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Rokita Statement: Hearing on “Child Nutrition Assistance: Looking at the Cost of Compliance for States and Schools”

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 10:00am
We all know the important role healthy food plays in a child’s education. We cannot expect children to learn or excel in the classroom if they are hungry or are not properly nourished.

That’s why we on the Education and the Workforce Committee have been examining child nutrition programs to ensure they are effectively and efficiently providing children access to nutritious meals. It goes without saying your commitment to serving students is vital to achieving that goal.

The question we want to answer today is: are federal policies giving you the tools and flexibility you need to succeed in implementing child nutrition programs so that your students can succeed in the classroom? Based on what we have heard from other stakeholders, the federal role in these programs may be doing more to hinder your success than help it.

Following the 2010 reauthorization of the national school lunch and breakfast programs, the Department of Agriculture issued a number regulations that expanded Washington’s influence over K-12 cafeterias. The department has narrowly defined what types of food can be served in schools and how often, the maximum number of calories students are allowed to eat per meal, and the price a student must pay per meal.

While these regulations are well intended, states and schools are struggling to comply with them, and the very children we aim to serve are paying the price. While program costs, administrative burdens, and food waste are piling up, portion sizes, food offerings, and the number of students participating in the program are on the decline. In my home state of Indiana, for example, the number of lunches served each year has declined by more than six million since the regulations went into effect in 2012.

I’ve heard these concerns from my colleagues and constituents, and I’ve read the reports from government watchdogs, but – as the saying goes – I needed to see it to believe it. Earlier this year, I joined students and staff for lunch at Cloverdale Middle School in Indiana, where food service director Billy Boyette described the challenges he and his staff face to provide meals that both comply with federal regulations and appeal to students.

From firsthand experience, I can verify that despite the increased federal involvement in the school meals programs, many students are still going to class hungry. Furthermore, reports from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office raise concerns about whether or not the resources for these programs are going to the students who need it most.

If our shared goal is to increase student success in the classroom, and if we know that nutritious meals play an important role in that success, wasting limited taxpayer dollars hardly seems like a favorable outcome.

That’s why we are here today. As education leaders who have committed themselves to serving students, you provide critical insight into what’s working and what isn’t and what types of policies Congress should consider as we move forward with reauthorization.

It’s time to provide those responsible for implementing child nutrition programs with the flexibility they need to ensure taxpayer dollars are well spent and students are well served. I am confident learning from your experiences, observations, and recommendations will inform our efforts to accomplish just that.

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Roe Statement: Hearing on “Restricting Access to Financial Advice: Evaluating the Costs and Consequences for Working Families and Retirees”

Wed, 06/17/2015 - 10:00am
I wish we were here to discuss a proposal that enjoyed broad bipartisan support, one that would help strengthen our economy and improve the lives of hardworking men and women. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Instead, we are here to address a regulatory scheme that will hurt a lot of families, retirees, and small business owners, and it could not come at a worse possible time.

One of the most difficult challenges we face as a country is a lack of real retirement security for America’s families. The defined benefit pension system continues to experience a decades-long decline, while many workers are still rebuilding the savings they lost in the recent recession. Due to these and other challenges – including a persistently weak economy – too many workers are retiring without the means necessary to ensure their financial security.

Our goal as policymakers should be to advance bold, bipartisan solutions that will help more Americans plan, invest, and save for retirement. Regrettably, the department’s fiduciary regulation would move our country in the opposite direction. It would cut off a vital source of support many low- and middle-income families and small business owners rely on, and that is the help of a trusted financial advisor.

Four years ago, the subcommittee examined a similar proposal that was later withdrawn under intense bipartisan opposition. I said at the time that anyone who provides investment assistance should be well trained, committed to high ethical and professional standards, and devoted to the best interests of those they are serving.

That is why financial advisors have long been subject to a host of securities, tax, and disclosure requirements. It is a complex system of rules and regulations, but it is an important one that has worked well for decades. That does not mean we shouldn’t look for opportunities to improve current standards. But we cannot – in any way – make it harder for workers, retirees, and small business owners to receive the financial advice they may need.

Yet that is precisely what this regulatory proposal would do. Offering some of the most basic assistance would be prohibited, such as advice on rolling over funds from a 401(k) to an IRA. Financial advisors would no longer be able to assist individuals in how to manage their funds upon retirement. And small business owners would be denied help in selecting the right investment options for their workforce, which will lead to fewer employees enrolled in a retirement plan.

It has been suggested on numerous occasions that this proposal will simply apply to financial advisors the same standard recognized in the medical profession. Mr. Secretary, I believe you have drawn that comparison from time to time. It is a clever talking point, but one that couldn’t be more flawed.

As a physician with more than 30 years of experience treating patients, let me just say that the approach reflected in this proposal would destroy what’s left of our health care system. Imagine what would happen if doctors were prohibited from receiving compensation, or were required to sign a contract with each patient before delivering services, or were forced to publish online each and every treatment that had been prescribed the following year. No doctor could run a successful practice under this type of regulatory regime, and no responsible financial advisor will be able to either.

Make no mistake, if this rule goes into effect, a lot of people will quickly learn that their financial adviser – someone they may have known and trusted for years – will no longer be able to take their call. And it is important to note that low- and middle-income families are the ones who will bear the brunt of this misguided proposal. They will lose access to the personal service they rely on and be forced to find suitable advice online or simply fend for themselves.

As is often the case with big government schemes, the wealthiest Americans will do just fine and those we want to help will be hurt the most. Mr. Secretary, this latest fiduciary proposal will lead to the same harmful consequences as the first and should suffer the same fate: Please withdraw this proposal and work with this committee on a responsible, bipartisan approach that will strengthen protections for investors and preserve robust access to financial advice. Our nation’s workers and retirees deserve nothing less.

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Roe Statement: Hearing on H.R. 511, Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2015

Tue, 06/16/2015 - 2:00pm
Upholding Native American rights of self-determination has long been a priority. As far back as the 1830s, when the governmental authority of tribes was first challenged, our courts have held that “tribes possess a nationhood status and retain inherent powers of self-government.” For decades, policymakers have agreed on the importance of protecting these fundamental rights. We should never stand idly by while the sovereignty of Native Americans is threatened, and that is exactly why we’re here today.
             
A little more than 10 years ago, the National Labor Relations Board overturned long-standing precedent with the landmark San Manuel Bingo & Casino decision and began using a subjective test to determine when and where to exert its jurisdiction over Indian tribes.
         
This action was met with significant opposition from the Native American community and considered by many to be an attack on tribal sovereignty. In fact, at a hearing of this subcommittee in 2012, Robert Odawi Porter, president of the Seneca Nation of Indians, called the move “unfounded” and a violation of treaty rights. During the same hearing, I myself expressed concern with the board’s policy and its flawed interpretation of the law. Unfortunately, the board has ignored these and similar concerns and continues to exert its authority over Indian tribes.
                  
To make matters worse, the NLRB’s actions have had ramifications that extend beyond threatening tribal sovereignty. The subjective nature of the board’s process for determining jurisdiction has also produced a mess of legal confusion. Years of litigation have produced inconsistent and misguided board decisions, compounding the uncertainty felt by Native American tribes and their businesses.
             
To help address these concerns and preserve tribal sovereignty over labor policies, our colleague Todd Rokita introduced H.R. 511, the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act. The bill would prevent the NLRB from asserting its jurisdiction over businesses owned by Native Americans on tribal lands, codifying a board standard that existed long before the San Manuel decision. In doing so, it would protect Native Americans from NLRB interference and provide legal certainty to the nation’s Indian tribes. It’s a commonsense proposal that has attracted bipartisan support.
                   
Today, we will hear from tribal leaders who will share their experiences and discuss the importance of protecting their cherished sovereignty. I look forward to hearing their views on the reforms outlined in the bill.

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Kline Statement: Hearing on "Child Nutrition Assistance: Are Federal Rules and Regulations Serving the Best Interests of Schools and Families?"

Tue, 06/16/2015 - 10:00am
We all know the important role nutrition plays in a child’s development and education. As I’ve said before, it’s just commonsense that if children are hungry or malnourished, then they are less likely to succeed in the classroom. That’s why the federal government has long invested in programs that aim to provide America’s most vulnerable students the nutrition assistance they need.
 
Ensuring children have access to healthy food is a goal we all share and lies at the heart of our effort to reform federal child nutrition programs, many of which are set to expire later this year. We have conducted several hearings and briefings to learn more about these programs, as well as the rules and regulations that dictate their implementation at the state and local levels.
 
What we have learned from students, parents, school nutrition professionals, government watchdogs, other key stakeholders, and yes, even the Department of Agriculture, is that the latest reauthorization of federal child nutrition laws is the most far-reaching and costliest in a generation. Current law requires the department to prescribe how much money schools charge for meals, what food can and cannot be served in schools, and how much of it can be served.
 
In other words, Washington is responsible for deciding what and how much our children eat. These regulations have created an environment where students are not getting the nourishment they need, and food and taxpayer dollars wind up in the trashcan.
 
Julia Bauscher, president of the School Nutrition Association, conveyed to the committee the concerns she is hearing from school nutrition professionals across the country. Julia described how regulations are resulting in harmful consequences that threaten the ability of schools to best serve students. She went on to decry the “sharp increase in costs and waste and the historic decline in student lunch participation under the new requirements.”
 
We are often told that more than 90 percent of participating schools are complying with the law. First, as we learned from the Government Accountability Office, it is highly likely this number is overly optimistic. But let’s not forget that schools that choose to participate must comply with the law. The question isn’t how many schools are in in compliance, the question is: At what cost?
 
The department estimates that participating school districts will be forced to absorb $3.2 billion in additional compliance costs over a five-year period. To make matters worse, fewer students are being served. Since the regulations were put in place, participation in the school meals programs has declined more rapidly than any other period over the last three decades, with 1.4 million fewer children being served each day.

I saw these challenges firsthand during my visit to the Prior Lake School District in Savage, Minnesota. Students described smaller portion sizes and limited options that left students hungry and more likely to buy junk food. After students petitioned the school board, Prior Lake has decided to drop out of the school meals program next school year. It is the only way the school can meet the needs of its students.
 
And the problems with the law do not stop there. The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Agriculture and the GAO identified examples of programs misusing taxpayer dollars, raising serious concerns about whether or not we are actually assisting those in need.
 
As we work to reauthorize federal child nutrition programs, we must find solutions that will ensure taxpayer dollars are well spent and children are well served. We know developing a one-size-fits-all approach is not the answer. More mandates and more money aren’t the answer either. Instead, we should look to improve these programs by giving states and school districts the flexibility they need to fulfill the promise of child nutrition assistance.
 
Duke Storen from the not-for-profit organization Share Our Strength advised at a recent hearing, “It’s critical … to remove bureaucratic barriers and create efficiencies that will allow us to reach those kids who currently go without.” I look forward to discussing how we can achieve just that without imposing more burdens on our schools.

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Next Week: Hearings to Examine Child Nutrition, Tribal Sovereignty, and Fiduciary Regulation

Fri, 06/12/2015 - 1:00pm
The House Education and the Workforce Committee will hold a number of hearings during the week of June 15, 2015, to discuss important issues facing classrooms and workplaces. Hearings will take place in room 2175 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
        
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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Witnesses Describe Challenges Caused by Complex, Outdated Wage and Hour Regulatory System

Wed, 06/10/2015 - 5:00pm
The Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, chaired by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), today held a hearing to explore concerns with regulations implementing federal wage and hour standards. Members discussed how the complex, burdensome, and outdated regulatory structure of the Fair Labor Standards Act is impacting workplaces and creating uncertainty for both employees and employers.

“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”

Wed, 06/10/2015 - 12:00am
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. 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. Regulations that made sense long before the advent of smartphones and telecommuting simply don’t work in the modern economy.
 
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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***MEDIA ADVISORY*** Subcommittee to Examine Federal Wage and Hour Regulations

Tue, 06/09/2015 - 10:00am
On Wednesday, June 10 at 10:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, chaired by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), will hold a hearing entitled, “Reviewing the Rules and Regulations Implementing Federal Wage and Hour Standards.” The hearing will take place in room 2175 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
         
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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WITNESS LIST

Ms. Nicole Berberich
Human Resources Director
Cincinnati Animal Referral and Emergency (CARE) Center
Cincinnati, OH

Mr. Leonard Court
Senior Partner
Crowe & Dunlevy
Oklahoma City, OK

The Honorable Seth Harris
Former Acting Secretary of Labor and Deputy Secretary of Labor
Ithaca, NY

Mr. Jamie Richardson
Vice President
White Castle System, Inc.
Columbus, OH

Kline, Scott Issue Joint Statement on Department of Education’s Corinthian Colleges Announcement

Mon, 06/08/2015 - 12:00am

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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ICYMI: Hearing Reveals Consequences of NLRB Attack on Right to Work

Fri, 06/05/2015 - 5:00pm
It’s no secret that the Obama National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is determined to advance a culture of union favoritism – regardless of the cost to hardworking Americans. House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) noted earlier this week:

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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NLRB Attack on Right to Work Threatens Employee Freedom

Wed, 06/03/2015 - 5:00pm
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-MN), today held a hearing entitled, “Compulsory Unionization through Grievance Fees: The NLRB’s Assault on Right to Work.” During the hearing, members discussed how an effort by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) could weaken state right-to-work laws and diminish employee freedom.

"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

Wed, 06/03/2015 - 10:00am
We are here to discuss the latest in a series of actions by the National Labor Relations Board designed to empower Big Labor at the expense of America’s workers. 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. Now the board is setting its sights on the freedom and choice provided to employees under state right to work laws.

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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As Labor Department Stonewalls, Committee Demands Answers on Fiduciary Rulemaking

Tue, 06/02/2015 - 5:00pm

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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