Category Archives: Labor & workforce

End the Subminimum Wage for Disabled Virginians

Virginia is top ranked as a business-friendly state. How we treat employees with disabilities in the workplace matters.

by Shaun Kenney

What are the hallmarks of a business-friendly environment? Competitive wages, opportunities to build wealth, support for entrepreneurial endeavors, freedom to create and innovate, dignity of work, and economic independence and sustainability – to name a few.

There’s a law on the books in Virginia that legislators and advocates on both sides of the aisle argue stands in direct contrast to many of these principles. It goes back to 1938.

According to Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers with a 14(c) certificate from the Wage & Hour Division of the Department of Labor are legally permitted to pay wages below the minimum wage to employees with physical, developmental, cognitive, mental or age-related disabilities. Continue reading

Help Wanted

Photo Credit: Daily Press

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I had heard about the problem with restaurant staffing, but had not experienced it. During the pandemic, my wife and I have relied on two local Italian restaurants for both takeout and eating out. Both restaurants reopened as soon as they could, and both retained the same staff they have had for several years.

While running errands today, I decided to get some lunch at a restaurant that I had gone to in past years, but not recently. It is a small, locally-owned Mexican restaurant that was open in Northside when we moved here over thirty years ago. It was closed. A sign on the door said that it would be closed “today” because of staff shortages. The sign looked as if it had been in place for some time.

Next was a somewhat trendy barbecue place (it advertises that it was named 4th Best Barbecue restaurant in the nation). A man at the front entrance informed me that only take-out or pickup was available. The dining room was closed due to staff shortages.

Going down the street a bit, I came upon a locally-owned, long-established Greek-Italian place whose gyro I really like. Place dark; door locked; no sign on the door.

I finally found some lunch at a Mexican restaurant that is a franchise. I like its chile verde, but I decided to try something different.  Its burrito was mediocre, at best. Continue reading

Youngkin Expounds on His Expansive Economic-Development Vision

Glenn Youngkin. Photo credit: Virginia Business

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s economy has grown at a sluggish 0.9% compounded annual rate of growth over the past eight years, says Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin, and he wants to get it “really cranked up” to a normalized rate of 2.5%. To accomplish that goal, he tells Virginia Business magazine, he proposes to do three things: (1) cut taxes, (2) bring down the cost of living, and (3) cut regulations.

In practical terms, that includes not shutting down the economy with COVID-19 lockdowns and shutdowns. It means keeping schools open. And it means no vaccine mandates.

Says Youngkin: “Executive orders that mandate that state employees have to get a vaccine and wear a mask, or an executive order that makes children [in] K-12 have to wear a mask — we’ll work with [the new commissioner of health and new Board of Health] to rescind that.”

While Youngkin says he wants to provide tax relief to Virginians, he does not sound like a small-government conservative. Citing the link between K-12 education and workforce development, he touts his plans for “the largest education budget in the history of Virginia” — more money for teacher salaries, for school facilities, and funding of special education programs. The governor-elect also wants to expand mental health programs, high-speed internet access across Virginia, and spending on law enforcement. Continue reading

BBB Demise Is Also Labor-Rules Reprieve

Washington Post photo of a cake delivered to Virginia Senator Mark Warner in May, encouraging support for the pending PRO Act. Elements of the PRO Act are also included in the BBB omnibus.

by F. Vincent Vernuccio

Yesterday, Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, gave an early Christmas present to Senators Mark Warner, D-VA, and Tim Kaine, D-VA, by declaring he would not support the $2.2 trillion Build Back Better Act (BBB).

Virginia small businesses, job creators, and workers were wary of what the U.S. House passed in BBB, specifically some provisions mirroring parts of another disastrous piece of legislation called the Protecting the Right to Organize Act.

However, it was not just those who would be affected who need to worry. Virginia politicians may have also had worries of the electoral consequences of voting for these bills.

If you are a small mom and pop business with only a few employees but no labor attorney on retainer, you better get one if the Senate votes for the PRO Act or if the Biden Administration continues to push the provisions in future “must pass” legislation. Continue reading

Now EMT Workers Are in Short Supply

Image credit: News & Advance

by James A. Bacon

Bedford County, an 800-square-mile county in Central Virginia, is theoretically staffed to operate six medic units. Based on call volume, the county could justify maintaining eight units, reports the News & Advance. But on most days one or two of the six are out of service because of insufficient staff to fill them. One day recently, the county had only one paramedic on duty.

The result: longer response times. Delays are potentially a matter of life and death.

The likely root causes of EMT shortages are overwork and insufficient pay, although COVID-related disruptions to training programs have also been a factor in the past year. It is not uncommon for emergency services personnel to work more than 100 hours of overtime a month, sometimes in 72-hour shifts. EMT Jason Morgan says he has not seen a merit increase or cost of living increase since 2004 or 2005. Nationally, shortages are most acute among paramedics, who require more years of education and training.

The chronic teacher shortages in Virginia have gotten considerable media attention, as has the shortage of police officers. It should surprise no one that emergency service personnel are in short supply as well. Continue reading

A Sociological Mystery: Why Are Black Women Dropping Out of the Workforce?

by James A. Bacon

Ever-alert to unexplained sociological phenomena, Bacon’s Rebellion has taken note of a just-published Brookings Institution article based on the November 2021 jobs report. Unemployment is declining for most major demographic groups — Whites, Asians and Hispanics, both men and women, and even for Black men. But the unemployment rate increased in November for Black teens and, most alarmingly in the minds of the Brookings authors, for Black women.

“Between October and November, the labor force participation rate for Black women dropped to 60.3%, effectively erasing the impressive gains reported in August,” reports Brookings. “This reversal in labor force participation is unique to Black women, as women in other racial-ethnic groups continued to regain their footing in the workforce.”

Don’t dismiss the possibility that we’re looking at an anomalous one-month blip that signifies nothing in the long run. But for purposes of discussion, let’s accept Brookings’ premise that there is reason to be worried. How do we explain Black women (and not Black men) dropping out of the workforce? Continue reading

Workplace Heat Rule Given Cold Shoulder

by Steve Haner

First published this morning by Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. 

Virginia’s Safety and Health Codes Board on Friday voted down a proposed workplace heat protection standard, strongly opposed by the state’s business community but ardently sought by organized labor and farmworker advocates.

The Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) was seeking to push the proposed rules out for a final round of public comments. Abiding by the standard schedule for regulatory adoption would have meant final approval rested with incoming Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin. Perhaps the December 3 vote was an early sign that attitudes toward the regulatory state are expected to change.

As is always the case with these proposals, a massive amount of staff work had been put into preparing the draft standard, including several industry and labor stakeholder groups meeting throughout 2021. According to public comments made before Friday’s vote, those stakeholder groups had divided along similar lines.

The briefing document for Friday’s meeting exceeds 350 pages, with the actual proposed standard covering pages 177 to 199. The first round of public comments is also reproduced in the document or can be found here. The early, written comments were heavily favorable to the rules, but the oral testimony Friday was dominated by opponents. Continue reading

Will Election Fallout Extend to Local Union Push?

By F. Vincent Vernuccio

Virginia’s new collective bargaining law is forcing local government officials to deal with a controversial issue fraught with potential errors and legal risks.

If the 2021 election showed anything, it was that Virginia voters felt the Commonwealth was going in the wrong direction. The sweep of Republicans for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and the House of Delegates sent a clear message: Voters wanted change.

Local governments should take heed, especially on controversial issues such as public sector collective bargaining. Elected officials should carefully consider not just voter sentiment, but what new executive authority means for interpretation and implementation of recent laws.

One law, passed in 2020 by a Democratic governor, House and Senate, was a radical change to decades-old precedent. The new law gave local elected officials the ability to pass ordinances allowing government unions to have a monopoly and represent all public employees (even those that do not want representation) and to bargain on almost any issue. However, now there may be stricter scrutiny on the interplay between these ordinance and state laws, not to mention the U.S. Constitution. Continue reading

How Team Northam Botched the Unemployment Insurance Crisis

Source: “Operations and Performance of the Virginia Employment Commission, 2021,” Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission

by James A. Bacon

By way of preface, let us acknowledge that managerial problems at the Virginia Employment Commission preceded the Northam administration. And let us acknowledge that the magnitude of the challenge in responding to the unemployment spike during the COVID-19 epidemic was unprecedented. It would not be fair to blame the entirety of the VEC’s breakdown in performance — one of the worst in the country — upon the ineffectual leadership of Governor Ralph Northam. But it is entirely defensible to say that the VEC’s spectacular failure to expedite unemployment claims was one of the most consequential failures of his tenure.

Team Northam was both slow and lacking in its response to VEC’s challenges. Not only did the agency’s inability to process unemployment insurance claims create hardship for hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Virginians who went months without their checks, it engendered ancillary crises downstream such as the spike in tenant evictions and the turmoil resulting from that. VEC’s failure added immeasurably to COVID-related misery in Virginia,

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) does not draw those conclusions in its recently published report dissecting VEC’s performance during the pandemic, but the inference is unavoidable. Here is what JLARC did say: Continue reading

Is Virginia Exporting Its Human Capital?

Source: Virginia Economic Development Partnership, by way of State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Insights.

by James A. Bacon

Researchers at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) are asking a question with profound implications for Virginia’s higher-education policy. Is Virginia exporting more college graduates than it is importing?

The answer, conclude Tom Allison & Susan Hankins in the latest Insights post, is, “Maybe. Enough to get our attention.”

The issue is politically sensitive because SCHEV has declared as a matter of state policy the goal of making Virginia the “best educated state in the country” by 2030. That goal makes eminent sense if demand exists for students with advanced degrees, especially STEM degrees. But if the demand doesn’t exist for all the credentialed young people churned out by Virginia’s colleges and universities, and if graduates migrate to states with more job opportunities, then Virginia winds up subsidizing human capital development for other states. Continue reading

Local Collective Bargaining Off to Slow Start

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Although the alarm bells have sounded repeatedly on this blog, there has not been a rush to establish public employee bargaining in Virginia. Today, about a year and a half after the General Assembly enacted the authorizing law, and six months after it went into effect, only three jurisdictions have enacted ordinances authorizing collective bargaining, with another jurisdiction, Loudoun County, scheduled to vote on an ordinance on November 10, which seems likely to pass. In contrast, at least three jurisdictions have officially said “no” to collective bargaining.

Furthermore, none of the four collective bargaining ordinances, either adopted or pending to date, include teachers. School boards oversee the schools and will be the ones to consider collective bargaining by their employees, including teachers. So far, no local group of teachers has been authorized to engage in collective bargaining, nor has any group officially requested to do so.

The localities are all in Northern Virginia. In addition to the pending vote in Loudoun, the city of Alexandria and the counties of Fairfax and Arlington have approved a collective bargaining ordinance. One city, Portsmouth, went as far as to have an ordinance drafted by staff, but then backed away when it came to adopting it. Continue reading

Stronger Teacher Unions = Weaker Parents

Loudoun County parents pack a School Board meeting. Photo credit: Idiocracy News Media

Allowing collective bargaining will put yet another special interest ahead of the parents who simply want a say in what is best for their children.

by F. Vincent Vernuccio

First published by Virginia Works and reprinted with the author’s permission. 

Virginia parents soon could lose even more control over their children’s education.

Parents frustrated with school curriculum and other education issues throughout the state have earned national attention. But as that frustration boils over into school board recall petitions and the race for governor, one policy change that could limit parental and voter choice is being overlooked: public sector collective bargaining.

new law in Virginia gives local governments and school boards the power to permit government unions to have a monopoly on representing public employees. If school boards pass the law, they will be forced to negotiate with these union officials.

This will put an extra, unaccountable unelected layer of bureaucracy between parents, teachers and schools.  Continue reading

Why Virginia Job Growth Lags Region, Nation

Chesapeake Climate Action Network webpage boasting about the defeat of a gas pipeline expansion, a signal seen by location managers all around the U.S.

by Steve Haner

“Virginia’s economic recovery continues to outpace the nation… Our unemployment rate remains well below the national average and has fallen consistently every month for the past fifteen months… I’m proud of our roaring economic growth…”

So claimed Governor Ralph Northam (D) in a September 17 news release.

It came just after Virginia’s economy showed especially anemic results in August employment data, capping a period of poor performance effectively described in a recent Bacon’s Rebellion post by Richmond economist A. Fletcher Mangum.  Virginia’s job growth this spring and summer has trailed the vast majority of other states, with the August data placing us at a shameful 47th out of 50. Simply achieving the national average growth rate that month would have meant 75,000 more jobs. Continue reading

Virginia Job Growth Trails U.S. Averages

Click for larger view.

by A. Fletcher Mangum

A. Fletcher Mangum

Virginia’s employment growth has been underperforming the national economy for quite some time. As shown in Figure 1, soon after the recovery from the Great Recession began in earnest in 2011 Virginia’s year-over-year growth in total employment uncharacteristically fell behind the national economy and even briefly went negative in 2014.

Then in early 2020, just as in the rest of the country, economic conditions in Virginia changed drastically when the governors’ lockdowns of economic activity were imposed in response to the pandemic. Between March and April of that year nearly 20 million jobs were lost nationally (or approximately one out of every eight jobs in the country), while in Virginia the employment loss was 428,000 jobs (or approximately one out of every nine jobs in the state). Virginia was not as badly hit as the nation as a whole because of its heavy dependence on federal employment and contracting (which were not significantly impacted by the lockdowns) and disproportionate employment in the Professional and Business Services sector (where people were better able to work remotely).

However, history is now repeating itself as Virginia once again falls behind the nation in the recovery and that trend is getting worse. In April of this year, when year-over-year employment growth turned the corner and moved into positive territory nationally, Virginia trailed the pack and continues to do so. In April Virginia ranked 41st among the states in year-over-year total employment growth, gained ground to hit 32nd in May and 30th in June , and then fell back to 39th in July and all the way to 47th in August. Continue reading

Behind the Labor-Shortage Headlines


by James A. Bacon

The news is full of stories about labor shortages. The latest case in point, which prompted this column, is Virginia Mercury article focusing on the paucity of nurses. The author lists several plausible reasons to explain the deficit, from COVID-related burnout to a shortage of nursing school faculty. Similarly, Bacon’s Rebellion has discussed the shortfalls in police departments across Virginia and the lack of teachers. I hear trucking companies advertising repeatedly on the radio for truck drivers, and as I look for suitable living arrangements for aging relatives, I have heard similar tales from retirement communities. Meanwhile, small businesses everywhere are reporting that they cannot find enough workers.

While observers can cite narrow-bore explanations to explain what’s happening in, say, the nursing industry, the ubiquity of the problem across all economic sectors suggests that there may be a common cause. Continue reading