Although waste handling firms can expect very little from Congress in the labor law arena, they should continue to monitor state legislatures, where workplace rules are undergoing profound changes.
States are dealing with a wide range of employment issues, according to an annual survey conducted by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Lawmakers are focusing on minimum wages, employee testing, discrimination and worker privacy.
"Overall, the level of activity was normal," said Labor Department Analyst Richard Nelson, who has tracked state legislative actions for 20 years. "I didn't see any major swings in any [labor law] areas. I don't think there were any surprises.
However, Nelson noted an unprecedented change after the 1994 elections when control over nearly half of the states' labor agencies shifted from one political party to another. As a result, most of these agencies were subjected to thorough operations reviews. "A lot of state labor commissions are looking at structure, re-examining how they do things," he said.
Legal changes in worker privacy is a continuing trend at the state level, according to a BLS survey. Employers in Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, New Mexico and Oregon now have legal immunity when they provide other employers with job performance information about a current or former employee. Fearing retaliatory lawsuits by workers, many employers refuse to furnish employee recommendations or additional information other than to confirm salary and dates of employment.
Although most states considered either introducing a minimum wage law or increasing the minimum wage in 1995, only Massachusetts took action - approving a wage increase to $4.75 and a jump to $5.25 in January 1997.
Currently, the federal minimum wage is $4.25 per hour. If the Clinton administration has its way, the minimum wage will climb by $0.90 per hour over a two-year period. Minimum wage rates in 12 states and the District of Columbia exceed the federal rate.
Significant changes in equal employment laws occurred in several states. Rhode Island now bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Meanwhile, Arkansas amended its laws to prohibit gender discrimination by state employers.
Another area with an equal employment angle - genetic testing - is getting attention in some states. New Hampshire lawmakers voted to ban the use of genetic testing as a condition for employment or membership in a labor organization or in granting licenses. In addition, Maine voted to prohibit employers from insisting that job applicants submit to HIV tests or disclose if they have ever had such a test.
Finally, the Texas legislature voted to exempt employees from participating in a workplace "trip reduction plan" if the employees live within 30 miles of work or spend an hour or less commuting to work. The trip plan stems from a soon-to-be-abandoned effort by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to decrease air pollution by reducing automobile commuting.