Federal Report: Keystone XL Pipeline Moves Forward and Other Notes from D.C.

Finally! The long-sought approval for the Keystone XL oil pipeline is in sight. For years, the Indiana Chamber has advocated for the pipeline, which would ship crude from Canada’s western oil sands region to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

This action by the Trump administration reverses one of former President Obama’s most politically charged environmental decisions that came more than a year ago, when construction of the 1,200-mile pipeline was blocked.

In other news:

  • Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02) helped kick off a small business workshop in South Bend. More than 275 local small business owners attended the Boost Your Business event hosted by Facebook, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce. She also participated in a Facebook Live discussion about women in small business with Tanya Allen of NAWBO. Check out the video!
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce honored 266 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 55 members of the U.S. Senate with its annual Spirit of Enterprise Award, given in recognition of their support for pro-growth policies in the second session of the 114th Congress. All Republican members of the Indiana delegation and U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly were given this prestigious honor. The award is based on votes given on critical business legislation as outlined in the U.S. Chamber’s scorecard, How They Voted. Congressional members who supported the organization’s position on at least 70% of those votes qualify. This go-round, the U.S. Chamber scored members on eight Senate votes and 14 House votes related to access to capital for small businesses, ensuring our workforce has the skills necessary for the jobs of tomorrow and helping American manufacturers compete in a global economy. In addition, votes in support of building the U.S. water infrastructure system, protecting intellectual property and updating energy policy also factored into scoring.
  • Last week, Congresswoman Susan Brooks (IN-05) voiced concern about a rising drug issue before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. The focus was on combatting the next wave of the opioid crisis: fentanyl. That drug is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, and has contributed to more than 5,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. since 2013. This hearing builds on the work from last Congress to combat this crisis. Watch Rep. Brooks’ remarks delivered during the hearing.
  • The Republican-led U.S. Senate voted last Wednesday to block an Obama-era rule that critics said would have led to more citations for workplace safety record-keeping violations. Senators voted 50-48 to block the Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule. The House had voted to do so previously. Employers are required to maintain a log of workplace injuries and illnesses that occur during a five-year span, but an employer may only be cited for failing to keep proper health and safety records within a six-month window. Critics said the Obama administration was trying to extend the penalty window to five years, describing the rule as “an unlawful power grab.” But labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, said the six-month restriction makes it impossible to enforce the record-keeping requirements since the federal government doesn’t conduct regulator inspections of even the most hazardous workplaces and won’t likely find a violation before the window has expired. The labor union said the Obama administration’s rule created no new obligations, but simply made clear that employers have a responsibility to maintain accurate injury and illness records for five years and during this time can be held accountable for violations if the records are inaccurate. The sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, applauded the Senate vote, saying “we should be focused on proactive policies that help improve workplace safety instead of punitive rules that do nothing to make American workers safer.” The legislation goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.
  • Representative Trey Hollingsworth (IN-09), along with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09), introduced the Fostering Innovation Act last week. This bipartisan legislation slashes burdensome regulations that hinder companies that operate on the very edge of scientific and medical breakthroughs. “Indiana is leading the way in medical device and biotech innovation,” said Rep. Hollingsworth. “This bipartisan, commonsense reduction of burdensome regulations will empower many industries throughout the Hoosier state to devote more resources to product innovation, research and development.” At this time, emerging growth companies (ECGs) are exempt from certain regulatory requirements for five years after their initial public offering. One of the requirements EGCs are exempt from is Sarbanes-Oxley Section 404(b) which requires public companies to obtain an external audit on the effectiveness of their internal controls for financial reporting.

Keystone Pipeline Fallout Includes Union vs. Union Kerfuffle

The Keystone XL Pipeline saga continues with Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar leading the effort to revive the project. The Competitive Enterprise Institute looks at the union divide that was deepened by President Obama’s decision to kill the job-creating movement of oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Terry O’Sullivan, head of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA ), has called Obama’s action "politics at its worst," saying that "once again the President has sided with environmentalists instead of blue collar construction workers." O’Sullivan angrily vowed that "workers across the U.S. will not forget this."

The Keystone project has long pitted the two key Obama constituencies against one another. Green groups agitated against the pipeline over worries of water contamination and other (largely baseless) environmental fears, while many building and trade unions lusted after the thousands of construction jobs the pipeline would create in the United States.

Mark H. Ayers, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO has publicly hammered the jobs issue. In a January 18th press release, Ayers voiced the frustration of many union workers, saying "…with a national unemployment rate in construction at 16 percent nationally, it is beyond disappointing that President Obama placed a higher priority on politics rather than our nation’s number one challenge: jobs."

James T. Callahan, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers, agrees, complaining to the Washington Post  that Obama’s decision was "…a blow to America’s construction workers," who are struggling in "the sector hardest hit by the recession."

In his rejection of the pipeline, Obama blamed Republicans for forcing him to meet what the While House deemed an arbitrary deadline. This despite the fact that the State Department has had the application for Keystone since 2008, held 20 meetings on the subject, and produced a gargantuan 1,000 page Environmental Study to assess the possible consequences of the pipeline, which would bring oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast of the United States. As Rep. Joe Barton of Texas ruefully noted, the U.S. "fought and won World War II" in a shorter amount of time.

Besides causing a fissure between the President and some of his key union allies, the Keystone issue has also ruptured the once-strong Green/Labor alliance between environmental and union organizations, and has even pitted union against union. LUINA announced on January 20 that it left the so called "BlueGreen Alliance," citing "Job-killing attacks on the Keystone XL pipeline by some of the alliance’s labor and environmentalist members."

The Alliance describes itself as "a national, strategic partnership between labor unions and environmental organizations dedicated to expanding the number and quality of jobs in the green economy."

While LIUNA has left the Alliance, many unions remain committed to the partnership between the Democratic Party’s two most powerful special interests and staunchly oppose the pipeline. O’Sullivan has called this emerging divide "as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon."

To these unions, the LIUNA President said he was "repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women."

Obama’s NLRB Appointments Raise Concerns About Board

The National Labor Relations Board has been in the news quite a bit lately, as we mentioned a couple of weeks ago on this blog. Now, President Obama’s latest NLRB appointments are drawing the ire of some concerned he may be creating an anti-business sentiment on the board. National Journal reports:

President Obama made three recess appointments (recently), filling vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board that were left open by Republican refusals to confirm appointees.

The appointments to the NLRB, a lightening rod for conservatives opposed to any expansion of labor rights, are Sharon Block, currently deputy assistant secretary for congressional affairs at the Labor Department; Terence Flynn, now the chief counsel to NLRB member Brian Hayes; and Richard Griffin, general counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers.

Block’s appointment fills a vacancy left by Craig Becker, a former associate general counsel to both the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO who was seated on the NLRB via a recess appointment in March 2010. Obama withdrew his appointment of Becker for a full term last month after it was fiercely resisted by Senate Republicans.

The NLRB appointments followed Obama’s controversial recess appointment of Richard Cordray to a new consumer board…

The Wall Street Journal also reports how business groups are less than thrilled about the appointments, or the manner in which they were appointed:

Unions applauded the appointments, which will likely earn Mr. Obama some goodwill with this key Democratic constituency heading into November’s presidential election. SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said Mr. Obama "showed true leadership" with his installments, a notable compliment given that last year, union leaders accused the president of being too willing to compromise with Republicans.

The International Union of Operating Engineers, which employs Mr. Griffin, said he is fair-minded and would provide "stability and balance to American workers and employers." The Senate Republicans that have tried to cripple the NLRB have a position "comparable to ejecting the referee if you don’t like the score of the game," the union said in a statement.

Business groups and Republicans disagreed. Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, said he was "extremely disappointed" in Mr. Obama’s decision to "avoid the Constitutionally mandated Senate confirmation process." Mr. Enzi said that two of the three nominees were submitted to the Senate on Dec. 15, just before the Senate was scheduled to adjourn for the year. That gave the Senate "only one day to consider and review these nominations," he said in a statement.

Some labor lawyers who represent employers suggested Wednesday that lawmakers might legally challenge Mr. Obama’s appointments. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell stopped short of saying he would do so but suggested Mr. Obama might have overstepped his boundaries. The NLRB and consumer protection agency appointments "potentially raise legal and constitutional questions," Mr. McConnell said in a statement, adding that the ones at the NLRB "are particularly egregious."
 

It’s Time to Decide RTW Issue

Indiana House Democrats are correct: Right-to-work (or any important legislation) deserves comprehensive consideration before it is voted upon and potentially enacted.

But the House D’s own web site acknowledges that the issue has been thoroughly debated already.

• Numerous meetings conducted earlier this year by the Interim Study Committee on Employment provided overwhelming proof that making Indiana a “right-to-work” state …

 “Even though months of testimony provided no proof that ‘right-to-work’ would bring new jobs to Indiana …

"Numerous meetings" and "months of testimony" qualify as comprehensive consideration. It’s time for the issue to be decided before the full General Assembly, starting with the joint committee hearing scheduled for Friday morning.

Hoosiers want their representatives to do the jobs they were elected to do, not play games or use delaying tactics. Whether Indiana becomes the 23rd right-to-work state needs to be decided on its own merits.

Let the debate — not the games — continue.  And if you need more facts to help you decide where you stand on the issue, check out our web site.

Prejudiced Push Poll Results Fail to Reflect Reality

The following is a statement we released this afternoon:

A new poll released today by the Indiana State AFL-CIO is a biased attempt to misrepresent strong public support for right-to-work among Indiana voters.

“This is a biased push poll (worded to elicit a certain response), not a fair or objective measure of support for right-to-work,” asserts Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar. “This is comparable to the political poll, for example, that asks ‘if you knew Congressperson X cheated on his or her spouse, would you be more or less likely to vote for him or her?’”

AFL-CIO survey respondents were told that right-to-work would “result in many fewer Indiana workers having union representation” prior to being asked their opinion on the issue.  In contrast, the scientific polling conducted for the Indiana Chamber since 2005 has posed this question: “A right-to-work law says that a worker cannot be required to join a labor union or pay dues in order to get or keep a job. Do you favor or oppose a right-to-work law for Indiana?”

“We’ve scientifically polled this issue statewide five times over the past six years with a fair and objective question and found overwhelming overall support for right-to-work, ranging from 65% to 77%,” Brinegar adds. “In the most recent poll, that support was strong no matter the person’s party identification.”

May 2011 Indiana statewide voter poll question on right-to-work:

  • Democrats: 48% favor, 42% oppose
  • Republicans: 78% favor, 15% oppose
  • Independents: 68% favor, 22% oppose

“Creating jobs and economic growth must be Indiana’s top priority,” Brinegar says.  “Passing a right-to-work law will clearly open the door to the many job-creating companies that won’t even look at Indiana today and provide individual workers with the freedom of choice to determine whether or not they wish to belong to a union.”

Senate Republicans Call for Withdrawal of NLRB Member

Forty-seven U.S. Senators have signed a letter to President Obama asking him to withdraw his nomination that put Craig Becker on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Notable signers include Richard Lugar, John McCain, Tom Coburn and Mitch McConnell, among many others.

Sworn in April of last year, Becker had served as associate general counsel to both the SEIU and AFL-CIO. The letter (linked below) points out that the Senate voted in opposition to his initial appointment, and argues he has done nothing to alleviate previously held concerns. The Senators contend Becker "has led the Board to re-open and reverse settled decisions, made discrete cases a launching point for broad changes to current labor law, and used an 18-year-old petition to initiate a rulemaking proposal that likely exceeds the Board’s statutory authority."

Here is the full letter — with signatures.

There’s Nothing ‘Free’ in This ‘Choice’

Uninvited guests called on the Chamber this morning – both outside and inside the building. Why? Desperation to preserve union viability through passage of the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

A handful of picketers came together on a downtown street corner for a short time, while the Chamber was conducting its EFCA seminar (for members and customers) in its conference center. The protesters were Central Indiana representatives of Jobs With Justice, a national effort focused on workers’ rights. The piece of paper they were distributing to passers-by claimed that EFCA will not eliminate so-called “secret ballot” elections and that it would “increase penalties for companies who instill fear in employees by harassing and intimidating them against the union.” Those two points are so laughable that they are not even worth addressing, but the picketers did have the right to express their opinions.
 
Inside the Chamber office, two members of the local AFL-CIO maneuvered their way into a portion of the actual seminar before they were asked to leave. They had not registered or paid the fee to attend. They were not eligible to participate – that has been clearly communicated this time and through many years of offering union-related programs. They did not have the right to “invade” an educational conference.
 
The seminar informed representatives of Indiana companies about EFCA and steps they should take if they did not:
  • want to be victim to a “card check” organizing campaign without any prior notice;
  • want their workers to be subject to coercion through card check instead of maintaining the fundamental right to a secret ballot; and
  • want to have independent government arbitrators decide how their business operates (if a union is put in place and no agreement is reached within a short time frame on an initial contract).

EFCA is bad for employers and employees. The only beneficiaries are union leaders.

 
Why has private sector employee involvement in unions declined to less than 8% nationwide? Because employers have provided open and effective communication, listened to their employees and created an atmosphere of trust. When those factors are not in place, employees may pursue union representation. The rules are in place for that to happen. Trying to artificially boost union numbers by taking away worker rights and the ability of employers and employees to negotiate contracts would be a disastrous move in the wrong direction.
 
The Indiana Prosperity Project has the details and offers you the ability to communicate your opposition to EFCA to your representatives in Washington.
 
The Indiana Chamber will host another EFCA seminar with Barnes & Thornburg in late August, featuring the most recent information. E-mail [email protected] to be added to the list to receive future information about this program.