THE STATE OF THE STATE OF THE UNION: President Joe Biden is gearing up to give the annual State of the Union address.

As our Jonathan Lemire reports, the speech will serve as a vehicle for the White House to thump its chest for what it has done in its first two years while also laying the groundwork for upcoming fights against House Republicans and the 2024 presidential campaign.

The president will have the unexpectedly good fortune to deliver his address fresh off a jobs report that pegged monthly employment growth at more than half a million — more than double what Wall Street had anticipated.

But in terms of labor policy, expectations are low that the president will lay out much beyond affirm his commitment to ideas like paid family leave, a higher federal minimum wage and the PRO Act.

Each of those were items that were left by the wayside, due to concerns from moderate Democrats and heavy lobbying from outside business groups, and a GOP-controlled house dials down those odds significantly. And using the bully pulpit to draw a contrast with Republicans is a tacit acknowledgment of that reality.

The Labor Department is working on an array of regulatory items, and that will likely be where the action is for the foreseeable future, though these proposals can be hard to distill into easily digestible nuggets in a speech like the SOTU.

But some proponents are hoping for glimpses on what the administration’s plans are for overtime regulations upended under the Trump administration, as well as nods to the rise in the number of union members (though the full picture is less rosy on that), among other appeals to key Democratic interests.

“I think it is really time to get back to thinking about how we best protect wages, especially for low wage workers,” said Sharon Block, a former Biden administration official and executive director of Harvard Law School’s Center for Labor and a Just Economy.

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HELP STIRS TO LIFE: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee is scheduled to hold its organizing meeting Thursday morning, which should give the first real taste of the dynamic between Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and top Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

The two are taking over for Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who left for the Senate Appropriations gavel, and former Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who retired.

For his part, Sanders has already previewed some of his priorities for the next two years in a mid-January speech, in which he hit upon many of the themes that have made him a seminal figure for the political left.

Cassidy, a medical physician, is best known for his health care wonkiness, though he has shown a bipartisan streak, backing major deals on infrastructure spending and the CHIPS and Science bill.

PERCOLATING AT OPM: The Office of Personnel Management is looking to speed up hiring practices across the federal government while also shunning applicants who may pose a threat to agencies, Government Executive reports.

“The new rule would disqualify employees and applicants who attempted to overthrow federal, state, local or tribal governments; engaged in acts of force or violence to prevent others from practicing their constitutional rights; indoctrinated others into taking illegal actions; or participated in a group with knowledge of its unlawful aim.”

More agency news: “NSF staffers revolt over Trump appointee’s pay plans,” from E&E News.

THE ESG IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE: The Republican crusade against things associated with ESG has started to turn inward, with GOP AGs going after one of their own organizations.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach late last month sent a letter to the National Association of Attorneys General demanding an accounting of the group’s investments, our Jordan Wolman reports.

The group reported investing funds managed by BlackRock, State Street and Vanguard — frequent hobby horses of the anti-ESG camp. But NAAG’s executive director, Brian Kane, told members that its investment objectives are “maximize returns within an acceptable level of risk … and to provide an appropriate level of spending.”

The broadside came as GOP AGs recently filed a lawsuit seeking to block DOL’s rule freeing up 401(k) plans and other vehicles to factor in ESG in their strategies, if they want.

More workplace news: “Why Companies Can’t Quit Jack Welch’s Much-Hated Employee-Ranking System,” from Bloomberg.

SOTU RED CARPET: AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler will be attending Tuesday’s State of the Union address as a guest of Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Lawmakers of both parties leverage their guest passes to highlight remarkable constituents, reward key allies or make political statements. However the opportunity to do so has been limited in recent years due to Covid-19 restrictions.

It’s not the only link between the organization and the senator’s office of late, as the federation recently named one of Merkley’s former advisers, Ray Zaccaro, as its head of public affairs.

More union news: “Disney World union members reject contract offer,” from CNN.

N.J. PASSES TEMP WORKER BILL: It took four attempts, but the New Jersey state Senate passed legislation Thursday granting better wages and protections to temporary workers, NJ Advance Media reports.

“The bill (S511) would give temp workers in New Jersey the right to basic information in English and their native language about where they will be working, the pay rate, their schedule, what kind of work they will be doing, and how much sick time they can get.

It would also eliminate many of the fees temp agencies deduct from workers’ paychecks, including mandatory fees for the vans that take temps to their worksites each day.”

Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed a previous iteration of the bill but is expected to sign this version.

Related: “17 staffing agencies fighting temp worker bill not registered to operate, state says,” from New Jersey Monitor.

THE LONELY LONE-STAR R: Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) is fighting an uphill battle within the House Republican caucus against conservatives’ hardline immigration proposals, our Sarah Ferris and Olivia Beavers report.

“Gonzales has long pushed the GOP to adopt a more nuanced view on its single most politically explosive issue. As he’s ferried over 100 fellow lawmakers to his district since 2018, the self-described border hawk has implored other Republicans to look beyond headlines and consider an immigration system that also ‘welcomes those through the front door.’

One of Gonzales’ strategies: Set up meetings for his colleagues with tough-talking sheriffs whom he’ll later reveal are Democrats, or conservative ranchers whom he’ll point out later actually support loosening some immigration laws.”

— “Restaurants can’t find workers because they’ve found better jobs,” from The Washington Post.

— “Federal Firefighter Groups Find Flaws in a Watchdog’s Conclusions on Recruitment, Retention Challenges,” from the Government Executive.

— Ann McLaughlin Korologos, Reagan-era labor secretary, dies at 81, from The New York Times.

— “Meet the Activist Championing the Rights of Workers From the Inside,” from The Nation.



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