House Education & Workforce Committee

Broad Support for Legislation to Provide Certainty to Employers Offering Innovative Employee Wellness Programs

Education & the Workforce Committee - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 4:30pm

The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, introduced by Senate and House leaders last month to provide legal certainty for employers offering innovative employee wellness programs, is receiving broad support from business leaders and health care industry experts.

The bill was introduced last month by Rep. John Kline (R-MN) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) with Reps. Phil Roe (R-TN) and Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Sens. Mike Enzi (R-WY), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Tim Scott (R-SC), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Pat Roberts (R-KS) and aims to eliminate confusion caused by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for employers offering wellness programs that lower employees’ health insurance premiums to reward healthy lifestyle choices.

“The National Business Group on Health writes in strongsupport of S. 620/H.R. 1189, the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act. We applaud your leadership to align government policy and provide legal clarity to support employers’ wellness programs and financial incentives that reward healthy lifestyles….Your proposed legislation would clear up this confusion for employers and the employees who value these programs and aligns the federal government’s policy to consistently support wellness programs.”—Brian J. Marcotte, National Business Group on Health

“To maintain global competitiveness and help achieve good health in our communities, American companies must encourage healthy behavior with every tool in our toolkit. In other words, a healthy workforce is a productive workforce, and a productive workforce makes for a healthier American economy. We thank you for your sponsorship of S. 620.”—James A. Klein, American Benefits Council

“We urge the Senate to pass this legislation this year. It is important for Congress to eliminate the legal confusion surrounding wellness program financial incentives that has been caused by the recent legal actions taken by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and restore certainty for employers who want to reward their employees for leading healthy lifestyles.”—Daniel V. Yager, HR Policy Association

“ERIC applauds you for developing and introducing this legislation, as it would provide legal certainty and eliminate confusion caused by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for employers offering wellness programs to their employees. This issue is significant for ERIC members as their wellness plans are part of the comprehensive health benefits they provide to millions of active and retired employees and their families.”—Annette Guarisco Fildes, The ERISA Industry Committee

“NAHU has long been a proponent of group wellness programs and we appreciate your leadership on this important issue for employers and employees alike to be able to participate in wellness programs that will help to both improve overall health and reduce the cost of care. With an ever increasing cost of medical care and health insurance coverage, wellness programs have a demonstrated ability to improve health and save money. Efforts to increase the use of wellness programs and encourage all employees to live a healthy lifestyle will only further these results.”—Janet Trautwein, National Association of Health Underwriters

"The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act will provide employers with more certainty that evidenced-based employee wellness programs designed to meet existing regulatory guidelines will not face unnecessary litigation from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Passage of this bill will protect crucial tools for employer wellness programs, biometric screenings, health risk assessments, and premium incentives, which help employees receive interventions best suited to their health needs and goals.”—Mary R. Grealy, Healthcare Leadership Council

“This legislation provides legal certainty and eliminates confusion arising from action by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for employers offering employee wellness programs that lower health insurance premiums to reward healthy lifestyle choices. The legislation provides support for those employers, who may be hesitant to provide wellness programs for fear of violating EEOC requirements.”—Kathryn Mueller, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

“On behalf of the undersigned organizations, which represent millions of employers who employ tens of millions of employees, we write to express our support for S. 620, the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, and to thank you for sponsoring this important legislation. S. 620 will provide much needed clarification over the legality of voluntary workplace wellness programs and employers’ use of financial incentives to encourage participation in such programs.”—Associated Builders and Contractors, Associated General Contractors, College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, Food Marketing Institute, HR Policy Association, Independent Electrical Contractors, International Foodservice Distributors Association, International Franchise Association, International Public Management Association for Human Resources, National Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, National Council of Chain Restaurants, National Federation of Independent Business, National Grocers Association, National Public Employer Labor Relations Association, National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association, Society for Human Resource Management, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce link

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House, Senate Leaders Denounce President’s Veto of Joint Resolution to Stop NLRB Ambush Election Rule

Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 12:00am
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) denounced President Obama’s veto today of their Congressional Review Act joint resolution to stop the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) from implementing its “ambush election” rule.
 
Under the Congressional Review Act, the House and Senate can vote on a joint resolution of disapproval to stop, with the full force of law, a federal agency from implementing a rule or regulation or issuing a substantially similar regulation without congressional authorization. The resolution passed the House on March 19 by a vote of 232 to 186, after passing the Senate last month by a vote of 53-46.
 
“The NLRB’s ambush election rule is an assault on the rights and privacy protections of American workers," said Speaker of the House John Boehner. "With his veto, the president has once again put the interests of his political allies ahead of the small business owners and hardworking Americans who create jobs and build a stronger economy.”

“The President’s partisan veto will further empower powerful political bosses at the expense of the rights of middle-class workers,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Republicans believe workers have the right to make their own, informed choices when casting a ballot in the workplace; we don’t think powerful political bosses should rush or force that decision on them, as the ambush rule proposes. We’ll continue to stand strong against Obama Administration attempts to weaken workers’ rights in order to enrich its powerful political friends.”
 
“President Obama has decided to stand with his powerful friends in Big Labor, rather than America’s workers and job creators,” said Kline, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “With his veto, the president has endorsed an ambush election rule that will stifle employer free speech, cripple worker free choice, and jeopardize the privacy of working families. This fight isn’t over. Congress will continue to oppose this radical assault on workers and employers, and we will continue to demand a fair union election process.” 

“The NLRB’s new ambush election rule forces a union election in as little as 11 days—before an employer and most employees even have a chance to figure out what is going on,” said Alexander, chairman of the Senate labor committee. “I’m disappointed the president wasted this opportunity to prevent the board’s rule from infringing on every employee’s right to privacy and every employer’s right to free speech.”
 
“With this veto, President Obama has further proved his administration is more concerned with supporting union bosses than ensuring a fair and impartial process that respects workers’ privacy and right to make decisions that are best for them,” said Roe, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions. “For far too long, we’ve seen the Obama administration’s activist NLRB – which should ensure fair and transparent union elections – put the interests of labor unions before those of job creators and American workers. This latest rule is nothing more than an attempt to speed up union elections, violating the rights of workers to make an informed decision and employers to communicate openly with their employees during a union organizing campaign.”
                                                                              
"It’s disappointing that President Obama chose to side with big labor over the rights of employees and employers,” said Enzi, Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “With this rule the National Labor Relations Board has taken it upon itself to impose new regulations that would hurt businesses and undermine a process that is already providing fair and timely elections. The NLRB needs to know that this rule is out of bounds.”
                                                                           
BACKGROUND: The NLRB’s rule was finalized in December and would shorten the length of time in which a labor union certification election is held to as little as 11 days. In 2014, more than 95 percent of union certification elections occurred within 56 days. In addition, the median number of days from petition to election was 38 days. These numbers surpass the performance goals set by the NLRB itself. The rule gives employers no time to communicate with their employees before a union election and undermines the ability of workers to make an informed decision. In addition, it forces employers to provide employees’ personal information to union organizers without employees’ consent. The ambush election rule will go into effect April 14, 2015. 

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Walberg Statement: Hearing on H.R. 548, "Certainty in Enforcement Act of 2015"; H.R. 549, "Litigation Oversight Act of 2015"; H.R. 550, "EEOC Transparency and Accountability Act"; and H.R. 1189, "Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act"

Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 12:00am

Today, the subcommittee will examine a number of legislative proposals intended to provide greater transparency and accountability to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I’d like to thank our witnesses for joining us. We have a distinguished panel to help us look at a number of complex and important issues.

All workers deserve strong protections against employment discrimination. Toward that end, there continues to be support for federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and others. There is no doubt that every member of the committee expects the fair and vigorous enforcement of these laws in our nation’s workplaces, and that is precisely why we are here today.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission plays a vital role ensuring America’s workers are free to pursue employment without fear of discrimination based on their race, gender, disability, or religion. We need this agency to do its job effectively so that every American has a shot to succeed based on merit and hard work. Unfortunately, the enforcement and regulatory approach adopted by EEOC in recent years raises serious doubts about whether our nation’s best interests are being served.

For example, the commission has implemented controversial guidance on the use of criminal background checks that will make it more difficult for employers to protect their employees and customers. At a hearing held last Congress, the subcommittee received testimony from Ms. Lucia Bone, whose sister, Sue Weaver, was murdered by a man who months earlier had cleaned the air ducts in her home. A simple criminal background check might have saved this innocent woman’s life.

State and local policies requiring criminal background checks are intended to protect Americans who come in contact with workers in vulnerable situations, such as at home and in the classroom. As a result of EEOC’s misguided policy, more Americans will be put in

harm’s way, including women and children. The EEOC should scrap this misguided policy completely, but if it won’t, then Congress should take steps to rein it in and help provide families greater peace of mind the next time they invite a stranger into their home or child’s classroom.

Furthermore, EEOC has challenged employee wellness programs. Employers develop these innovative programs in order to improve the health of employees and their families, increase productivity, and reduce health care costs. Yet litigation pursued by the commission is actually discouraging employers from implementing these programs, even though Congress on a bipartisan basis has expressed its clear support for employee wellness programs.

Lastly, EEOC is spending more time and resources pursuing systemic or “class action” investigations, often without any allegation of wrongdoing. The commission has also been sanctioned in recent years for pursuing claims that are frivolous and without merit. This is how one federal circuit court described an EEOC enforcement action:

“EEOC brought this case on the basis of a homemade methodology, crafted by a witness with no particular expertise to craft it, administered by persons with no particular expertise to administer it, tested by no one, and accepted only by the witness himself.” 

Meanwhile, a backlog of discrimination claims filed by individual workers continues to plague the commission. This is no way to run an agency with a mission as important as the EEOC’s and we must demand better. To help workers succeed in the workplace without fear of discrimination, Congress has a responsibility to hold the commission accountable for its regulatory and enforcement policies.

We will examine today a number of legislative proposals to help us do just that. Together, these proposals will instill greater transparency and accountability in EEOC, improve its enforcement activities, and help more workers and employers enjoy the benefits of employee wellness programs. I look forward to discussing in greater detail with our witnesses the positive reforms in these bills and hope they will receive strong, bipartisan support.  

 

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TOMORROW: Subcommittee Hearing on Bills to Provide Greater EEOC Transparency, Accountability

Education & the Workforce Committee - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 1:00pm
On Tuesday, March 24 at 10:00 a.m., the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, chaired by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), will hold a legislative hearing on the Certainty in Enforcement Act of 2015 (H.R. 548), the Litigation Oversight Act of 2015 (H.R. 549), the EEOC Transparency and Accountability Act (H.R. 550), and the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (H.R. 1189).The hearing will take place in room 2175 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
  • The Certainty in Enforcement Act of 2015, introduced by Chairman Walberg, provides a safe harbor to employers complying with a federal or state law mandating they perform criminal background checks before hiring for certain jobs.
                       
  • The Litigation Oversight Act of 2015, introduced by Chairman Walberg, requires EEOC commissioners to approve or disapprove, by majority vote, EEOC-initiated litigation involving multiple plaintiffs or an allegation of systemic discrimination. It also gives individual commissioners the power to require the commission, by majority vote, to approve or disapprove any litigation.
                         
  • The EEOC Transparency and Accountability Act, introduced by Chairman Walberg, requires – among other provisions – the EEOC to post on its website and in its annual report any case in which EEOC was required to pay fees or costs, where a sanction was imposed against it by a court, and whether the cases were authorized by the commission or brought solely on the general counsel’s authority.
                                   
  • The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, introduced by Chairman John Kline (R-MN), clarifies that if an employer-sponsored wellness program’s financial incentives comply with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and its regulations, then the program is also in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

Tuesday’s hearing will provide members the opportunity to discuss the legislation and examine efforts to strengthen EEOC enforcement through enhanced transparency and accountability.

To learn more about the hearing, visit http://edworkforce.house.gov/hearings

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ICYMI: Press Reports Highlight Legislative Action to Block Ambush Election Rule

Education & the Workforce Committee - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 12:00am

Congress recently took action to block the administration’s radical ambush election rule, which undercuts employees’ ability to make informed decisions in union elections while jeopardizing the privacy of workers and their families. Press reports highlight the ambush rule’s unprecedented changes and Republican efforts to stop it:

[The ambush election rule] represents one of the biggest procedural changes in decades to the federal union-organizing process. –  Wall Street Journal

[The] rule, which was finalized in December, shortens the length of time in which a labor union certification election is held from the current median of 38 days to as little as 11 days. – The Daily Caller

“The ambush election rule the NLRB finalized last year will deny workers the opportunity to gather all the information they need before deciding whether to join a union,” [House Speaker] Boehner said. “What’s worse, the rule will make all of their personal information — addresses, work schedules, email, phone numbers — available to union bosses without their consent, putting them at risk for harassment and identity theft.” – Washington Times

"Joining a union is a big choice," said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) on the House floor Thursday. "But to make an informed decision, workers need time to decide what's best for them and their family, and they shouldn't be pressured or rushed." – Los Angeles Times

 “This is like March Madness,” Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), one of the sponsors of the bill, told The Hill. “We expect referees to be fair in the games we play, but the NLRB is not fair." – The Hill

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce … said the rules would "stack the deck against employers" and "virtually eliminate employers' opportunities to communicate their views, stifling a full and robust debate among employees about unionization." – Washington Post

“Congress voted to stop an unelected board of bureaucrats from trampling on the rights of America’s workers and job creators,” Rep. John Kline, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, declared after the vote. “The board’s ambush election rule will stifle employer free speech, cripple worker free choice, and jeopardize the privacy of workers and their families.” – The Daily Caller

Republicans will continue to fight for the rights of workers and their families. As Chairman Kline noted after debate, “The House and Senate have firmly rejected this radical scheme. I urge the president to put away his veto pen, and stand with workers and employers by supporting this important resolution.”

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House Votes to Block NLRB Ambush Election Rule

Education & the Workforce Committee - Thu, 03/19/2015 - 12:00pm

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Health, Employment, Labor, and Pension Subcommittee Chairman Phil Roe (R-TN) issued the following statements after the House passed S. J. Res. 8, a resolution that will block an ambush election rule finalized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB):

“Today, Congress voted to stop an unelected board of bureaucrats from trampling on the rights of America’s workers and job creators,” said Chairman Kline. “The board’s ambush election rule will stifle employer free speech, cripple worker free choice, and jeopardize the privacy of workers and their families. The House and Senate have firmly rejected this radical scheme. I urge the president to put away his veto pen, and stand with workers and employers by supporting this important resolution.”

“For far too long,” said Rep. Roe, “we’ve seen the Obama administration’s activist NLRB — which should ensure fair and transparent union elections — put the interests of labor unions before those of job creators and American workers. This latest rule is nothing more than an attempt to speed up union elections, violating the rights of workers to make an informed decision and employers to communicate openly with their employees during a union organizing campaign. As I’ve said before, this isn’t about whether you are pro or anti-union — the purpose of this resolution is to stop the NLRB from moving forward with policies that will effectively cripple the rights of workers.”

BACKGROUND: In December 2014, the National Labor Relations Board finalized new rules that significantly alter union elections. As a result of the board’s sweeping changes to policies that have been in place for decades, the right of employers to speak to employees will be stifled, the right of workers to make informed decision in union elections will be undermined, and the privacy of workers and their families will be compromised. In response, leaders in the House and Senate introduced a resolution (H. J. Res. 29/S. J. Res. 8) under the Congressional Review Act to block the board’s ambush election rule. The resolution will:

  • Stop the NLRB from rewriting union election policies that have served workers, employers, and unions well for decades;
                          
  • Ensure employers can continue to communicate with their employees before they cast their ballots;
                 
  • Preserve the right of workers to make informed decisions about whether to join a union; and
                                            
  • Safeguard the privacy rights of workers and their families.

The House passed the resolution by a vote of 232 to 186. Following today’s action by the House and earlier action by the Senate, the resolution will now go to the president. To learn more about S. J. Res 8/H. J. Res. 29, click here.

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Kline Statement on Resolution Blocking Ambush Election Rule

Education & the Workforce Committee - Thu, 03/19/2015 - 12:00am

In just a few short weeks, a regulatory scheme that many Americans never heard of will become a reality in almost every private workplace across the country.

Today, workers and employers rely on a fair process for union elections. Under the current process, employers have time to raise concerns, and more importantly, time to speak with their employees about union representation. Under the current system, workers have an opportunity to gather the information they need to make the best decision for their families.

But unless Congress acts, that will all change. Under the guise of streamlining union elections, the National Labor Relations Board is imposing draconian changes that will undermine the rights workers, employers, and unions have long enjoyed.

The board’s rule arbitrarily limits the amount of time employers have to legally prepare for the election, and it denies workers a reasonable opportunity to make informed decisions about joining a union. The rule also delays answers to important questions – including voter eligibility – until after the election, which means the integrity of the election results will be compromised before a single ballot is cast.

To add insult to injury, the board’s rule will also force employers to provide union organizers with their employees’ personal information, including email addresses, phone numbers, work schedules, and home addresses. Instead of advancing a plan to help stop union intimidation and coercion, the board is actually making it easier for labor bosses to harass employees and their families. 

Are there times when delays occur under the current system? Of course, but delay is the exception, not the rule. In fact, right now the median time between the filing of an election petition and the election is 38 days. Yet under the board’s new rule, a union election could take place in as little as 11 days. Eleven days. 
 
This is a radical rewrite of labor policies that have served our nation’s best interests for decades. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from the National Labor Relations Board.

Let’s not forget, this is the same federal agency that tried dictating where a private employer had to run its business. This is the same agency restricting workers’ right to secret ballot election. This is the same agency ignoring the law by asserting its jurisdiction over religious institutions. This is the same agency tying employers in union red tape and empowering labor leaders to gerrymander our nation’s workplaces.

This is a federal agency that is simply out of control, and it is our responsibility to do something about it. This resolution, which I am proud to sponsor along with Senator Lamar Alexander, invokes Congress’s authority under the Congressional Review Act to block the NLRB’s ambush election rule and anything substantially like it.

If the board or my Democrat colleagues want to pursue responsible reforms to improve the union election process, then I stand ready to work together on that effort.

But if you believe employers should be free to speak to their employees during a union organizing campaign, then support this resolution.

If you believe workers should be free to make an informed decision about whether to join a union, then support this resolution.

If you believe we should protect rather than threaten employee privacy, then support this resolution.

Finally, if you believe workers, employers, and union leaders deserve a fair election process, then reject the board’s ambush election rule by supporting this resolution.

I encourage my colleagues to stand with America’s workers and job creators by voting “yes” on S. J. Res. 8.

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Kline Statement: Hearing on "Reviewing the President’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Proposal for the Department of Labor"

Education & the Workforce Committee - Wed, 03/18/2015 - 12:00am

The American people have been through a lot since the recession began more than seven years ago. Millions of jobs destroyed. Household incomes plummeted. Hard-earned savings wiped out. Hopes and dreams shattered. We all welcome the progress seen in recent months, but make no mistake, we still have a long way to go before every American is able to get back on a path to a lifetime of success.

Right now, roughly 15 million workers are in desperate need of full-time jobs, and that does not include the millions of individuals so discouraged by meager job prospects that they have simply dropped out of the workforce. Meanwhile, working families face high health care costs and stagnant wages, and they are struggling to send their kids to college and plan for retirement.

As policymakers, we have an obligation to these men and women to do better. They are not willing to accept a new normal of anemic growth and flat incomes. Neither should we, yet that is precisely what the president’s budget would force us to do. As is often said, a budget reflects priorities, and it is clear the president’s priorities continue to be more spending, more taxes, and more debt.

The facts speak for themselves. The president’s budget includes $547 billion in new spending and a $1.8 trillion tax increase. Despite taking more money from hard-working Americans, the president’s budget never balances. In fact, over the next 10 years, it would add $6.7 trillion to the national debt. This is not a roadmap leading to a stronger middle-class, but a blueprint for more government at the expense of the middle-class.

This flawed approach is reflected in the president’s budget for the Department of Labor. The administration is requesting an 11 percent increase in discretionary spending for the department and an astounding $41.5 billion in new mandatory spending. Will these additional taxpayer dollars be spent reducing regulatory burdens, streamlining the bureaucracy, and encouraging better enforcement of federal laws? Not likely.

Instead, the new money will be spent imposing more rules on more Americans, including workers employed by federal contractors, the elderly and those with disabilities who rely on in-home companion care, and men and women who need help saving for retirement. It will also be spent creating new programs and layers of bureaucracy.

For example, we recently passed bipartisan legislation streamlining the workforce investment system, and already the president is demanding five new workforce development programs. Congress made it easier for job seekers to acquire new skills and get back to work, yet the president is determined to make a maze of programs more complex and confusing.

The president’s budget is one of misplaced priorities and missed opportunities. We can invest in policies and programs that will make a real difference in the lives of countless Americans, without growing the size, cost, and reach of the federal government. Middle-class families are being squeezed, and the last thing we should do is double-down on failed policies.

We can do better and we know how to do better. Last year, Republicans and Democrats came together to enact meaningful job training legislation that will put Americans back to work, and we passed important reforms to strengthen the financial security of workers and retirees in the multiemployer pension system. Secretary Perez, thank you for your support as Congress worked on these bipartisan efforts.

It is time to find other areas of agreement, like modernizing an outdated multiemployer pension system, simplifying the regulations surrounding federal wage and hour law, and opening new markets for American-made goods. Let’s ensure the people’s priorities are our priorities by rejecting the president’s budget and embracing pro-growth reforms that help every American enjoy a lifetime of opportunity and success.

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Witnesses Urge Congress to Advance Bold Higher Education Reforms

Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 03/17/2015 - 12:00am

The Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), today held a hearing to learn how Congress can strengthen America’s higher education system. Witnesses and members discussed reforms the will help ensure more students have the opportunity to complete an advanced, quality education without absorbing unmanageable debt.

“Too many Americans struggle to realize the dream of higher education,” said Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC). “Our current system is unaffordable, inflexible, and outdated … The upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act provides Congress an opportunity to help every individual – regardless of age, location, or background – access and complete higher education, if they choose.”

In response to feedback from students, institutions, innovators, administrators, and researchers last year, the committee established four key principles to guide the reauthorization process: empowering students and families to make informed decisions; simplifying and improving student aid; promoting innovation, access, and completion; and ensuring strong accountability while limiting the federal role.

Former Indiana Governor and Purdue University President Mitch Daniels said, “It’s my great hope that this Congress will have the courage to see the challenges and treat reauthorization of the Higher Education Act as an opportunity for reform.” He continued, “The country needs a reauthorization ... that will: reduce the costs of higher education’s regulatory burdens; simplify and improve student aid; [and] create an environment more conducive to innovation in higher education.”

Dr. Christine M. Keller, Vice President of the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities, stressed the need for “access to clear, meaningful data … to answer questions and provide essential information for higher education stakeholders – for student and families to make more informed decisions about where to attend college; for policymakers to determine allocations of public resources and evaluate institutional effectiveness; and for college leaders to facilitate innovation and successful student outcomes.”

After outlining several opportunities for simplifying federal aid, Mr. Michael J. Bennett, Associate Vice President for Financial Aid Services at St. Petersburg College, recommended “a new repayment model that will simplify and streamline the repayment process by collapsing the various existing plans into two basic plans … simplifying repayment for students would certainly decrease default rates and the taxpayers’ burden of having to shoulder the costs of defaulted loans.”

Bennett added, “These initiatives and simplification efforts must be paired with the availability of personalized, comprehensive financial education services to help students.”

Speaking of the committee’s principles for strengthening America’s higher education system, Chairwoman Foxx concluded, “we are confident – with guidance from higher education leaders such as you – these pillars will translate into meaningful federal reforms that reflect the evolving needs of students and the workforce. We welcome your policy recommendations on how we can strengthen America’s higher education system to serve students, families, workers, and taxpayers better.”

To learn more about today’s hearing, read witness testimony, or to watch an archived webcast, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.

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***MEDIA ADVISORY*** TOMORROW: Secretary of Labor Perez to Testify at Budget Hearing

Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 03/17/2015 - 12:00am
On Wednesday, March 18 at 10:00 a.m., the House Education and the Workforce Committee, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), will hold a hearing entitled, “Reviewing the President’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Proposal for the Department of Labor.” The hearing will take place in room 2175 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

In his Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposal, President Obama requests $13.2 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Labor. This request represents a $1.3 billion – or 11 percent – increase from the level enacted for the current year. The president’s budget also contains a $41.5 billion increase in mandatory spending. Wednesday’s hearing will provide members an opportunity to examine the president’s budget request, as well as a number of proposals on the department’s regulatory agenda, such as a pending rule redefining fiduciary and a review of regulations governing federal wage and hour law.

To learn more about the hearing, visit http://edworkforce.house.gov/hearings

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WITNESS LIST

The Honorable Thomas E. Perez
Secretary
Department of Labor
Washington, D.C.

Foxx Statement: Hearing on "Strengthening America's Higher Education System"

Education & the Workforce Committee - Tue, 03/17/2015 - 12:00am

Today, too many Americans struggle to realize the dream of higher education. Our current system is unaffordable, inflexible, and outdated, and has resulted in too many students unable to complete college, saddled with loan debt, and ill-equipped to compete in our modern economy.

In recent years, more federal regulations, a lack of transparency, and a dizzying maze of student aid programs have only contributed to the problem. Students and families deserve better.

The upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act provides Congress an opportunity to help every individual – regardless of age, location, or background – access and complete higher education, if they choose.

To inform the reauthorization process, the Education and the Workforce Committee has held more than a dozen hearings. After receiving feedback from students, institutions, innovators, administrators, and researchers, the committee established a set of key principles that will guide our reform of the postsecondary education law.

First, we must empower students and families to make informed decisions when it comes to selecting the institution that meets their unique needs. Today’s higher education resources are incomplete, inaccurate, and often complicate the financial aid process, misguiding students about their academic and financial options. Developing a more streamlined and transparent system, as well as enhancing financial literacy services, will help students better understand the higher education landscape and make choices based on easy-to-understand, relevant information.

Second, we must simplify and improve student aid. Currently, the federal government operates more than 10 aid programs, each with its own set of rules and requirements. Many students, particularly first-generation and low-income students, are overwhelmed by the complexity of the current system, which can ultimately deter them from accessing the aid that will help make college a reality. Consolidating this patchwork of aid programs will simplify the application and eligibility process and help more students understand, manage, and repay their debt. 

Third, we must promote innovation, access, and completion. In recent years, as the postsecondary student population has changed, many institutions have developed new approaches to delivering higher education, including competency-based curriculums and online classes. The federal government should make every effort to support these innovations, as they have enabled more Americans to earn a degree or certificate faster, with less cost, and without additional disruption to their daily lives. 

Finally, we must ensure strong accountability while limiting the federal role. The current administration has subjected institutions to onerous requirements and regulations, which have created a costly and time-consuming process, hampered innovation, and jeopardized academic freedom. Eliminating ineffective federal burdens will provide states and institutions the flexibility they need to effectively deliver a high quality education to their students.

We are confident – with guidance from higher education leaders such as you – these pillars will translate into meaningful federal reforms that reflect the evolving needs of students and the workforce.

We welcome your policy recommendations on how we can strengthen America’s higher education system to serve students, families, workers, and taxpayers better. I look forward to hearing from you and from my colleagues on this important issue.



***MEDIA ADVISORY*** Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Strengthening Higher Education

Education & the Workforce Committee - Fri, 03/13/2015 - 12:00am
On Tuesday, March 17 at 10:00 a.m., the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), will hold a hearing to discuss ways to improve higher education policies for students, families, and taxpayers. The hearing, entitled “Strengthening America’s Higher Education System,” will take place in room 2175 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

America’s higher education system has not kept pace with the evolving needs of students and the workforce. Over the last decade, tuition prices have soared, graduation rates have plateaued, and federal policies have stymied innovation. The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act presents an opportunity for policymakers to strengthen the current system. In 2014, leaders on the Education and the Workforce Committee outlined a series of principles to guide the reauthorization process, including simplifying and improving student aid and ensuring strong accountability while limiting the federal role.

Tuesday’s hearing will provide members an opportunity to explore ways to translate those principles into meaningful legislative reforms.

To learn more about the hearing, visit http://edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.

 

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WITNESS LIST

The Honorable Mitchell E. Daniels Jr.
President
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Ind.

Dr. Christine M. Keller
Vice President, Research and Policy Analysis
Executive Director, Voluntary System of Accountability and Student Achievement Measure
Association of Public & Land-grant Universities
Washington, D.C.

Mr. David A. Bergeron
Vice President, Postsecondary Education
Center for American Progress
Washington, D.C.

Mr. Michael J. Bennett
Associate Vice President, Financial Aid Services
St. Petersburg College
St. Petersburg, Fla.

ICYMI: Conservative Support for the Student Success Act Continues to Mount

Education & the Workforce Committee - Thu, 03/12/2015 - 12:00am

 
                                                        
Stagnant student achievement. An ever-expanding federal footprint. Disappointing graduation rates. These are just a few of the problems plaguing America’s K-12 classrooms. As Congress works to replace No Child Left Behind, education stakeholders and conservative leaders reaffirm it is time to move in a fundamentally different direction.

The Student Success Act offers an alternative to the heavy-handed, Washington-knows-best approach that has failed students and families for decades. The proposal is “the most conservative federal education move in a quarter century” and “a promising bill ... that deserves the enthusiastic support of conservatives.” In National Review Online, Michael Petrilli writes the Student Success Act will “put states, communities, parents, and teachers back in charge” of K-12 education (excerpt below).

With $4 billion in Race to the Top funds, President Obama forced states into a cramped Procrustean bed of his design. To compete for the money, states had to follow a prescriptive playbook that included the Common Core state standards, a test-score-based approach to teacher evaluations, and much more.

The Obama team doubled down on this approach a few years later when it offered waivers to states to exempt them from the most unworkable requirements of NCLB. But the conditions they attached to the waivers were clearly illegal and also made for bad policy.

Thankfully, this era of federal overreach in education might finally be coming to a close. That’s because Republicans in Congress have had enough of big-government conservatism and are demanding that bureaucrats stop micromanaging our schools from Washington.

The tip of the spear is the
Student Success Act, H.R. 5, an education bill currently moving through Congress that would rein in NCLB. As my colleague Chester Finn has written, it represents the most conservative move in federal education policy in at least a quarter century. In every important way, it limits Washington’s role and gives states the authority that they had before the George W. Bush era.

To read the full article in National Review Online, click here.

To learn more about the Student Success Act, click here.                 

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Kline, Alexander, Johnson Call on NLRB General Counsel to Explain Pursuit of Joint-Employer Cases

Education & the Workforce Committee - Thu, 03/05/2015 - 2:30pm
Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate labor committee, and Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Senate homeland security and governmental affairs committee, today called on National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Richard Griffin to provide an explanation of his recent comments on his pursuit of labor violation cases against franchisors as joint employers under the National Labor Relations Act, despite admission that the legal grounds for doing so may be flawed.

In a letter to Griffin, they write, “Notwithstanding the concerns we have if the Board does expand its joint-employer standard, we are troubled that you appear to be pursuing joint-employer cases knowing your legal theory is problematic.”

“[Griffin] stated, ‘in that area we have a problem, legally, for our theory’ to hold franchisors as joint employers. Despite this admission, only months later on December 19, 2014, [Griffin] issued complaints against a franchisor as a joint employer.”

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Mr. Griffin: 

We are writing with questions about recent comments you made in support of pursuing labor violations against franchisors as joint employers under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Additionally, we have concerns that you intend to pursue labor violations in this manner despite your admission that the legal grounds for doing so may be flawed. 

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) is currently evaluating whether to change the standard that determines whether an employer is a joint employer for purposes of collective bargaining and labor law violations under the NLRA. On June 26, 2014, you filed an amicus brief urging the Board to “abandon its existing joint-employer standard,” that has been in place for three decades, in favor of a “new standard” that takes “into account the economic and industrial realties of employment relationships.”

In the brief, you appeared to express frustration that the current joint-employer standard does not allow for meaningful collective bargaining in franchisor-franchisee relationships because franchisors are not at the bargaining table. You stated that the current standard “preclud[es] employees from exerting traditional economic pressure on a company that effectively controls many of their working conditions.” Accordingly, you asked the Board to adopt your view of the law which would effectively ensure franchisors must bargain with employees of the franchisee and are liable for labor violations. 

Notwithstanding the concerns we have if the Board does expand its joint-employer standard, we are troubled that you appear to be pursing joint-employer cases knowing your legal theory is problematic. On July 29, 2014, the NLRB announced that you had authorized complaints alleging violations of the NLRA against a franchisor as a joint employer. Then, on October 24, 2014, at a labor conference entitled, “Zealous Advocacy for Social Change,” you spoke about “law reform efforts” underway at the Board. During your presentation, you discussed the joint–employer issue and singled out franchisor-franchisee relationships. You stated, “in that area we have a problem, legally, for our theory” to hold franchisors as joint employers. Despite this admission, only months later on December 19, 2014, you issued complaints against a franchisor as a joint employer.

We are also concerned that your October 24 remarks pointed to research conducted by Dr. David Weil, Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division Administrator, that argues for an expansion of joint-employer relationships for purposes of liability in labor law. NLRB’s ex parte rules prohibit communications relevant to the merits of an unfair labor practice proceeding between the general counsel and third parties. Therefore, if you are communicating with Dr. Weil or other third parties about pending NLRB complaints it could be inappropriate.  

To better understand your comments and whether you are appropriately pursuing joint employer cases, please answer the following questions and provide the information requested by March 19, 2015. 
  1. Did any developments occur in the law between your comments on October 24, 2014, and the filing of complaints on December 19, 2014, that named a franchisor as a joint employer?
               
    • If not, please explain your comments made at the October 24, 2014, labor conference.
            
  2. Produce all documents and communications between the Office of General Counsel and the Board referring or relating to the joint employer standard from November 4, 2013, to present.
                       
  3. Produce all documents and communications between the Office of General Counsel and any other federal agency about the joint employer standard from November 4, 2013, to present.

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Committee Sends Inquiry on Fiduciary Rulemaking

Education & the Workforce Committee - Thu, 03/05/2015 - 10:30am

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee Chairman Phil Roe (R-TN) have requested information regarding a pending regulatory proposal to expand the definition of fiduciary under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The members are requesting by March 18, 2015, documents and communications related to the department’s consultation with the Securities and Exchange Commission as it worked to introduce a new proposal to redefine the fiduciary standard.

“The public has been assured repeatedly that close consultation between these two agencies was underway to avoid any regulatory confusion and inconsistencies,” said Chairman Kline. “However, recent statements by a member of the SEC raise serious doubts about whether meaningful consultation has taken place. This rulemaking will affect the retirement security of millions of Americans, and I hope the department has done more than simply pay lip service to good government on this very important issue.”

BACKGROUND: Since 2010, the Department of Labor has pursued a regulatory proposal that would vastly expand the long-held definition of fiduciary governing the conduct of financial professionals. An initial proposed rule was subsequently withdrawn after strong, bipartisan concerns were raised regarding the negative impact on Americans saving for retirement. Additional concerns have been raised about whether the department is sufficiently coordinating its efforts with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is legally authorized under the Dodd-Frank financial services reform law to examine the standard of care for investment advisers and broker-dealers. As the members state in their letter:

It is clear coordination between SEC and DOL is vital to ensure a functioning regulatory framework; it is unfortunately far less clear that such coordination is occurring. We are especially disappointed and alarmed by Commissioner Gallagher’s allegations that no meaningful engagement has occurred …

This is inconsistent with public pronouncements from the administration. For example, in testimony before the Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee, Assistant Secretary Borzi promised DOL, SEC, and others “are actively consulting with each other and coordinating our efforts.” This pledge was echoed in the press release withdrawing the initial rule. More recently, Assistant Secretary Borzi has publicly repeated this promise.

Concern over this coordination — or lack thereof — was so grave as to warrant Congressional action. On October 29, 2013, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2374, the Retail Investor Protection Act, which required DOL to delay its rulemaking until after the SEC acts. The bill passed the House on a strong bipartisan basis.

In recognition of this concern, a revised notice of proposed rulemaking should not be issued until after Congress is satisfied sufficient coordination has occurred. So that we can better understand the coordination between DOL and SEC, please furnish all communications after September 19, 2011, between DOL and SEC regarding this rulemaking. In addition, please provide all documents and materials addressing how DOL has considered, adopted, or discarded any concerns raised by SEC as it revised its regulatory proposal.

To read the full letter, click here.

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Kline, Ryan, Upton Respond to King v. Burwell Oral Arguments

Education & the Workforce Committee - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 11:30am

Chairmen John Kline (R-MN), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Fred Upton (R-MI) responded to today’s Supreme Court oral arguments in the King v. Burwell case. The chairmen, who attended this morning’s oral arguments, are leading the House Republican working group to develop a plan to replace the president’s health care law over the long term and protect Americans affected by the decision in this case. Earlier this week they detailed some of their ideas to provide an off-ramp to the president’s health care law. 

We are here today because the Obama administration forced a flawed and partisan law on the American people. Its implementation has been one problem after another, and today’s case underscores just how far beyond the law the administration has gone to prop up this fatally flawed plan. The law is clear – and the Supreme Court should order the IRS to enforce the law as it is written. If it does, we will be ready to act. While the president insists he has no plan B, which would be malpractice if true, we are preparing a thoughtful solution that frees the American people both from the consequences of the administration’s illegal implementation, but also from this law’s many costly mandates. We will continue to work with our colleagues in the House and in the states on responsible policies that put the American people back in charge of their health care. There is a better way.  

Learn more about their plan here.

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Witnesses Support Congressional Effort to Block NLRB’s Ambush Election Rule

Education & the Workforce Committee - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 12:00am

The Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions held a legislative hearing today to examine H.J. Res 29, a measure to block the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) unprecedented re-write of union election procedures. In December 2014, the NLRB finalized its ambush election rule, which significantly shortens the timeframe of union elections, obstructs workers’ right to a fair election debate, and violates employees’ privacy by granting union organizers greater access to their personal information. The House is expected to advance the resolution in the coming weeks.

During the hearing, members and witnesses discussed the urgent need for Congress to overturn a rule that will have devastating consequences for workers and their families.

“[The ambush election rule] severely cripples the right of each worker to make an informed decision,” said Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL). “Deciding whether or not to join a union is a deeply personal choice. The outcome of that choice will affect workers’ wages, benefits, and other employment concerns for years. Workers deserve an opportunity to get the facts and discuss these matters with friends, family members, coworkers, and yes, employers too. Under this administration, the National Labor Relations Board is determined to deny workers this fundamental right.”

Labor attorney and former NLRB staff member, Arnold Perl, echoed these concerns: “[Workers’] rights have been abandoned by the new rule. As a result of quickie elections, employees may not be able to hear all the facts they need to know about risks of unionization. To the detriment of employees, the new rule imposes built-in obstacles which prevent or impede reasoned and informed choices by employees.”

Perl also outlined how the board’s regulatory scheme “tramples on employees’ rights of privacy," noting, "employers are required to turn over employees’ personal email addresses, cell phone numbers, shift hours and locations, and job classifications, even if the employee says he or she does not want to be contacted.”

“The ambush election rules mandate a serious invasion of employees’ privacy,” testified Glenn Taubman with the National Right to Work Legal Foundation. “Once employees’ information is handed over, unions can spread this personal information to union officers, organizers, supporters inside the shop and out, and to the entire internet, if they choose. The board places no real restrictions or safeguards on how unions use of disseminate this sensitive personal information.”

The board’s ambush election rule is further proof it has abandoned any effort to serve as a fair and impartial referee of the law. Speaking on behalf of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, Roger King described the rules as “an unprecedented partisan policy initiative favoring organized labor” and warned it “will further erode its credibility as a neutral arbiter of labor relation issues in the workplace.”

Rep. Byrne concluded with the urgent need for congressional action: “I am hopeful … we will send to the president a resolution that reins in this activist board and rolls back this destructive regulatory scheme. The president will then have to decide whether he stands with Big Labor, or with the nation’s workers and job creators.”

To learn more about today’s hearing, read witness testimony, or to watch an archived webcast, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.

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