Federal Report: Keystone XL Pipeline Moves Forward and Other Notes from D.C.

Finally! The long-sought approval for the Keystone XL oil pipeline is in sight. For years, the Indiana Chamber has advocated for the pipeline, which would ship crude from Canada’s western oil sands region to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

This action by the Trump administration reverses one of former President Obama’s most politically charged environmental decisions that came more than a year ago, when construction of the 1,200-mile pipeline was blocked.

In other news:

  • Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (IN-02) helped kick off a small business workshop in South Bend. More than 275 local small business owners attended the Boost Your Business event hosted by Facebook, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce. She also participated in a Facebook Live discussion about women in small business with Tanya Allen of NAWBO. Check out the video!
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce honored 266 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 55 members of the U.S. Senate with its annual Spirit of Enterprise Award, given in recognition of their support for pro-growth policies in the second session of the 114th Congress. All Republican members of the Indiana delegation and U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly were given this prestigious honor. The award is based on votes given on critical business legislation as outlined in the U.S. Chamber’s scorecard, How They Voted. Congressional members who supported the organization’s position on at least 70% of those votes qualify. This go-round, the U.S. Chamber scored members on eight Senate votes and 14 House votes related to access to capital for small businesses, ensuring our workforce has the skills necessary for the jobs of tomorrow and helping American manufacturers compete in a global economy. In addition, votes in support of building the U.S. water infrastructure system, protecting intellectual property and updating energy policy also factored into scoring.
  • Last week, Congresswoman Susan Brooks (IN-05) voiced concern about a rising drug issue before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. The focus was on combatting the next wave of the opioid crisis: fentanyl. That drug is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, and has contributed to more than 5,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. since 2013. This hearing builds on the work from last Congress to combat this crisis. Watch Rep. Brooks’ remarks delivered during the hearing.
  • The Republican-led U.S. Senate voted last Wednesday to block an Obama-era rule that critics said would have led to more citations for workplace safety record-keeping violations. Senators voted 50-48 to block the Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule. The House had voted to do so previously. Employers are required to maintain a log of workplace injuries and illnesses that occur during a five-year span, but an employer may only be cited for failing to keep proper health and safety records within a six-month window. Critics said the Obama administration was trying to extend the penalty window to five years, describing the rule as “an unlawful power grab.” But labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, said the six-month restriction makes it impossible to enforce the record-keeping requirements since the federal government doesn’t conduct regulator inspections of even the most hazardous workplaces and won’t likely find a violation before the window has expired. The labor union said the Obama administration’s rule created no new obligations, but simply made clear that employers have a responsibility to maintain accurate injury and illness records for five years and during this time can be held accountable for violations if the records are inaccurate. The sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, applauded the Senate vote, saying “we should be focused on proactive policies that help improve workplace safety instead of punitive rules that do nothing to make American workers safer.” The legislation goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.
  • Representative Trey Hollingsworth (IN-09), along with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09), introduced the Fostering Innovation Act last week. This bipartisan legislation slashes burdensome regulations that hinder companies that operate on the very edge of scientific and medical breakthroughs. “Indiana is leading the way in medical device and biotech innovation,” said Rep. Hollingsworth. “This bipartisan, commonsense reduction of burdensome regulations will empower many industries throughout the Hoosier state to devote more resources to product innovation, research and development.” At this time, emerging growth companies (ECGs) are exempt from certain regulatory requirements for five years after their initial public offering. One of the requirements EGCs are exempt from is Sarbanes-Oxley Section 404(b) which requires public companies to obtain an external audit on the effectiveness of their internal controls for financial reporting.

Breaking Down the Latest Union Numbers

wNationally, union membership did not change from 2014 to 2015 – remaining at 11.1% of wage and salary workers. In Indiana, membership declined from 10.7% to 10% over that same time period.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released updated union data. Five states had union membership below 5%: South Carolina (2.1%), North Carolina (3.0%), Utah (3.9%), Georgia (4.0%) and Texas (4.5%). Two states – New York (24.7%) and Hawaii (20.4%) – topped 20%. Nearly half of the 14.8 million union members lived in seven states: California (2.5 million), New York (2.0 million), Illinois (800,000), Pennsylvania (700,000) and Michigan, Ohio and New Jersey (600,000 each).

Other findings include:

  • Public-sector union rates (35.2%) were five times higher than that of private sector workers (6.7%).
  • Within the public sector, the union membership rate was highest for local government (41.3%). In the private sector, industries with high unionization rates included utilities (21.4%), transportation and warehousing (18.9%), educational services (13.7%), telecommunications (13.3%) and construction (13.2%).
  • By age, highest union membership rates were among older workers – 14.3% for ages 55 to 64 and 13.6% for ages 45 to 54.

See more information.

Common Construction Wage Repeal Now in the Mix at the Statehouse

statehouse picIt was a welcome surprise last week when the Indiana Chamber learned that the Common Construction Wage Bill (HB 1019) was going to receive a committee hearing. The Chamber testified it was in strong favor of repealing the CCW statute, noting this has been the organization’s position for many decades.

The Chamber told the committee that CCW prevents open and fair bidding competition for public construction projects. It establishes a government-sanctioned advantage for one set of contractors and workers over all others. It requires taxpayers to pay significantly above market wages, and therefore excessive taxes, on public construction projects. And it requires the setting of a government-mandated price to be paid for construction labor that is excessive and completely unnecessary; we don’t set minimum prices to be paid on other forms of labor, construction materials or equipment.

At the core of the issue for the Chamber: CCW costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in excess and unnecessary tax burdens. Chamber members – over 80% of which are small businesses – and the rest of the business community pay over half of the excess taxes caused by CCW. The remainder is paid by farmers and residential property owners, including elderly homeowners on fixed incomes.

In testimony, Chamber President Kevin Brinegar relayed the unfortunate situation that occurred nearly a decade ago when three massive public construction projects were going on in Indianapolis at the same time: Lucas Oil Stadium, the new Indianapolis Airport and the expansion of the Indiana Convention Center.

The wage committees on those projects chose union scale. And they further chose union-only project labor agreements which effectively excluded the non-union contractors from participating. At the height of the construction of those projects, there was not enough union labor to work on all three simultaneously. And rather than go to skilled, trained Hoosiers who didn’t happen to hold a union card to fill those needs, they went to union halls in Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois. That meant literally thousands of out-of-state workers – approximately 4,000 – came to work on our projects funded by our tax dollars instead of using qualified Indiana workers. The wages paid to those individuals went back to Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky to be used in their economies, not in ours. The Chamber views this as unfair and inappropriate.

Brinegar also told the group he served on approximately 40 wage-setting committees during his 12 years on the Noblesville School Board. In a property tax-capped environment, cash-strapped local units of government, like schools, cannot afford to pay inflated costs for their construction projects.

The Chamber closed its argument by calling CCW an unnecessary and wasteful interference by government into the free enterprise system and a relic of the 1930s – a costly one that is far past time to be repealed.

Many others testified in favor of the repeal. The Anderson Economic Group said it had conducted a study in Illinois and Michigan on how much CCW added to overall costs. The Fort Wayne City Council president testified to the many projects that will be coming to Fort Wayne that could save millions of dollars if CCW is repealed. He further testified that the CCW committee process is predetermined. The former mayor of Terre Haute added that cities have been beaten up over the property tax caps; repeal of CCW would alleviate some of that problem. The Associated Builders and Contractors stated that government should not be in the business of mandating wages.

House Bill 1019 is expected to receive a final floor debate on Monday. Organized labor is mounting stiff opposition to the measure in an effort, much like in the fight over right-to-work, to protect a special, government-created privilege at the expense of taxpayers and the free market. The Chamber will be diligently working with like-minded organizations to secure passage of HB 1019.

Call to Action: Please send a brief message to your state representative in support of HB 1019 and repealing the common construction wage law. It’s quick and easy via our grassroots program!

Non-Union Teacher Contract Bargaining Requires Flexibility

Finding, retaining and empowering great teachers must be a top priority for Indiana schools. However, the state’s teacher bargaining law ties the hands of administrators and forces the union-bargained contract and all its controls on every teacher in a district, whether or not they choose to even join the union.

Senate Bill 302, authored by Sen. Pete Miller (R-Avon), would allow school districts to negotiate employment contracts directly with individual teachers or groups of teachers that choose not to join their union, instead of being forced to negotiate exclusively within the bargaining agreement and impose those same contract provisions on all teachers.

Today, schools and districts cannot recruit superb educators and those with specific skills needed (e.g. STEM, foreign languages, etc.) and cannot be offered higher pay or other incentives. And in districts with teacher shortages, there is no room to negotiate a contract to hire a teacher that might be needed to fill an important gap. There is no flexibility – it’s the union’s contract or nothing, even in a right-to-work state like Indiana.

Teachers are professionals and should be treated like it. They have the right to be a union member and bargain collectively should they so choose, but they also should have the right to negotiate their own contracts. If we want better teachers in this state, we need to encourage and support excellence.

The bill would free teachers from a longstanding stranglehold on contracts, allow for excellence to be rewarded and recruited, and stop treating all teachers like interchangeable parts under the same contract terms regardless of skills, performance or a school’s needs.

Please take a moment to send a message to your state senator and the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee to ask for support of Senate Bill 302 to provide for more flexibility for school districts and teachers.

Legislative Testimony: Employment for Non-Union Teachers

The Indiana Chamber’s Caryl Auslander testified today in support of Senate Bill 302 – Employment Contracts for Non-Union Teachers, authored by Sen. Pete Miller (R-Avon) and Sen. Jim Smith (R-Charlestown).

The Indiana Chamber has long supported similar legislation allowing employees to choose whether or not they want to join their union. And as such, those that choose NOT to join their respective union for whatever reason should have the opportunity to negotiate their contract outside of the collective bargaining agreement that was set forth by that union – just as any other employee in the state might be able to do.

We feel that this legislation empowers both the employer and the employee to negotiate a contract that works best for BOTH parties.

Labor Issue Proves Costly; Could You Be Next?

A recent labor case has been in the news, in which a prominent coffee company has been deemed by the National Labor Relations Board to have illegally dismissed a problem employee because the staffer was “pro-union.”

However, here are some comments that worker reportedly made to his manager during one instance when he felt the manager should have helped during a busy period: “it’s about damn time”; “this is bull****”; and “do everything your damn self.”


But since the employee in question had organized union protests and the manager included that fact in the reasons given for dismissal, the NLRB determined his firing was at least in part because of his union support. It ordered the company to offer this person his job back — and compensate him for loss of pay and benefits. It goes to show that common sense doesn’t always apply with today’s NLRB and labor issues.

Barnes & Thornburg LLP and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce are proud to offer the second edition of The Indiana Guide to Labor Relations. Last published in 2000, a great deal has changed at both the federal and state levels, as well as in the workplace. This is a comprehensive guide, illustrating how employers can deal effectively with all varieties of union issues. New updates in this edition include:

  • The NLRB’s recent attack on social media policies and disciplinary decisions
  • Updated discussion on how to defend against union organizing
  • Indiana’s right-to-work law
  • New union election rules being contemplated by the NLRB
  • Updated analysis of employers’ ability to lock out employees during bargaining

This book is available for $89, or $66.75 for Indiana Chamber members. It can be ordered online, or by calling (800) 824-6885.

Here are some other resources from the Indiana Chamber you may find helpful:

Unions Growing Skeptical of Affordable Care Act

Even though labor has been a major contributor to President Obama during his two election bids, there is a growing skepticism about whether or not the Affordable Care Act — often labeled "Obamacare" — will be a benefit to their members. CBS News reports:

Some labor unions that enthusiastically backed President Barack Obama's health care overhaul are now frustrated and angry, fearful that it will jeopardize benefits for millions of their members.

Union leaders warn that unless the problem is fixed, there could be consequences for Democrats facing re-election next year.

"It makes an untruth out of what the president said — that if you like your insurance, you could keep it," said Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. "That is not going to be true for millions of workers now."

The problem lies in the unique multiemployer health plans that cover unionized workers in retail, construction, transportation and other industries with seasonal or temporary employment. Known as Taft-Hartley plans, they are jointly administered by unions and smaller employers that pool resources to offer more than 20 million workers and family members continuous coverage, even during times of unemployment.

The union plans were already more costly to run than traditional single-employer health plans.

But Obama's Affordable Care Act has added to that cost — for the unions' and other plans — by requiring health plans to cover dependents up to age 26, eliminate annual or lifetime coverage limits and extend coverage to people with pre-existing conditions…

Unions backed the health care legislation because they expected it to curb inflation in health coverage, reduce the number of uninsured Americans and level the playing field for companies that were already providing quality benefits. While unions knew there were lingering issues after the law passed, they believed those could be fixed through rulemaking.

But last month, the union representing roofers issued a statement calling for "repeal or complete reform" of the health care law. Kinsey Robinson, president of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers, complained that labor's concerns over the health care law "have not been addressed, or in some instances, totally ignored."

Union Landscape Continues to Change

More than twice as many union members now work for the U.S. Postal Service than in the domestic auto industry. Given that and other facts of declining union membership, the Heritage Foundation notes that labor laws need to be updated. Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita's efforts are mentioned.

Unions Resist Recognizing Achievement

Such sharp drops in union membership indicate that U.S. labor laws are out of step with the modern economy. Traditional unions no longer appeal to workers the way they did two generations ago. Outdated restrictions in labor laws are now seen as holding back both employers and employees.

For example, union wage rates are legally both minimum and maximum wages: A unionized employer may not pay employees more than the union rate without the union’s permission. While unions happily accept group raises, they often resist individual performance pay. They typically insist that employers base promotions and raises on seniority instead of individual recognition.

In 2011, Giant Eagle gave individual raises to two dozen employees at its Edinboro, Pennsylvania, grocery store. These raises were in addition to the union wages. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23 nonetheless argued that the pay increases violated their collective bargaining agreement. They objected to the fact that some entry-level employees made more than senior union members. The union filed charges. Last November, the Federal District Court for Western Pennsylvania ordered Giant Eagle to rescind the pay increases. Nationwide, union members are less than half as likely to receive performance pay as non-union employees.[8]

This holds back union members. A one-size-fits-all approach was workable when all employees brought essentially the same skills to the bargaining table. But the nature of work is changing. Employers have automated many rote repetitive tasks. At the same time, employers are also flattening the job hierarchy. The line between management and workers is blurring. Employers increasingly expect workers to exercise independent judgment and take initiative on the job. Employers want to reward—and employees want to be rewarded for—individual contributions that no collective contract can reflect.

Analyst: RTW Opponents Use Flawed Math

Citing research by James M. Hohman of the Mackinac Center, Michigan Capitol Confidential takes issue with the claim that right-to-work states feature lower wages. Hohman's conclusion is that, after all the facts are in, right-to-work states actually have the higher per-capita incomes.

Scores of right-to-work critics ranging from politicians to economists have cited lower per-capita incomes in right-to-work states as why the new law is not good for Michigan.

However, not factoring in cost-of-living exposes a flaw in that analysis, said Mackinac Center for Public Policy Fiscal Analyst James Hohman. Once that is considered, Hohman said the per-capita income is higher in right-to-work states than non-right-to-work states.

For example, Texas per-capita income was $37,098 but would have a purchasing power of $49,700 in the state of New York in 2007, according to Hohman’s analysis. New York’s per-capita income was $47,852.

Hohman found that in terms of Michigan dollars in 2000, right-to-work states had 4.1 percent higher per-capita personal incomes than non-right-to-work states when factoring in cost of living. Michigan was considered a non-right-to-work state because the law was passed in late December 2012. Hohman said the right-work-states didn’t surpass non-right-to-work states until 2003.

“One of the most basic arguments repeated time and time again by right-to-work opposition is that Michigan is going to lose income by passing this law,” Hohman said. “That just isn’t the case. When you adjust for what a dollar can get you, the difference reverses itself."

Hohman used the cost of living index done by political scientists William Berry, Richard Fording and Russell Hanson. They adjusted for cost-of-living in every state from 1960 to 2007.

Pennsylvania Legislators Introduce Right-to-Work

The Washington Free Beacon reports that legislators in the Pennsylvania legislature want to bring right-to-work to their state, citing its passage in Indiana and Michigan and the need for job growth and desire to attract businesses.

Six GOP lawmakers on (Jan. 22) introduced a proposal to make Pennsylvania, the “Keystone State,” the nation’s 25th right-to-work state.

The legislation, which would end the longstanding practice of forcing employees to join unions as a condition of work, has stalled several times over the past decade. The bill’s sponsors say new laws in Michigan and Indiana forced the state’s hand.

“The needs of our economy dictate that it must be adopted at some point in time,” said state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe. “The victory of right-to-work in Michigan and Indiana certainly thrust the spotlight on it and made the General Assembly look it more seriously than the past.”

Pennsylvania is one of the most heavily unionized states in the country with more than 700,000 workers belonging to organized labor groups. That is nearly 100,000 more union members than in Michigan.

The advent of right-to-work in the traditionally labor-friendly Midwest and Rust Belt has left policymakers scrambling to catch up, said Nate Benefield, director of policy analysis at the free-market Commonwealth Foundation.

“Indiana and Michigan are states that we directly compete with,” he said. “We’re going to have to evolve to remain competitive and it’s also a great opportunity for us to outcompete the northeast.”

If Pennsylvania passes right-to-work, it will be the first state to do so in the northeast. That could give it an economic advantage over neighboring New York and New Jersey, which lead the nation in union membership as a percentage of the workforce, advocates of right to work legislation said.

“We’re playing catch-up to Indiana and Michigan, but our immediate neighbors, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland are even less competitive than Pennsylvania is,” Benefield said. “I think right-to-work is a big part to improving our business climate.”

Restricting the use of compulsory union dues also could deal a blow to union influence.