Report from America: Chicago, Illinois

By October 19, 2006Report from America

Report from AmericaWe were just outside Chicago yesterday, in Hoffman Estates, speaking to the MAI Labor Law Conference. The MAI is a first-rate, well-run organization with NAM pal Mary Lynn Fayoumi at the helm. We actually stayed in Naperville, home of former Harris Fawell (R-IL), one of the most decent men who ever served in Congress. Our topic yesterday was an update on what’s going on in Washington and what might be expected. We had to open by lamenting the absence of Harris Fawell and good, decent folks like him.

We handed out this classic list of current committee chairs and potential committee chairs and their NAM Vote Ratings. It’s a powerful document. We talked about the narrow margins, the almost poisonous partisanship and the tyranny of the 60-vote rule in the Senate. This last issue has become one of our favorite outside-the-Beltway topics of late, as almost no one knows that you need 60 votes to get anything done in the Senate. Once they understand it, they realize why Congress doesn’t accomplish more. The House passes bills, the President is ready to sign ’em, but we can’t get to a fair up or down vote in the Senate.

If the House or Senate flips to the D’s, we know from public statements what is on their agenda:

Minimum wage increase. This is a political, not an economic, issue. If folks really cared about lifting the poor out of poverty, they’d focus on skills in education. Most minimum wage workers are kids working part time after school. Think of it this way: Did you ever make the minimum wage? Do you make it today? Exactly — it’s a bottom rung. Democrats are certain to move on this issue first, as evidenced by lefty Harold Meyerson’s piece in yesterday’s WaPo.

The anti-democracy bill: This is our short-hand for the so-called “card check” bill championed by Rep. George Miller, the would-be Chair of the Education and Workforce Committee in a Dem-controlled Congress. It would short-circuit elections, letting unions gain recognition just by coercing folks into signing cards. How ironic if America, the beacon of democracy around the world, throws over democracy in this most important venue?

FMLA Expansion: There are three bills already introduced on this topic. One would allow nurse practitioners to grant an employee certification for a “chronic condition”, another would expand the definition of “family” to to include– among others– same-sex partners, domestic partner and parent-in-law. The third would lower the threshold from 50 to 25 and allow FMLA use for parental or grandparental involvement for extracurricular activities, up to four hours in any 30-day period, a record keeping nightmare.

Oversight galore and at least an effort to overturn of the long-overdue Department of Labor overtime regs of a year ago.

ADA Expansion: Majority Whip-in-waiting Rep. Hoyer (D-MD) has long identified this as a priority and a goal. Remember that since the ADA passed, the participation rate of the disabled in the workplace has dwindled. This law has been a shot in the arm to the trial bar and has done precious little for the disabled in the workplace. Top claims under the ADA are for back injuries and emotional distress. Maybe clarification would be better than expansion.

In terms of what to do, we urged this audience of mostly HR practitioners to look to the Prosperity Project. It is a great employee communications tool. Surveys have shown that workers find employers far more credible than unions on these issues and that employees want tor receive information from their employers about the elections. No one is told how to vote, they are only given information from which they can make an informed decision. Helps you sort out the real supporters of manufacturing from the wannabes.

All in all, a great trip. Thanks again to Mary Lynn Fayoumi and MAI for the hospitality and for raising a good and attentive crowd.