Busy Hoosier Congressmen Still Manage a Few Good Comments

Washington, D.C. is filled with its share of sirens, whistles and other warning noises. Inside the U.S. Capitol, however, the sound of choice is the bell that signals a vote is about to take place.

There were several post 6 p.m. bells last Wednesday on the House side during the congressional delegation roundtable portion of the Indiana Chamber’s D.C. Fly-in. Indiana’s reps did their job by going to vote, but also hustled back to answer questions and share insights for the more than 70 Indiana business attendees.

Among their comments:

  • Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-2nd District) on the possibility of additional troops in Afghanistan: "Will 10,000 accomplish anything? Do you need 50,000? Do you need 100,000?" Those questions and others, he said, are still unanswered.
  • Rep. Andre Carson (D-7th District) deserves credit for not going the political route and offering a clearly unpopular view when he professed his strong support for the Employee Free Choice Act as well as cap and trade.
  • On cap and trade, Rep. Dan Burton (R-5th District): "I think it will cost a lot of jobs; it will drive a lot of business and industry to go offshore."
  • On the same subject, Rep. Mike Pence (R-6th District) noted the emphasis should be on the GOP’s "all of the above strategy" that includes new technologies, renewables, conservation and 100 new nuclear plants in the next 20 years.
  • And finally on that topic, Sen. Richard Lugar explained how a bill was passed in the House. "There was a tremendous desire from President Obama and the Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi) to get a bill, any bill. Nearly 300 pages out of the 1,200 pages in the bill came in the early morning hours on the day of the vote. Deals needed to get done (to get more House votes). When Rep. Steve Buyer (R-4th District) questioned with the phrase that "you would never do that in the Senate," Lugar quickly responded with at least it’s "usually during the daylight."
  • Buyer, a late arrival, summed up several issues: "On card check, it’s un-American. On troop levels, we’ve been the provider of security in Europe for 60 years. It’s time for Europe to stand with America. On cap and trade, it’s the wrong debate. It should be about rebalancing our energy portfolio."

There were several comments on health care reform, with Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-8th District) getting the final word. He just returned from one of the House votes with a message that touched on health care and other unrelated frustrations.

"This place is schizophrenic," Ellsworth stated. "The adjournment votes tonight just disrupt business. There are really good, intelligent people here, but people send folks who talk one way back home and do the opposite here. We all wouldn’t last five minutes in a board room if we acted like we do here."

He goes on to tell of a ranking member on a committee considering health care legislation who told him before the August recess, ‘We don’t want to pass anything and make you guys look good.’ "Both parties do it. It’s sad. I came here to try and change it."

Finally, on health care, Ellsworth added, "You can’t do it by printing off more money. Tort reform ought to be part of it. But personal responsibility is the hardest thing to legislate — the person who goes to Golden Corral three times a week or lights up (cigarettes)."

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. 

Chamber Shares Updates on Federal Issues

Federal issues — and the price tags attached to many of the efforts and proposals — were featured in today’s Policy Issue Conference Call for Chamber members. Cameron Carter, who leads the Chamber’s federal lobbying efforts, discussed a variety of topics.

Add up the numbers — $1.2 trillion in stimulus, $750 billion in TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program), $410 billion in additional 2009 budget appropriations and proposed 2010 budgets from the House, Senate and White House of approximately $3.5 trillion — and as Carter said, "We’re looking at debt levels not seen since the end of World War II." The expected $1.75 trillion deficit in a single year is projected to double the existing debt in five years and triple it within 10 years.

Some of the other discussion points:

  • Employee Free Choice Act: Senate is now several votes short of what it needs for cloture. The issue is not going away, however, with a potential return to the agenda in June or July.
  • Environmental carbon tax, and cap and trade provisions that would "increase the cost of all goods we consume." While the goal of protecting the environment is laudable, the creation of a market for carbon emissions will produce a price tag beyond comprehension. Carter says to expect some type of legislation yet this year.
  • Health care: Another top President Obama priority, Carter calls it a "stealth" procedure thus far, putting elements of health care reform into the stimulus package and budget resolutions. While a health care bill itself with the goal of providing insurance for all is on the way, the strategy thus far in this area and others of "policymaking within budget resolutions" is concerning. The reason it’s being done: it takes 51 votes in the Senate to pass budget matters, compared to the 60 needed for cloture on other issues to allow debate to move forward.
  • Immigration reform: In the past week, Obama cited this as another top priority to an already crowded plate for Congress. That may lead, Carter offers, to something else falling by the wayside.

Carter also discussed the more high profile roles for Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh (one of the leaders of a Moderate Dems Working Group) and Rep. Mike Pence (chairman of the House Republican Conference). He closed with a simple "no" when asked if he had any desire to be working on these issues in Washington — where he served on the staff of Sen. Richard Lugar in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

That’s OK. He and others working to protect the business interests of Indiana companies and their employees will have their hands full right here in the Hoosier state. 

Call, Listen, Learn and Comment on Federal Topics

So you want to know how what is taking place in Washington these days is going to impact your company here in Indiana? 

Good idea. Do you have a couple of days? How about a full week in our nation’s capital? After several years in which most of Washington simply seemed to be looking toward the beginning of a new administration, the Obama team, as expected, has hit the ground running. Regulatory agencies, Congress and the White House are all operating at full steam ahead.

Since the days or week options aren’t realistic, how about a one-hour Policy Issue Conference Call (formerly known as the First Friday Conference Call) for Indiana Chamber members. Our monthly (and sometimes more frequently) Friday updates goes federal for the first time on April 10 (9:30-10:30 a.m. Eastern).

I get to do my funny (at least some family members think so) opening comments, then turn the program over to Cameron Carter, the Chamber’s federal relations guru. Cam will talk Employee Free Choice Act, proposed health care reforms, runaway spending and more. There will be plenty of time for your questions and comments.

If your company does not belong to the Indiana Chamber, join today. Learn more.

States Seek Pre-emptive Strike Against Card Check

Companies and employees are rightfully worried about the ramifications of the Employee Free Choice Act — or card check as it is more commonly known. The removal of the secret ballot from the union organizing process benefits one group — union leaders.

If the Democratic majorities in Congress make this a reality, states want a weapon in their arsenal. Utah is the first to place a measure on the ballot that aims to pre-empt the possible changes. The Legislature passed a resolution that would have voters decide whether they want to amend the state constitution to require that the secret ballot elections be maintained.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who offered his support for the measure as the Legislature debated the issue, says,  "This constitutional amendment would ensure that individuals will be constitutionally guaranteed the right to a secret-ballot for these types of important elections." The resolution will go before the voters in 2010.

Advocates for the measure argue it was needed because of the possibility that Congress will enact the card-check bill.

GOP state Rep. Carl Wimmer, the bill sponsor, adds, "Is the secret ballot under attack? Right now there is a movement going through the federal government that will — regardless of what you’ve heard — do away, effectively, with secret ballots when it comes to employee representation and forming of labor unions."

Several other states are pushing similar efforts. The group Save Our Secret Ballot is working on initiatives to amend state constitutions so that union elections are required to be conducted by secret ballot.

We Know About EFCA; What About NLRB?

If you haven’t followed the developments around the Employee Free Choice Act (the Chamber and Indiana Manufacturers Association detailed the challenges in this recent letter), you should. Even more troubling for employers and employees than the quick and easy route to union certification is the binding arbitration provision that would have disputed union contract negotiations being decided by a third party.

But, as is often the case, the regulatory changes on the way could be even more onerous. President Obama is expected to appoint three members — two Democrats and one Republican — to the National Labor Relations Board. The Dems will have the majority and are expected to:

  • Revise earlier policy decisions
  • Change the definition of "employee" to enhance the union-joining process
  • Expand union communications in the workplace
  • Institute a waiting period to decertify a union

Union leaders see now as the time to boost their sagging influence. That would be good if most employees actually benefitted from such a move.

EFCA Spells TROUBLE for Employees, Employers — We Can Help

When Congress passes this "little" stimulus thing, one of the items expected to be on the fast track is the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). I would much rather see a "fast track" on the trade promotion authority needed to maintain and grow our country’s status in the global market, but that’s another story.

EFCA will end secret ballot union elections and impose unreasonable mediation/arbitration provisions on initial contract negotiations. Union leaders like it; employers and many employees won’t. As we’ve documented on this blog, even the Chicago Tribune and former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern think it will be detrimental to workers.

Being prepared from a company perspective will be essential. The Indiana Chamber can help with the February 20 Employee Free Choice Act Seminar. A minimal investment and three hours of your time may pay tremendous dividends down the road.

House of Cards: Chicago Tribune Criticizes Employee Free Choice Act

The Chicago Tribune editorial page recently took a swipe at the proposed Employee Free Choice Act card-check bill, concluding, "the inaptly named Employee Free Choice Act would be good for labor bosses. But it wouldn’t be good for laborers."

The Trib writes:

The Employee Free Choice Act would allow unions to create local bargaining units without winning the vote of a majority of workers in a secret ballot.

The local unit would be certified if a majority of workers endorsed it by signing an authorization card handed out by union organizers.

Fair enough? Not really. The so-called card-check bill would not protect workers and it would not be "free choice." It would strip away their right to vote in secret, making it more likely they would face intimidation from organizers and other workers. The pressure would be on to check the card, whether or not they actually wanted a union.

Once the union was certified by a card check, the employer would have to accept arbitration if a contract couldn’t be negotiated within 120 days.

It’s clear why union bosses want this law. Union membership ticked up last year, but it has been plunging for half a century. In the 1950s, about one-third of U.S. workers belonged to a union. Now just 12.1 percent of U.S. workers—and just 7.5 percent of private-sector workers—are in a union.

There are many reasons for that decline, including the growth of the service sector economy, the movement of manufacturing jobs overseas—and the choice of workers who believe that a union would require them to pay dues but wouldn’t benefit them.

We’ve written about this before, noting that even George McGovern thinks this is a bad idea.

McGovern & Heritage Agree: Employee Free Choice Act Light on “Free”

James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation offers his assertion that the proposed Employee Free Choice Act effectively ends worker privacy and hinders their ability to make personal choices regarding union membership. He argues that while EFCA could be a boon to union dues, it would help little else and deliver a crushing blow to worker freedom:

Organized labor’s highest legislative priority is the deceptively named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). EFCA replaces secret ballot elections—the method by which most workers join unions—with publicly signed union cards. While eliminating secret ballots is extremely unpopular, many EFCA support­ers argue that the legislation merely gives workers the choice between organizing using secret ballots or pub­licly signed cards. This argument is false; nothing in the legislation gives workers any control over union organizing tactics. Though EFCA still allows for secret ballot elections under unusual circumstances, stan­dard union organizing tactics ensure that publicly signed union cards will dominate the recognition pro­cess. As a result, the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act effectively eliminates secret ballot elections.

Former Democratic Senator and presidential nominee George McGovern also penned this column for the Wall Street Journal earlier this month:

To my friends supporting EFCA I say this: We cannot be a party that strips working Americans of the right to a secret-ballot election … To fail to ensure the right to vote free of intimidation and coercion from all sides would be a betrayal of what we have always championed.