI has issued a search warrant revealing investigators’ belief that Drake wrote the letters. Drake has not been charged with a crime.

Sauce for the goose… The Virginia Education Association has been fighting for the right to engage in collective bargaining for its members, and many members of the General Assembly think that’s a dandy idea. The VEA is, after all, a staunch supporter of the Democrats who now run the legislature. But writing in his blog Union Report, Mike Antonucci recounts a little history. The VEA does not have the most harmonious of relationships with its own employees. Employees of the union formed a picket line outside VEA headquarters in 2012, and management-employee relations have been simmering ever since. Employees have filed a lawsuit, petitioned the parent union, and in 2018 even filed an unfair labor practice complaint. Schools are chaotic enough. Do we need to add collective bargaining to the list of woes? (Hat tip: Chris Braunlich.)

Enticing creative-class Millennials. The labor market in Northern Virginia is exceedingly tight, and that’s before Amazon has ramped up its hiring of 25,000 employees. Economic developers are shifting some of their attention from recruiting corporate investment to… recruiting talent to fill jobs that are going begging. The Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance and the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce are making it their top priority to lure bright young minds to the region, reports the Washington Post. Northern Virginia has a tough sell on a couple of quality-of-life indicators: traffic congestion and the cost of housing. The target audience, says Victor Hoskins with Fairfax County economic development, is “looking for a food culture, brew and distillery culture, bike paths, walking trails. How can we package this so they can easily navigate it and relate it to a job opportunity, too?”

The Beauty of Workers Cooperatives: They’re Voluntary

Equal Exchange workers cooperative in Bridgewater, Mass.

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Public Access Project has published a nifty list of bills that were killed in committee when Republicans controlled the General Assembly but have broken out to the House or Senate floor now that Democrats run the show. Most are dreadful, some are tolerable, and a few are even beneficial. One bill, HB 55, introduced by the General Assembly’s self-declared socialist Lee Carter, D-Manassas, is downright intriguing.

The bill would establish “worker cooperatives” as a category of cooperative associations. A worker cooperative is a stock corporation that conducts business for the mutual benefit of its employees. At least two-thirds of employees would be required to own membership shares, and members are entitled to one vote only. Profit would be allocated in proportion to the amount of work each member performed.

The House of Delegates passed the bill in a 62 to 36 vote. Yeah, it’s kind of socialist. No, it’s not my cup of tea. But if people voluntarily enter into such an association, what’s wrong with it?

That’s the beauty of a free society. People shouldn’t be forced to participate in the corporate, capitalist economy. I’m perfectly comfortable participating in such a society, but I can understand why other people wouldn’t be. And I think it’s great if we can create mechanisms —  be they hippie communes in the woods or worker cooperatives — that allow people to organize themselves to practice of business as they choose. Continue reading

Virginia Values Act: Trial Lawyers Win, Business Climate Loses

by Hans Bader

Both houses of the Virginia legislature passed the Virginia Values Act yesterday. Media coverage of the bill has focused on the fact that it will add sexual orientation and gender identity (transgender status) to state laws against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. As the media note, this is the first time a state legislature in the south has enacted such a ban.

But media coverage has virtually ignored how the bill will change other aspects of state law, in ways that are far more significant in economic terms. The bill will create major risks for business owners. It will also make the state’s business climate less inviting for companies considering whether to relocate to Virginia. Continue reading

Bill Broadens Definition of Sexual Harassment

by Hans Bader

On January 30, a subcommittee in Virginia’s House of Delegates voted 5-to-2 to adopt a revised version of HB 1418, a bill to expand employers’ liability for sexual harassment. The bill originally applied to employers with six to 14 employees. Now it applies to all employers with more than five.

Originally, while the bill provided for unlimited damages in sexual harassment cases, it limited court-ordered attorney fees payable to the plaintiff’s lawyer to 25% of the damages awarded. Now, the limit on attorneys fees has been removed, so an employer can be ordered to pay far more in attorney fees than it ends up paying in damages to the plaintiff.

The revised version also changes the definition of sexual harassment, and makes employers liable for “workplace harassment” based on additional factors other than sex. Its sexual harassment definition omits a critical element of the definition of sexual harassment according to the U.S. Supreme Court and federal appeals courts, “unwelcomeness.” The amended version of HB 1418 adopted on January 30 has a long list of “rules” that “shall apply” in defining sexual harassment (probably found in no other state or federal law), yet it omits the core element of “unwelcomeness” that the Supreme Court says defines sexual harassment.

Unwelcome means unsolicited and uninvited. If a worker invites or solicits something from a co-worker, they can’t later sue over that something, even if it offended them. Continue reading

How Democracy Dies in Darkness: “Posting in Progress”


by Hans Bader

The Virginia legislature is moving toward passage of bills that could make state employment law far more hostile to employers. But the content of the legislation was hidden from voters for a critical period while it was working its way through the General Assembly. The amended text of the bills was not posted until long after it was approved by key committees.

A subcommittee of the House of Delegates approved Friday a bill dealing with sexual harassment in small businesses. It did so on a party-line 5-to-2 vote, which suggests that they bill has a good chance of passing into law. A lawyer, Liam Bissainthe, had argued that the bill, HB 1418, would change the definition of sexual harassment used in lawsuits in in a way that would allow employers to be sued over a single offensive comment, potentially raising First Amendment issues.

To see whether that argument held up, it would have been helpful to read the current version of the bill. But it was not available online to the public yesterday. The committee approved a “substitute” bill for the original. But that substitute had not been posted on the legislature’s web site. Instead, when I clicked on the link to the bill’s current text, I got the message (seen above) that the posting was “in progress.”

Update:  The substitute was posted Monday morning.   SDH
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