Labor Lobbyists Loved These Six Issues Last Quarter

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By Jacquie Lee and Jasmine Ye Han

Six issues attracted the most attention in the second quarter from lobbyists who work on labor legislation, according to federal disclosure forms.

Headline-grabbing topics like the overtime rule, apprenticeships, and joint employment consumed a lot of time. Lobbyists also pressed lawmakers about expanding right-to-work legislation, the independence of businesses on tribal land, and whether employees can exchange overtime pay for time off.

Lobbyists represented organizations ranging from nonprofits to universities to corporations, but most of them were interested in the six topics below. The overtime rule was mentioned more than any other labor issue in disclosure forms for spending between April 1 and June 30.

Overtime Rule

The overtime rule snagged the spotlight in second quarter lobbying efforts, according to Bloomberg Government data. Employers are keeping an eye on the rule for good reason: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will hear arguments in October on the legality of the rule, issued by the Obama administration. The rule would have raised the annual income threshold for overtime eligibility from $23,660 to $47,476.

“Our members had some concerns about the overtime rule,” Paul Fiore, senior director of government affairs for the Auto Care Association, told Bloomberg BNA.

The prospect of a threshold hike prompted many businesses to reorganize their workforce, which meant changing employees’ hours, schedules, and even firing people, Fiore said. Some companies instituted changes—including raising some salaries above the new threshold—before the rule was to take effect late in 2016.

When a federal judge put the rule on hold, employers’ hands were tied, Fiore said. “It would have been difficult to take back the changes without creating a difficult situation with employee morale,” he said. While most members agreed the threshold needed an update, raising it to more than $47,000 was too much, he said.

“I believe our members would be willing to look at something much more moderate,” he said.

But employee-side organizations like the AFL-CIO hope the Obama administration’s rule holds.

“We believe DoL got it right the first time, essentially updating the salary threshold to account for inflation since the last increase,” William Samuel, the AFL-CIO’s government affairs director, wrote to Bloomberg BNA. “Even at $47k, fewer people will be eligible for overtime pay than was historically the case.”

Apprenticeships

“Apprenticeships and workforce training” was next on the list, with 29 organizations weighing in on the issue. Apprenticeships made headlines after President Donald Trump signed an executive order in June to streamline the application process.

Job training has largely been a bipartisan issue, but organizations have clashing opinions on how apprenticeships should look.

The Construction Employers of America doesn’t have an official stance on Trump’s executive order, but it wants to ensure apprenticeship programs remain rigorous, spokesman Jack Jacobson said.

“Several of our members, if not the entire organization, would be concerned that easier apprenticeship registration could dilute the value of the programs,” he said.

“If you talk to other folks in other organizations, you may hear frequently that there’s a workforce shortage, and high-quality apprenticeship programs will help minimize those workforce shortages,” he said.

Jacobson emphasized the “high quality” part of the equation. “You get a certificate, and people come out of those programs with the certificate but without the skills needed to perform the work,” he said.

Joint Employer

The topic of joint employment came in third, and lobbyist representation was a mixed bag. Management advocates typically oppose efforts to expand liability for affiliated businesses, saying it creates confusion among small businesses and franchise owners.

In 2015, the National Labor Relations Board said in Browning-Ferris Industries of California Inc. that a business that exerts indirect control over workers may be considered their joint employer under federal labor law. The NLRB’s decision is on appeal.

“Until Congress provides clarity for what constitutes a joint employer, franchises and independent businesses will continue to struggle over a very open-ended liability standard,” Michael Layman, vice president of regulatory affairs for the International Franchise Association, told Bloomberg BNA.

IFA is focusing on a bill ( H.R. 3441) introduced in the House on July 27 called the Save Local Business Act, Layman said. This bill is the “only vehicle that would provide permanent clarity on the joint employer issue for local businesses,” he said. Layman said he is “very optimistic” the bill will pass.

But employee-focused groups are concerned large corporations won’t take responsibility for their small franchises if the law doesn’t require it.

“Joint employer would shield employers from responsibility for potential violations of safety and the Fair Labor Standards Act,” the AFL-CIO’s Samuel said.

Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act

H.R. 986 “eliminates the National Labor Relations Board’s jurisdiction over the tribal owned businesses,” Greg Mourad, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee, told Bloomberg BNA. “And the forced dues system is created by the NLRA, so you’re freeing all the employees on those reservations from being forced to pay union dues.”

But the bill has opponents worried.

“It would be the biggest retreat for workers’ rights in decades,” Samuel said. “It would rob about 800,000 people of their basic rights to organize and negotiate for better jobs at all tribal enterprises.”

Groups like the AFL-CIO are more concerned about riders making their way into appropriation bills rather than the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act passing on its own, Samuel said. Riders are provisions added to bills about to be heard in Congress. They’re typically used to get controversial measures passed that might not hold up on their own.

“They’re using appropriations bills to make labor policy, because they attach provisions to say ‘no funds can be spent on this act,’” Samuel said. The AFL-CIO is currently lobbying appropriators to make sure those provisions don’t survive, he said.

Working Families Flexibility Act

H.R. 1180 would allow employers to give workers a choice to take paid time off in lieu of time-and-a-half pay for overtime work.

Employer-side lobbyists consider it an expansion of potential benefits and a “very pro-flexibility and pro-worker bill,” the IFA’s Layman said.

“That could be something that meets the need for a particular employee and their family circumstances,” Layman said.

Critics think it will just benefit employers.

“It would give employers more flexibility and employees less flexibility and pay,” Samuel said. The bill is on its way to the Senate after passing the House on May 5.

National Right-to-Work Act

Twenty-eight states have right-to-work legislation, which bans labor agreements that require employees to join a union or contribute dues and fees to one. Now employers are pushing for a federal right-to-work law.

“Everything else about labor relations is already controlled by federal law,” Mourad said. “The NLRB created the problem when it gave the unions the power to force people to pay dues. Because it’s Congress that gave the unions this illicit power, it is Congress’ job to fix it,” he said.

However, Mourad concedes it’s unlikely right-to-work legislation will pass in this session of Congress. Just a vote on the issue would be a “win” for his organization, he said, “just to get every senator to take a definite stand on the issue so the American people can see who stands with them and who stands with union bosses.”

Samuel agreed that the chances of the bill becoming law are slim.

“It’s very unlikely that they’ll see movement,” he said regarding a national right-to-work bill. The National Right to Work Act ( H.R. 785) was sent to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Feb. 1.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacquie Lee at jlee1@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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