House Education & Workforce Committee
On Tuesday, June 16 at 10:00 a.m., the full committee, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), will hold a hearing entitled, “Child Nutrition Assistance: Are Federal Rules and Regulations Serving the Best Interests of Schools and Families?” The hearing will provide members an opportunity to examine rules and regulations governing child nutrition policies, as well as discuss possible reforms to improve federal child nutrition programs. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is scheduled to testify.
On Tuesday, June 16 at 2:00 p.m., the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), will hold a legislative hearing on H.R. 511, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2015. Members will examine legislation introduced by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), which would prevent the National Labor Relations Board from exerting jurisdiction over Native American businesses operated on tribal lands. Witness information will be available here.
On Wednesday, June 17 at 10:00 a.m., the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions will hold a hearing entitled, “Restricting Access to Financial Advice: Evaluating the Costs and Consequences for Working Families and Retirees.” Members and witnesses will examine a proposal by the Department of Labor that would vastly expand the definition of “fiduciary” and how the proposed rule will impact workers, small businesses, and retirees. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez is scheduled to testify. Information on other witnesses will be available here.
For more information about hearings scheduled for next week, visit edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.
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“For more than 75 years, the Fair Labor Standards Act has been the foundation of our nation’s wage and hour protections. It establishes important rights for American workers and continues to guide employers in protecting those rights,” Chairman Walberg said. “However, the workplace looks very different today than it did in 1938 when the law was enacted, and the rules and regulations defining the law are failing to meet the needs of a 21st century workforce.”
Employees who are covered by the law’s requirements are referred to as “non-exempt” employees, and those who are not covered are considered “exempt” employees. Most professional, administrative, or managerial employees qualify as exempt as defined in regulations written and enforced by the Department of Labor. Concerns have been raised that the current regulatory structure is extremely complicated and was written before the advent of smartphones and telecommuting.
“The FLSA is a cornerstone among America’s workplace statutes,” stated Nicole Berberich, director of Human Resources at the Cincinnati Animal Referral and Emergency Center. “But the [law] was crafted for a different time, and should be evaluated to ensure it still encourages employers to hire, grow, and better meet the needs of their employees.” Berberich described the difficult process employers face trying to properly classify employees, noting, “An employer acting in good faith can easily mistakenly misclassify employees” and warned that “the stakes in improperly classifying employees are high.”
Leonard Court, an attorney with more than 40 years of experience dealing with wage and hour policies, echoed these concerns, explaining there is “ample opportunity for differing interpretations and misunderstandings of the law’s requirements in the contemporary setting.” Unfortunately, the enforcement policies of the current administration have only made these challenges worse, Court added, by shifting from an approach built on “cooperation and education to one of confrontation and coerced settlement.”
Expressing similar views, Jamie Richardson, vice president at White Castle System, Inc., explained his company’s concerns “in light of a regulatory regime that is increasingly proscriptive” and “seems increasingly disconnected from the needs and desires of the modern worker and contemporary business owners.” He noted, “Today, with many of our urban centers continuing to suffer record high levels of unemployment … regulatory actions go beyond providing protections for those employed and make it harder for employers everywhere to create more jobs.”
Witnesses also discussed a pending Department of Labor proposal that is expected to significantly alter existing overtime regulations. Berberich expressed concern that upcoming changes may “further exacerbate an already complicated set of regulations” and “further limit workplace flexibility.” Richardson agreed, stating, “Rather than providing more opportunities for individuals to earn overtime pay, it appears that the new regulations will only result in a more complicated law … and more litigation.”
Acknowledging concerns related to the department’s pending proposal, Chairman Walberg said, “Thanks to an administration notorious for overreaching and governing through executive fiat, I share many of those same concerns … it is my hope the department will heed these concerns and ultimately put forward a proposal that encourages – rather than stifles – productivity, personal opportunity, and economic growth.”
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Walberg Statement: Hearing on “Reviewing the Rules and Regulations Implementing Federal Wage and Hour Standards”
Failing to keep up with the changing workplace, the law’s regulatory structure has become more complex and burdensome. Both employees and employers have difficulty understanding their rights and responsibilities and must constantly contend with conflicting legal interpretations of the law. Despite sincere efforts to act in the best interest of workers, many well-intentioned employers face costly legal battles because of a flawed regulatory system, and we have evidence to back that up.
A report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office revealed a surge in FLSA lawsuits during the past 20 years, with the number of lawsuits increasing by 514 percent since 1991. Let me repeat that – there has been a 514 percent increase in FLSA-related litigation over the last 25 years. That is a troubling increase and strong indication that something is not working.
To help address this significant problem, GAO urged the Department of Labor to “develop a systematic approach for identifying areas of confusion about the FLSA that contribute to possible violations and improving the guidance it provides to employers and workers in those areas.”
Simply stated, we need a system that holds bad actors accountable when they break the law, but that also helps law-abiding employers uphold their obligations. I hope some of our witnesses will shed light on whether the department is implementing GAO’s recommendations and what impact it may be having on our nation’s workplaces.
However, even the best administrative guidance cannot make up for other shortcomings that exist and are harming those working hardest to jumpstart the economy.
This isn’t the first time these concerns have been raised. In fact, this subcommittee has held a number of hearings in recent years looking at this very same issue. It has been a focus of our continued oversight for a simple reason: We want to ensure the regulations that underpin the Fair Labor Standards Act serve the best interests of both American workers and employers.
As Chairman Kline and I noted a year ago, we are ready and willing to be a partner in a responsible effort to modernize current regulations, but I would stress that it must be a responsible effort. The American people deserve a system that is simple, clear, and can meet the demands of the modern workplace. The last thing policymakers should do – including those in the administration – is to make a bad regulatory system worse.
In the coming days, the department is expected to release a proposal intended to “update” federal wage and hour regulations. Rumors are running rampant, and we know concerns are being raised about what the proposal may entail. Thanks to an administration notorious for overreaching and governing through executive fiat, I share many of those same concerns. I expect we will continue to hear about the consequences for workers and job creators if the administration goes too far in the regulatory proposal it is expected to release.
However, hope springs eternal, and it is my hope the department will heed these concerns and ultimately put forward a proposal that encourages – rather than stifles – productivity, personal opportunity, and economic growth. Any proposal that would inflict harm on the nation’s workplaces and move the country in the wrong direction will be opposed by this committee and, no doubt, the American people.
With that, I will now recognize the senior Democratic member of the subcommittee, Representative Frederica Wilson, for her opening remarks.
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The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets forth federal wage and hour protections for public- and private-sector employees. Employees who are covered by the law’s requirements are referred to as “non-exempt” employees, and those who are not covered are considered “exempt” employees. Most professional, administrative, or managerial employees qualify as exempt as defined in regulations written and enforced by the Department of Labor. The regulatory structure surrounding the law has grown increasingly complex, burdensome, and outdated, producing an environment of legal uncertainty for employers and employees. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) found a significant increase in FLSA-related litigation in recent years and recommended the department develop a systematic approach to identifying areas of confusion and to improve guidance in those areas.
Wednesday’s hearing will provide an overview of the regulations implementing the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as examine concerns with how current rules and enforcement policies affect workplaces. To learn more about the hearing, visit http://edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.
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Ms. Nicole Berberich
Human Resources Director
Cincinnati Animal Referral and Emergency (CARE) Center
Mr. Leonard Court
Crowe & Dunlevy
Oklahoma City, OK
The Honorable Seth Harris
Former Acting Secretary of Labor and Deputy Secretary of Labor
Mr. Jamie Richardson
White Castle System, Inc.
House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) issued the following joint statement in response to today’s announcement from the Department of Education regarding Corinthian Colleges:
A lot of men and women have been hurt by this unfortunate situation, including low-income and minority students. Helping those eligible students who have been harmed is the right thing to do. We are pleased that the Department of Education will carefully review each claim and help qualified students receive the relief they may be entitled to. It is vitally important that we have a responsible process in place that is fair, transparent, and adheres to the law. We will remain in contact with the department throughout this process in order to ensure students, families, and taxpayers are protected now and in the future.
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The president’s appointees at the NLRB have undermined employee free choice through an ambush election scheme, stifled employee freedom through micro-unions, and restricted employee access to secret ballot union elections. Now the board is setting its sights on the freedom and choice provided to employees under state right-to-work laws.
Chairman Kline’s remarks were delivered at a hearing that examined an NLRB effort to force nonunion employees in right-to-work states to pay union grievance fees. Just like every other Big Labor scheme, the board’s unprecedented attack on right to work will ultimately end up hurting workers the most. As the following press reports highlight, Wednesday’s hearing revealed a number of ways the board’s actions would harm the nation’s workers and workplaces:
- Inviting Union Coercion – “[The board’s effort], complained Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, gives the unions, who control the grievance process, too much power over workers who opted out. ‘History has shown that union officials all too often initiate on-the-job discrimination, which forces a worker into the grievance process the union bosses control, in order to punish him or her for not joining the union in the first place,’ he said … The ‘fee-for-grievance’ scheme could allow for fees that exceed regular dues, warned Mix, who called the NLRB proposal a ‘deceptive assault’ on right-to-work laws.” - 'Deceptive assault': Obama NLRB seeks to gut right-to-work laws, say critics, Fox News
- Undermining State-Provided Protections – “Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts … said that by undermining the laws, the federal board was usurping states who have voted against mandatory union membership. ‘Requiring a nonmember to pay for the union's participation is unreasonable,’ Ricketts said. ‘And, it makes perfect sense that both the courts and the NLRB have up to now consistently barred organized labor from charging nonmembers in Right to Work states to get their grievances processed when union members can have their grievances processed for free.’” - 'Deceptive assault': Obama NLRB seeks to gut right-to-work laws, say critics, Fox News
- Reducing Competitiveness – “Republican Rep. Bradley Byrne [R-AL], one of the more vocal opponents of the NLRB during the hearing, used his time later on in the proceeding to question [witness] Bruno on his claims, noting the studies he’s seen and the personal experience he had with businesses while representing Alabama showed the opposite … ‘I talked to dozens and dozens and dozens of businesses who have considered my own state of Alabama, a right-to-work state. Every time they mention two things: They talk about the quality of the workforce; And second thing they say, labor law and the fact we’re a right-to-work state.’” - Congress Confronts Out Of Control Obama Labor Appointees, Daily Caller
- Violating Fundamental Rights – “‘We are very pleased that Congress recognized the seriousness of the NLRB’s threat to state right-to-work laws,’ National Right to Work Committee Vice President of Legislation Greg Mourad told FoxNews.com. ‘This proposed action by Obama’s Big Labor NLRB is a direct assault on a worker’s fundamental First Amendment right to freedom of association. Congress can and must take action to block this rogue NLRB, and advance worker freedom.’” - 'Deceptive assault': Obama NLRB seeks to gut right-to-work laws, say critics, Fox News
The Obama administration must decide whether it will continue to be at the beck and call of its Big Labor allies, or protect the rights of America's workers. As Chairman Kline argued during the hearing, “Every worker has a fundamental right to decide whether or not to join a union. Those who decide not to join a union shouldn’t be punished for that decision, especially when the punishment denies a worker the chance to provide for his or her family.”
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"In recent years, the president’s appointees at the NLRB have undermined employee free choice through an ambush election scheme, stifled employee freedom through micro-unions, and restricted employee access to secret ballot union elections,” Chairman Kline said. “Now the board is setting its sights on the freedom and choice provided to employees under state right-to-work laws.”
In 1947, Congress amended the National Labor Relations Act to allow states to prohibit compulsory union membership. Known as “right to work,” this state-based policy ensures union membership cannot be a condition of employment and employees cannot be required to pay union dues and fees. In April, the NLRB invited public comment on whether the board should reverse decades of precedent and adopt a new rule permitting unions to collect fees from nonmembers for grievance processing, undermining employee protections provided under state right-to-work laws."
“Every worker has a fundamental right to decide whether or not to join a union,” Chairman Kline continued. “Those who decide not to join a union shouldn’t be punished for that decision, especially when the punishment denies a worker the chance to provide for his or her family. That is why it is deeply troubling the Obama labor board is trying to undermine a policy embraced by workers and state leaders across the country.”
Gov. Pete Ricketts (R-NE), who leads one of 25 states with right-to-work laws, touted the economic benefits Nebraska enjoys as a right-to-work state. “Nebraska has the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.5 percent,” he explained. “We know our right-to-work status contributes to that because it sends the right message to employers and employees.”
However, as Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, explained, “the NLRB’s new ‘fee-for-grievance’ scheme would give union officials a way to extract ‘fees’ from nonunion workers – fees that could in fact be greater than regular dues – leaving the right-to-work law on the books, but severely emasculated … Right to Work is fundamentally an issue of individual freedom. The NLRB’s plan to undercut right-to-work laws is an outrage to working men and women all across this country.”
Echoing Mix’s concerns, Gov. Ricketts said, “This is about the people I represent, who respect the right to organize and respect the right to decline … This proposal is a solution in search of a problem and would hurt individual rights, employers, and continued economic growth.”
Walter Hewitt, an employee of United Way of Southeast Connecticut, recounted the adverse conditions he faced as a worker in a forced unionization state. Hewitt affirmed the “NLRB should not be allowed to undermine employee free choice by allowing unions to squeeze money out of employees under the guise of ‘fees for grievance representation,’ where employees are forced to accept such representation whether they agree or not.”
“If we adopted Big Labor’s logic," Chairman Kline concluded, “workers would be stuck between a rock and a hard place; they would either have to pay the union fee or forfeit any opportunity to resolve grievances with their employers. That is not what Congress intended nearly 70 years ago and it is not what Congress intends today.”
To learn more about today’s hearing, or to watch an archived webcast, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.
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Kline Statement: Hearing on Compulsory Unionization through Grievance Fees: The NLRB’s Assault on Right-to-Work
In 1947, Congress passed a number of amendments to the National Labor Relations Act. One of those amendments allowed states to prohibit compulsory union membership. This important policy, known as “right to work,” simply means union membership cannot be a condition of employment and employees cannot be required to pay union dues or fees. Today, twenty-five states have enacted right to work laws, with Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin recently joining the ranks.
Union leaders vigorously oppose right to work because it leads to less control over workers and fewer dollars flowing to union coffers. But this isn’t about what’s best for unions; it’s about what’s best for workers. Every worker has a fundamental right to decide whether or not to join a union. Those who decide not to join a union shouldn’t be punished for that decision, especially when the punishment denies a worker the chance to provide for his or her family. That is why it is deeply troubling the Obama labor board is trying to undermine a policy embraced by workers and state leaders across the country.
In April, the board requested public comment on whether it should adopt a new rule permitting unions to charge nonunion members grievance fees in right to work states. We have long heard complaints from labor leaders about so-called “free riders,” the idea that workers who opt out of union representation and associated fees still avail themselves of the provisions laid out in the collective bargaining agreement.
When it comes to the grievance process, this argument is deeply flawed for a simple reason: workers have no choice. The grievance process is outlined in the collective bargaining agreement and, even nonunion members are bound by its requirements. There is no other recourse for nonunion members to resolve grievances aside from the process stipulated in the labor contract.
If we adopted Big Labor’s logic, workers would be stuck between a rock and a hard place; they would either have to pay the union fee or forfeit any opportunity to resolve grievances with their employers. That is not what Congress intended nearly 70 years ago and it is not what Congress intends today. Despite the complaints of labor leaders, current policies governing grievance fees have been board precedent for decades and have even been upheld in federal court. These policies shouldn’t be discarded by an unelected and unaccountable board of bureaucrats.
For those who would argue we are getting ahead of ourselves, I would simply note that we have been down this road before. The board has a track record of seizing routine cases as a means to impose sweeping changes on our nation’s workplaces. We have no reason to believe this case will be any different, and America’s workers are once again expected to pay the price.
Right to work is an important tool for state leaders trying to attract new businesses and good-paying jobs. Employers at home and abroad are increasingly drawn to right to work states. No doubt Governor Ricketts will explain for us why that continues to be true. Working families win when companies like Volvo, BMW, and Volkswagen build factories here in the United States. With millions of Americans searching for full-time work, why would we discourage that kind of investment in our nation’s workers.
Just as importantly, why would we accept a policy that undermines the right of workers to decide whether or not they want to join a union? The board needs to pull back and leave employees in right to work states alone.
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House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee Chairman Phil Roe (R-TN) have renewed a request for information regarding a regulatory proposal to expand the definition of “fiduciary” under theEmployee Retirement Income Security Act. In the latest in a series of letters to the Department of Labor (DOL), the members ask for documents and communications related to the department’s coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) during the drafting and revision of a proposal to redefine the fiduciary standard. In a letter to Secretary Thomas Perez, the members write:
As you know from our previous inquiries, the Committee is concerned with the potential impact of this complex initiative on workers and retirees and believes any rulemaking on this matter should be the product of coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Unfortunately, despite two previous inquires, the Committee has yet to receive compelling evidence from DOL that meaningful coordination has taken place between DOL and the SEC.
The committee wrote first to the department on March 4, 2015, and again on March 24, 2015, seeking information and communications between DOL and SEC related to the fiduciary rule proposal. On both occasions, the department failed to provide the requested information. In its latest letter, DOL stated the communications are part of its deliberative process. However, as the members state in their letter:
The Committee disagrees that documents can be shielded from Constitutionally-authorized Congressional oversight for this reason. Furthermore, the claim is particularly inappropriate in this case where the materials sought involve communications between different agencies. Indeed, the administration has specifically publicized its coordination with the SEC (including claims that SEC provided significant technical assistance) both in its responses to our earlier inquiries and in public relations information disseminated by the Department. It defies explanation that DOL would assert publicly that coordination with the SEC took place and yet refuse to release documents substantiating its assertion.
The members are requesting relevant documents and communications by June 16, 2015, along with a log identifying potentially responsive documents.
The full letter is available here.
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In 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, which amended the National Labor Relations Act to allow states to prohibit compulsory union membership. Known as a “right-to-work” law, this state-based policy ensures union membership cannot be a condition of employment and employees cannot be required to pay union dues and fees. Twenty-six states and territories have passed right-to-work laws. In April, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) invited public comment on whether the board should adopt a rule permitting unions to collect fees from nonmembers for grievance processing. Such a change would depart from long-standing labor policy and undermine employee protections provided under state right-to-work laws.
Tomorrow’s hearing will provide members an opportunity to explore right-to-work laws and how suggested changes to the grievance process would affect workers. To learn more about the hearing, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings.
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The Honorable Pete Ricketts
State of Nebraska
Ms. Elise Gould
Senior Economist and Director of Health Policy Research
Economic Policy Institute
Mr. Mark Mix
National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation
Mr. Walter Hewitt
United Way of Southeastern Connecticut
Gales Ferry, CT
Mr. Brian Pannebecker
Hourly Product Worker
Ford Motor Company
Mr. Robert Bruno
University of Illinois
Among other events in Finland and Estonia, the bipartisan congressional delegation met with:
- Members of the Finnish parliament’s education committee. Members discussed with their Finnish counterparts a broad range of educational issues, including addressing the high number of students who drop out of school, improving the teacher training system, special education, and connecting education to the needs of the workforce.
- Leaders at Aalto University and its design factory. The university strives to deliver to students an “innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem” to learn. Following a discussion on the university’s approach to education, members toured the “design factory.” Through the design factory, businesses, teachers, and researchers work together to provide students a place to freely innovate new technologies that, if successful, might be made available to consumers.
- Estonian Ministry of Education Secretary General, Janar Holm. Mr. Holm described the Estonian elementary and secondary education system, including details about the strong leadership at the municipal level. Members also broadly discussed with Mr. Holm Estonian policies governing vocational education and higher education.
- Members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Estonia. Guests provided a brief overview of their particular businesses and described the ease with which individuals can start a business in Estonia. The guests also discussed the challenge they face finding skilled workers and the importance of advancing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
The congressional delegation also met with Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas and senior leaders in the Finnish and Estonian ministries of foreign affairs. These discussions focused on the significant concerns stemming from Russian aggression and provocation in the region, as well as the threat posed by Islamic extremism.
“We are deeply grateful to our transatlantic allies for their warm hospitality,” said Chairman Kline. “We learned a lot in a few short days, and I know what we’ve learned will help our ongoing efforts to improve education and workforce competiveness. Just as importantly, I hope our bipartisan congressional delegation has helped to strengthen the relationship between the United States and these key allies.
Meeting with Estonian Prime Minister, Taavi Roivas.
Meeting with members of Finland's parliament serving on the education committee.
The bipartisan delegation includes the following members:
- Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce and member of the Committee on Armed Services;
- Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), chairman of the Committee on the Budget and member of the Committee on Ways and Means;
- Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Secretary of the Republican Conference, member of the Education and the Workforce Committee, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, and member of the Committee on Rules;
- Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), member of the Education and the Workforce Committee, chairman of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, and member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform;
- Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL), member of the Committee on Financial Services and the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology;
- Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, member of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Environment; and
- Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA), member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce and Committee on Agriculture.
To see more pictures of the delegation’s visit to Finland and Estonia, click here.
To learn about the delegation’s visit to Norway and Sweden, click here.
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Private employers who do business with the federal government provide important services to America’s taxpayers and are overwhelmingly responsible and law-abiding. Bad actors who choose to operate outside of the law and deny employees basic protections should not be rewarded with taxpayer dollars.That is why we already have a system in place to deny federal contracts to these bad actors. Instead of promoting more government overreach and more regulations, the administration has a responsibility to ensure the current system is enforced and used effectively.
The committee held a hearing on the president’s executive order in February and found that its proposed structure would be redundant, unworkable, and unnecessary. We also learned that it would inflict harm on small businesses, workers, and taxpayers. We plan to carefully review the administration’s proposed regulation and guidance, but based on what we know so far, this regulatory scheme will not serve the nation’s best interests.
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Kline Leads Congressional Delegation to Discuss Education and Workforce Policies with Transatlantic Allies
Among other events in Norway and Sweden, the delegation:
- Met with members of the Labor and Social Affairs committee of the Norwegian parliament. Members of the delegation discussed with their Norwegian counterparts challenges regarding the country’s rising unemployment, immigration, and regulatory climate, as well as the importance of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). The meeting also discussed the need to raise the stature of vocational education and ensure students are obtaining skills for industry-demand jobs.
- Joined a working lunch with the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO) and Norwegian Educators. A representative from NHO discussed the need to deliver educational resources that are relevant to the demands of area businesses. The representative also described the country’s “two plus two” initiative, which provides students two years of educational instruction followed by two years of apprenticeship training. A representative for Norwegian Educators provided a brief overview of the Norwegian education system and the challenges it faces.
- Visited the Fryshuset youth center and gymnasium in Stockholm, Sweden. Founded in 1984, Fryshuset provides creative and constructive activities to help youth develop into productive members of society. The center offers a number of sports and music-related activities and innovative educational programs. Members of the delegation discussed with Fryshuset leaders and participating youth the successes and struggles confronting the center.
- Participated in a roundtable discussion with members of the Swedish parliament’s education and labor committees. Members of the delegation and their parliamentary counterparts addressed Sweden’s recent decline in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the difficulties Sweden faces reversing the decline. The discussion touched on a broad range of education issues, including teacher quality, school choice, and STEM education.
- Held separate meetings with members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Sweden and representatives from Sweden’s government, business, and labor sectors. These meetings focused on the importance of the proposed T-TIP as a way to boost economic growth and job creation by providing greater access to free and fair trade.
The congressional delegation also participated in a number of meetings with senior leaders in the Norwegian and Swedish ministries of foreign affairs and defense, and joined a working dinner hosted by the speaker of the Swedish parliament. These discussions focused on the threat posed by Islamic extremism, as well as the significant challenges stemming from Russian aggression and provocation in the region.
“Our nations are wrestling with many of the same challenges,” said Chairman Kline, “and it was a pleasure to speak directly with our transatlantic allies about important issues facing our schools and workplaces. Our bipartisan delegation is grateful for the frank discussions and a robust exchange of ideas, and we hope this visit will strengthen our relationship with these vital friends and allies in Northern Europe.”
Members attend a working dinner hosted by the speaker of the Swedish parliament, Urban Ahlin, and other members of parliament and the Swedish foreign service.
Congressional delegation meet with members of the Labor & Social Affairs committee of the Norwegian parliament.
- Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and member of the House Armed Services Committee;
- Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), chairman of the House Committee on the Budget and member of the House Committee on Ways and Means;
- Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Secretary of the Republican Conference, member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, chairwoman of the Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee, and member of the House Committee on Rules;
- Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, chairman of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, and member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform;
- Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL), member of the House Committee on Financial Services and the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology;
- Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Environment; and
- Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA), member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and House Committee on Agriculture.
To see more photos from Norway and Sweden, click here.
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“When you’re talking about a program of this size and cost, making sure that it is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible is imperative,” Chairman Walbergnoted. “Concerns have been raised that FECA benefits are too generous and can discourage an employee’s return to work. So we are here today to explore how Congress can modernize the FECA program, to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used in a smart and responsible way, and to make certain this program is serving federal employees as intended.”
Witnesses agreed on the need to reform the FECA program, which has not been meaningfully updated in 40 years. They discussed a specific proposal included in the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget blueprint for the Department of Labor. The administration’s proposed reforms are intended to, among other changes, improve return-to-work procedures, streamline claims processing, and update benefits levels.
“The federal workforce comprises dedicated, hard-working women and men who are committed to serving the public,” said Leonard Howie III, director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP). Howie noted his office is “fully committed to seeing that all injured workers receive the medical care and compensation they deserve, as well as the assistance needed to return to work when able to do so. FECA reform will enable OWCP to achieve those goals more effectively.”
Scott Dahl, Inspector General of the Department of Labor, echoed these concerns, stating, “The department must ensure that FECA benefits are provided in a timely manner to eligible workers, but it must also strive to ensure that compensation benefits are only paid to those who are truly injured and unable to work, and medical benefits are paid for necessary services that were actually provided. We believe that the legislative recommendations we have proposed … would contribute to greater program integrity.”
Hearing participants acknowledged the need to carefully consider the impacts of proposed changes on current and future beneficiaries. “FECA continues to play a vital role in providing compensation to federal employees who are unable to work because of injuries sustained while performing their federal duties,” argued Andrew Sherrill, director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security at the Government Accountability Office. “As policymakers assess proposed changes to FECA benefit levels, they will implicitly be making decisions about what constitutes an adequate level of benefits for FECA beneficiaries before and after they reach retirement age.”
“Throughout this process,” Chairman Walberg concluded, “it’s important that we keep in mind both our responsibility to taxpayers and our commitment to the men and women who make up our federal workforce … I am hopeful that the insights and analysis of those here today will help us better understand the department’s proposal and continue to build on past bipartisan efforts to better meet the needs of a 21st century workforce and more effectively use taxpayer dollars.”
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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Since 1916, the FECA program has acted as a critical resource for federal employees who have suffered an injury or illness because of a work-related activity. Today, the program covers approximately three million workers and, last year alone, paid out nearly $3 billion in benefits. Despite the significance of the FECA program, it has been nearly 40 years since the law was meaningfully updated.
When you’re talking about a program of this size and cost, making sure that it is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible is imperative. Concerns have been raised that FECA benefits are too generous and can discourage an employee’s return to work. So we are here today to explore how Congress can modernize the FECA program, to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used in a smart and responsible way, and to make certain this program is serving federal employees as intended.
Fortunately, we’re not starting from scratch. Reforming the FECA program is something members in Congress and those in the administration have been working on in recent years. During the 112th Congress, Chairman Kline and I, along with our former Democratic colleagues George Miller and Lynn Woolsey, introduced the Federal Workers’ Compensation Modernization and Improvement Act to begin addressing reforms proposed by the administration. That bill passed the House by a voice vote in 2011 and was accompanied by a request to GAO to examine the potential impacts of certain reforms.
Unfortunately, the bill was never considered in the Senate, but since then, we’ve continued to examine reforms the Department of Labor has put forward. Strengthening the law remains a priority for this committee, and today, we will hear from the department, GAO, and others to see what the path to reform looks like now and how the administration’s proposals would affect the program and its beneficiaries. By fully understanding the options and impacts related to reform, we will be better positioned to modernize the FECA program, improve its integrity, and enhance its efficiency.
As with any reform process, updating the FECA program will require some tough choices, but I think we can agree that something needs to be done. Our challenge will be reforming the program in a way that will use taxpayer dollars more wisely while ensuring the programs continues to support those it was set up to assist. Throughout this process, it’s important that we keep in mind both our responsibility to taxpayers and our commitment to the men and women who make up our federal workforce. Striking a balance between the two is not easy, but I believe it can be done.
I am hopeful that the insights and analysis of those here today will help us better understand the department’s proposal and continue to build on past bipartisan efforts to better meet the needs of a 21st century workforce and more effectively use taxpayer dollars. With that, I will now recognize the senior Democratic member of the subcommittee, Representative Frederica Wilson, for her opening remarks.
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