Human Resources

Workforce Investment Act Moves Toward Reauthorization

Yesterday the Senate HELP Committee marked up and passed legislation that reauthorizes the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).  WIA is long overdue for reauthorization, having never been reauthorized after passage over 10 years ago. Due to support from America Works sponsor and member of the committee, Senator Hagan (D-NC), the Senate bill includes some strong language on industry-recognized credentials supported by the NAM. In addition the bill puts a strong emphasis on data collection, performance indicators and metrics.

The Bill will now need to be considered by the full Senate before it can be conferenced with a House version that passes last March.  The Bills are starkly different, with the House bill taking a stronger stance on consolidation of programs and state involvement to reduce bureaucracy.


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America Works Introduced in Senate

Today, Senators Hagan (D-NC) and Heller (R-NV), with additional support from Senator Donnelly (D-IN), introduced the AMERICA Works Act, which will help in addressing the severe skills gap facing US manufacturers. Recent data has shown that approximately 600,000 jobs may be going unfilled due to the lack of a skilled workforce, hindering economic growth and innovation in the U.S. The America Works Act begins to address this problem by focusing existing federal training dollars towards nationally-portable, industry recognized certifications within the Workforce Investment Act, Perkins and TAA. Industry-based certifications let potential workers know exactly what skills are in demand in the private sector, thus using these programs more efficiently.

Today’s modern manufacturing requires a skills level more advanced than in previous generations. Sandy Westlund-Deenihan, CEO of Quality Float Works, an NAM member company, uses industry-recognized certifications to ensure she is hiring the right person.   “Our manufacturing process is not what it was 25 years ago, it requires more advanced skills to deliver a high-quality product.  Hiring someone with a nationally-portable, industry recognized certification allows my company to be secure in the knowledge that we are hiring someone with the skills necessary to maintain that level of quality.”

The Senators should be commended for their leadership on an issue of utmost importance to manufacturers. Currently, federal training programs can be overly-bureaucratic and often frustrating to employers. Setting a clear path for the most valuable training helps employers know they are hiring the right person, helps potential employees know exactly what skills are necessary for success, and it makes more efficient use of existing Federal resources. The NAM is very excited to support this important piece of legislation.

Christine Scullion is director of human resources policy, National Association of Manufacturers.

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House Bill Would Offer Step Toward Closing Skills Gap for Manufacturers

It’s well known that manufacturers are facing a skills gap and need access to skilled talent to innovate and retain competitiveness. While developing the domestic pipeline of skilled labor is the utmost priority for manufacturers, we are still in need of global talent to remain competitive and grow the economy. 

As it stands today, each nation has access to no more than 7% of the total green cards the United States issues on an annual basis – however individuals with highly skilled talent in demand are not equally distributed globally.  This creates significant barriers for manufacturers, whose options for maintaining and promoting valued employees are limited by this arbitrary cap. By phasing out the per-country limits, equally-qualified visa applicants would be considered on a first come-first served basis and employers would have greater flexibility to keep talented individuals in the US.

A solution to this problem exists in H.R. 3012, the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2011,” which amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to phase out and eliminate the per country limits for employment based visas and places more emphasis on employer demand.  The bill is being considered by the House today.  We hope that it will be passed as a good step toward developing the workforce that manufacturers need.

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Circumnavigating News of the National Association of Manufacturers

Editor’s note: We changed the headline at 2:30 p.m. from “Circumventing … ” to “Circumnavigating,” our usual term for an “Around the Web” feature. While we occasionally vent, we try not to circumvent.

Reporters covered the petition filed by the National Association of Manufacturers and other business groups against the Environmental Protection Agency’s Boiler MACT and incinerator waste regulations, reported yesterday the NAM’s Alicia Meads at Shopfloor, “Manufacturers Petition EPA for Stay of Boiler, Incineration Rules.”

From Voice of America, “Delay in US Law to Combat Africa’s Conflict Minerals Sharpens Divisions“:

This month, without giving any reason, the SEC postponed announcement of the new rules to between August and December.

A representative of the U.S. National Association of Manufacturers, Stephen Jacobs, called the delay awkward.  He also called for a transitional phase of the law and less rigorous demands.

“The SEC should create a category such as indeterminate origin as a temporary, let me emphasize temporary, measure for products manufactured or produced with conflict minerals that issuers are unable in the first years of their program, despite their best efforts, to determine the origin,” said Jacobs.

Here’s the NAM’s ManuFact on conflict minerals and the SEC’s troublesome proposal. (continue reading…)

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Yet Another Blow from that Darn ‘Pro-Business’ Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning released its 6-2 ruling in Kasten v. St. Gobain that an employee’s grousing is just as good as a a written complaint under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA). The ruling is here.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) joined with the Equal Employment Advisory Council and the NFIB last year in an amicus brief arguing that the Fair Labor Standards Act provision is clear and narrower than similar provisions under other federal civil rights statutes which prohibit retaliation based on an individual’s mere opposition to an employment practice.

As the NAM Manufacturing Law Center entry explained, extending the FLSA to verbal complaints would undermine the ability of employers to effectively manage their workforces and enforce legitimate workplace rules. Requiring written complaints of potential violations “not only would facilitate swift resolution of the dispute, but also would discourage employees from making false or frivolous complaints that stem more from idle ‘grumblings’ than from legitimate workplace concerns.” Written complaints are fully protected against retaliation and can be properly addressed by management. If the law is interpreted to provide special status to employees making oral complaints, on the other hand, employers will face more difficult problems when addressing poor performance or disciplinary situations.

But the court ruled otherwise.

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NLRB Continues to Hear Cases That Would Radically Change Labor Law

The National Labor Relations Board continues pose many challenges to employers and employees alike with its recent actions involving several cases and proposed rulemakings. Just last week the National Association of Manufacturers submitted formal regulatory comments to the Board that question its authority to issue regulations that would require almost all employers to post or otherwise communicate a biased notice of unionization rights to their employees.

Now the Board continues to hear cases that could set troubling legal precedent and shift longstanding interpretation of labor law. One such case is Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center of Mobile and United Steelworkers, District 9, 356 NLRB No. 56 (2010). This case is important because it is “representation case”, meaning that there will be no opportunity for direct judicial review and the Board could begin applying its decision immediately in other cases.
The Board’s ruling is expected to reverse 50 years of case law by radically changing the standard for determining an appropriate bargaining unit for all of the estimated six million workplaces covered by the National Labor Relations Act. The key issue is whether employees performing the same job at a single facility presumptively constitute a bargaining unit for organizing purposes, irrespective of any commonality those employees share with other employees outside the proposed unit.

Former NLRB member and labor law expert extraordinaire Pete Kirsanow recently commented on the impact of this case in National Review Online’s The Corner blog. In his piece, Kirsanow explains how this case could ultimately skew U.S. labor law to make it much easier for labor unions to organize workplaces.

Kirsanow identifies other implications. The case could:

  • Increase the probability that a workplace will have multiple bargaining units representing different classifications of employees; e.g., one unit of, say, two set-up men, another unit of six press operators, yet another unit of three welders, a separate unit of four packers, etc. etc.
  • Increase the probability that a company’s employees will be represented by — and the company must bargain with — multiple unions, e.g., the UAW in one part of the plant, the Teamsters in another, and the SEIU in a third.
  • Increase the probability that an employer would have to manage separate work schedules, grievance procedures, wage schedules, and benefits packages for various bargaining units in a single workplace.
  • Increase the man-hours a company spends on personnel matters such as discipline, grievances, arbitration, and bargaining.
  • Reduce management’s flexibility in matters such as hiring, work assignments, transfers, promotions, layoffs, and overtime.
  • Reduce productivity and increase costs
  • The Board has historically applied a clear set of standards to determining a unit appropriate for bargaining – this case would turn those standards upside down. We hope that board will adhere to longstanding precedent when determining this case.
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Secretary Solis, Tell Us About the Contingency Attorneys

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis testifies Wednesday before the House Education and Workforce Committee, a hearing entitled “Policies and Priorities at the U.S. Department of Labor.”

One useful line of inquiry might pursue the Department of Labor’s deal with the American Bar Association to farm out employee complaints that come to the Department to contingency-fee attorneys. Questions might include:

  • President Obama has left in force President Bush’s Executive Order No. 13433, “Protecting American Taxpayers From Payment of Contingency Fees.” That order specified that “no agency shall enter into a contingency fee agreement for legal or expert witness services.” Can you please explain to me why this new arrangement does not violate that executive order. Should the president repeal that executive order?
  • Explain, if you would, how exactly the attorneys are selected for this referral service. What percentage fee of the awards will the attorneys be working for?  Please provide me a list of the attorneys who are serving in this capacity. Do you intend for their arrangements with clients to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act?
  • How does it improve the business climate or encourage employers to hire new workers if the Department of Labor refers lawsuits against business to outside, contingency-fee attorneys? Can you understand why employers might be upset that your agency is serving as a referral service for trial lawyers?

We wrote about the White House’s embrace of this trial lawyer referral service last week in two posts, “What about the Executive Order Barring Contingency Fee Lawyers?” and “Department of Labor: Working the Phones for Contingency Lawyers.”

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The President’s Budget: Creating Jobs Through Increased Enforcement?

President Obama has made it very clear that he wishes to work with employers to help ensure they have an environment to creating jobs. We appreciate this commitment and look forward to see how his recent Executive Order on federal rulemaking is implemented. The Obama Administration has sent many signals that they’re going to be carefully reviewing regulations that may hinder job creation.

However, as analysis of the President’s budget continues it appears that the Administration is sending mixed signals. Specifically, the Department of Labor’s budget request does trim $1.1 billion dollars for FY 2012, it would still increase spending for agencies that regulate employers. Looking specifically at OSHA, there are increases for “safety and health standards” for the agency to develop new rules and spending on whistleblower programs. We should note that this request does slightly increase funding for compliance assistance programs, but the agency has proposed rules that would gut many employer outreach efforts like the on-site consultation program. A half a step forward, a full step back.

Looking beyond OSHA, the President’s budget would increase spending to “combat” employee misclassification. The Administration has often stated that they perceive a problem a widespread misclassification of employees as independent contractors by employers to skirt obligations associated with employees. The President’s request would increase spending for the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor to beef up federal employees to investigate misclassification. This comes on the heels of the Department’s fall regulatory agenda that indicates that the Department is still in the process of developing “Right to Know” regulations that would likely impose a new burden on employers to perform extensive employee audits of each worker – independent contractor and employee alike.

Also troubling is the Department’s proposal to lure states into launching paid-leave programs. The Department is looking to increase spending to encourage states to start programs that would create new entitlements, which inevitably lead further funding down the road.

If the President is serious about assisting employers to create jobs, the Administration needs to do more than simply sign executive orders calling for a review of regulations; he needs to focus on supporting an environment that allows employers to create jobs.

Joe Trauger is the NAM’s vice president for human resources policy.

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Coalition for Workplace Safety Testifying on OSHA

The National Association of Manufacturers co-chairs the Coalition for Workplace Safety, so we pass on this from the Coalition’s website, “CWS Spokesman To Tell Congress of OSHA Priorities“:

From the House Education and Workforce Committee:

On Tuesday, February 15 at 10:00 a.m., the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), will hold a hearing on “Investigating OSHA’s Regulatory Agenda and Its Impact on Job Creation” in room 2175 of the Rayburn House Office Building. Since 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been charged with enforcing federal safety and health standards in America’s workplaces. With nearly 14 million individuals out of work, members of the committee will examine OSHA’s current policies and priorities and how they affect job growth.

Among those testifying is Stuart Spencer on behalf of the Coalition for Workplace Safety.

More information is available from the Committee’s website.

The detailed budget summary for OSHA’s FY12 budget is available from the Department of Labor here. The President’s budget requests $583.4 million for the sub-cabinet agency, up $24.8 million from current spending, about a 4.3 percent increase.

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On Undercover Boss: Denny Slagle of Mack Trucks

Great to see a manufacturer working  on the factory floor for the popular CBS reality series, “Undercover Boss.” The president and CEO of Mack Trucks, Denny Slagle, has the honor next Sunday in the episode airing at 9 p.m. Eastern.

Mack Trucks provides the nuts and bolts in a news release, “CBS to Air Mack Trucks Episode of Undercover Boss, Sunday, February 20“:

In production of the episode, Slagle worked side-by-side with employees at the Macungie, PA, plant that assembles every Mack truck sold in North America; the Hagerstown, MD, plant that produces every Mack engine sold in North America; and the Baltimore, MD, distribution center that provides parts to Mack dealers and customers.

“I came away from this experience with a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by our front-line employees,” Slagle said. “Mack people live up to the brand’s reputation – they’re tough, genuine, dedicated, and reliable. The future truly is bright for this 111-year-old American icon.”…

Each week, Undercover Boss follows a different executive as they leave the comfort of their corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their companies. While working alongside their employees, they see the effects that their decisions have on others, where the problems lie within their organizations and get an up-close look at both the good and the bad while discovering the unsung heroes who make their companies run.

Denny Slagle, Mack President & CEO, working in disguise at the company’s Macungie Assembly Operations during production of the hit CBS show, Undercover Boss.

A description of Mack Trucks, Inc., from the company’s website:

Founded in 1900, Mack Trucks, Inc. is one of North America’s largest producers of heavy-duty trucks. MACK® trucks are sold and serviced in more than 45 countries through a worldwide network of more than 670 sales, parts and service centers.

Mack is a member of the Volvo Group.  The Volvo Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of trucks, buses and construction equipment, drive systems for marine and industrial applications, aerospace components and services, and is the world’s leading producer of heavy-diesel engines (9-16 liter).  The Group also provides complete solutions for financing and service.  The Volvo Group, which employs about 100,000 people, has production facilities in 19 countries and sells their products in more than 180 markets. 

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