Friday, October 14, 2011

A Summary: US Chamber 2011 Regional Government Affairs Conference

From Director of Government Relations, Katie Whitchurch: Last week I was fortunate to attend the US Chamber Regional Government Affairs Conference in Chicago. It was a fantastic conference filled with knowledgeable speakers and the latest information on a broad range of topics. Some of those included:

Deficit Reduction and the Super Committee – The top story on everyone’s mind at the conference was the status of the deficit and the work of the so-called Super Committee. The US Chamber, in a letter dated September 29th and co-signed by over 115 chambers and industry groups, asked that the Super Committee use this as a chance to achieve real reform to entitlement programs and the US tax code. It is time for America to be competitive again and whereas “…75 countries have cut their corporate tax rates to make themselves more tax-competitive and increase economic growth,” American businesses continue to operate under one of the world’s highest tax levels. In addition, pressure continues to be applied to the entitlement programs in our country and now is the time to enact real reform and ensure that future generations of Americans can rely on a stable and sustainable system.

Environment – If the various environmental segments throughout the three days had been called “How the EPA has gone too far and why it’s ruining American prosperity,” it would have been just as appropriate. Speakers from the Institute for 21st Century Energy and Project No Project painted an image of the EPA as an organization so focused on issuing regulations and rules that it has forgotten about industry and the country’s very real need for energy. For instance, in the next 20+ years, our energy demand will increase by 53% but rather than rising up to meet the demand, there are currently over 350 new energy projects in the United States, stalled “…due to significant impediments, such as regulatory barriers, including inefficient review processes and the attendant lawsuits and threats of legal action.” This is simply not acceptable. The resources are there, we don’t have to worry about that, but it is high-time for America to rise up and establish itself as a world-leader in energy production and development. Our security, way of life, and continued production depend upon it.

Labor –While here in Arizona we are fighting to preserve the employee protections put in place last session in the form of SB1365, in Washington, DC employee rights are under constant attack.  From shortening the time between union petition and election to limiting a company’s ability to seek legal advice during the unionization process, the NLRB is hard at work taking away employers’ rights and free speech. Think those “bad” corporations are the only ones being affected? Think again. According to 355 NLRB No. 203 from September 2010, union organizers have the right to harass, annoy or disturb “…the employees who are being solicited.” More succinctly, forget those harassment policies! When you combine this rule with the more recent ruling against Boeing and it’s right to move locations within the country,  these decisions set a dangerous standard for regulatory overreach and limited freedoms in the workforce.

Trade – For the first time in a very long time, the US Chamber had something to be happy about with regards to international trade. While at the conference, it became public knowledge that the three pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea would be taken up by Congress quickly and two nights ago, they received bi-partisan passage out of the House and Senate. As you already know, the Arizona Chamber has been a vocal advocate of free trade, urging our Congressional delegation to support these bills and grow the Arizona economy. We join with the US Chamber in celebrating this achievement for international trade and the opportunities that it will now open to American businesses looking to expand into new markets.

What does this mean for you? It means that without the diligence of the US Chamber and like-minded organizations, the US could be in much worse shape. We know what the issues are and we know what needs to be done to get American back on the right track. Where we need your help is getting the word out there! Stay informed of what the US and Arizona Chambers are doing, contact your elected officials, spread the word to your families and friends, be engaged. Together, we can continue America’s tradition of freedom, security and innovation. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ever-changing labor law subject of Chamber seminar

Former United States Air Force F-16 instructor pilot and labor law attorney Steve Wheeless of Steptoe and Johnson LLP joined us at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry today to discuss recent regulatory and rule changes at the NLRB and DOL. 

A wide range of professionals attended the discussion, including attorneys, government affairs and human resource professionals, as well as representatives from non-profit organizations and hospitals. 

A few highlights of the discussion:

The NLRB has adopted a new approach in defining what constitutes an appropriate bargaining unit in health care facilities that has now extended to include all employers. Under this new standard, an employer is required to prove that employees excluded from a proposed unit “share an overwhelming community of interest” with the employees in the proposed unit in order to prevent micro-fracturing within an organization. This new standard makes an organization very susceptible to unionization, and it is critical for employers to not only identify those groups of employees vulnerable to unions, but to also educate themselves and all employees about this change so that they are prepared to respond to a union solicitation.

The second major change from the NLRB and DOL making it easier for unions to unionize an organization is expediting the representation election process. As the name suggests, the change will significantly condense the time in which employers can respond to a union—  from 21 days to 7 days— and also condense the time for employers to inform their employees about the election. This is another change in which it is critical for employers to be knowledgeable of the representation election timeline should they receive a petition and decide to contest an election.

Steve’s message to the audience was clear: labor law is constantly changing – stay informed. Prepare yourself and your organization for a union solicitation, even if you think it impossible.

Many thanks to Steve for his informative and engaging discussion.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Hiring Our Heroes

Last Thursday, we were very lucky to serve as one of the community partners for Hiring Our Heroes Phoenix. Staff on the ground reported that final numbers appeared to be roughly 800 - 1,000 job seekers – a great turnout!

We are deeply appreciative to the US Chamber of Commerce, Department of Labor Veterans Employment and Training (DOL VETS), the local chambers, the Arizona Office for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), the Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces (EPAF), and the Arizona Department of Economic Security for all they did to help ensure a successful event! In addition, we wish to thank Congressman Paul Gosar, Congressman Trent Franks, Congressman David Schweikert and Senate President Russell Pearce for their opening remarks.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the 120+ employers that chose to attend. Thank you for your support of America’s heroes!