Big Sky Labor and Employment Conference Explores Common Ground on Impending Issues, Grants Preview of Biden Agenda

August 13, 2021

Labor- and management-side experts at the first annual Big Sky Labor and Employment Conference, hosted by Roger and Lori King, agreed that much of the law governing the employment relationship is broken, revealing the potential for collaboration on solutions moving forward.  The meeting was well attended by government officials from both parties, union leaders, HR Policy member companies, and labor- and management-side attorneys and business groups, including HR Policy staff.

New administration, new priorities for NLRB and DOL:  As the National Labor Relations Board gains a Democratic majority and President Biden’s picks for key Labor Department leadership positions are confirmed, the Democrats' ambitious labor and employment agenda will begin to take shape.  Representatives from both agencies delved into what this might look like, with bargaining unit size, joint employer, and diversity and inclusion mentioned as initial priorities. 

AI and discrimination an EEOC focus:  Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioners Keith Sonderling and Vice Chair Jocelyn Samuels both noted the potential for discrimination in the use of artificial intelligence in the hiring process and the employee lifecycle.  Former Acting Chair Victoria Lipnic described the Commission’s work on AI in 2016, which keyed in on the promising aspects of big data.  She further noted that the landscape is “very, very different now” and thus the Commission is likely to take a different approach. 

Who’s the boss?  Among the challenges employers face in complying with labor and employment laws passed in a different era, few are as vexing as determining independent contractor and joint employer status.  Panelists discussed granting employers a safe harbor to provide independent contractors benefits they would otherwise not receive, as was proposed in the Association’s Workplace 2020 report

Worker voice:  Panels discussed the policy and practice responses to the evolving worker voice, delving into items such as the PRO Act and whether European-style arrangements such as Works Councils could function in the U.S. 

The future of union organizing:  Union and management-side representatives discussed the roots of and potential solutions to modern challenges in labor relations, as viewed from both sides.  A pressing question: will sweeping labor law reform such as the PRO Act do what proponents promise, or do the perceived issues have a deeper source in culture and/or aligning with the modern economy? 

A rare opportunity for dialogue:  The meeting served as an unprecedented gathering of well-respected leaders from different perspectives on the oft-contentious workplace policy issues.