The Last Time the Minimum Wage Was Worth This Little Was . . . the Year Elvis Released His First Single

A recent Economic Policy Institute analysis of the Consumer Price Index confirmed what many individuals and families across the country have felt of late: a dollar just won't stretch as far as it used to. The analysis states: "The value of the federal minimum wage has reached its lowest point in 66 years" and "the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is now worth less than at any point since February 1956," when the minimum wage was "75 cents per hour, or $7.19 in June 2022 dollars."

Consider this: July 2021 marked the longest continuous period without a minimum wage increase since the minimum wage was established. The current $7.25 minimum wage is now worth 27.4% less (when adjusted for inflation) than it was when the wage was set to that rate in July 2009. It is worth 40.2% less than the value of the federal minimum wage at its historic high, when it peaked in February 1968. The Biden Administration has made increasing the minimum wage a priority. Stay tuned to these updates for developments on that front.

Three Quarters In, FY22 Union Election Petitions Already Outnumber FY21 Petitions

As these updates have reflected, union activity has seen accelerated growth and public approval, particularly in recent months. This information is borne out by the National Labor Relations Board's Office of Public Affairs bulletin, circulated on July 13, 2021, which announces that, during the first nine months of Fiscal Year 2022 (Oct. 1–June 30), union representation petitions filed at the NLRB increased 56%.

As of May 25, of this year, FY2022 union petitions exceeded the total number of petitions filed over the entire course of the prior year. Unfair labor practice charges—filed by individuals who believe an employer or union has violated the National Labor Relations Act—have also seen a marked increase over the same period from 11,451 to 13,106 charges.

Watch Out for Wage Issues

This month has seen two big wage-and-hour settlements.

First, Major League Baseball (MLB) and minor league players settled a class-action suit in California. The MLB agreed to pay $185 million to settle the suit filed by minor league players who sought pay for minimum-wage and overtime violations. Additionally, the MLB agreed to allow teams to pay minor league players during spring training, extended spring training, and instructional leagues in Florida and Arizona. As ESPN reported, "Some minor league players continue to receive salaries below the poverty line after Congress in March 2018 passed a bill that exempted them from federal minimum-wage and overtime laws. The majority of the more than 5,000 players in the minor leagues make between $4,800 and $14,700 annually. Minor league players have been paid only during their season." The suit stems from violations running from 2009 to 2011.

Poultry producers are also on the hook for wage issues: they must pay nearly $85 million to workers who were subject to an illegal wage-fixing scheme. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the settlement, which concludes the DOJ's investigation into an alleged scheme to share details about various poultry producers' processing plant workers' wages and benefits in violation of federal antitrust laws. Cargill Inc., Sanderson Farms Inc. and Wayne Farms LLC are included among the wrongdoers.

EEOC Provides Updated COVID-19 Workplace Testing Guidance

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regularly updates its COVID-19 guidance, and with the increase in Omicron subvariant BA.5, the EEOC has once again released an update. This time, the agency is focused on workplace testing.

The guidance provides that employers may impose viral screening tests and require testing prior to an employee entering a workplace only if the test is "job-related and consistent with business necessity." Employers can satisfy this standard if the testing policy is consistent with current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, and/or state and local public health authorities at the time of testing.

The EEOC has also provided some factors to consider as employers decide whether to institute testing policies: community transmission; employee vaccination status; accuracy and speed of processing for different types of COVID-19 viral tests; degree to which breakthrough infections are possible for employees who are "up to date" on vaccinations; ease of transmissibility of the current variant(s); possible severity of illness; what types of contacts employees may have with others in the workplace or elsewhere where they are required to work (e.g., whether they work with medically vulnerable individuals); and potential impact on operations if an employee enters the workplace with COVID-19.

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