The Connecticut General Assembly is back at work so it’s time to take a quick peek to see what’s percolating.

2013 Legislative Session Begins

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association highlighted the “captive audience” bill as bill that is resurfacing, even though the Attorney General has previously raised doubts about the constitutionality of it.  The bill would restrict communications by the employer in general workplace meetings.  The CBIA highlighted the bill’s flaws:

The proposal usually shuts down much of what an employer can talk about with their employees in regular workplace meetings. For example, the last captive audience proposal restricted “political” discussions—with “politics” so broadly defined that almost any topic would have been considered off-limits. This would include issues critical to the effective management and operation of a business.

And under the threat of severe legal and financial penalties, an employer’s ability to communicate—particularly in opposition to the potential unionization of the workforce–would be effectively silenced.

Before this flawed concept goes any further, lawmakers should heed the attorney general’s warnings.

The Labor & Public Employee Committee at the legislature maintains a bill record bill that lists potential bills up for consideration.  As the session progresses, this list gets more refined.

Among the early “Proposed Senate Bills” under consideration:

  • Proposed Senate Bill 56, which would increase minimum wage by 75 cents in January 2014 and another 75 cents in January 2015;
  • Bills that would either eliminate or expand paid sick leave (Proposed Senate Bills 179 and 198);
  • Proposed Senate Bill 159, which would “prevent current or potential employers from requesting or requiring that employees or potential employees provide passwords to their personal accounts as a condition of their employment.”

On the House side, a few “Proposed House Bills” are starting to surface too including:

The next meeting of the Committee is set for January 29th, where these concepts — and others, including teaching about the history of the labor movement — will be discussed.  No public hearings have yet been posted publicly.

The new legislative session at the Connecticut General Assemblybegan last week and the Labor & Public Employee Committee wasted no time setting an agenda for bills for discussion in this short legislative session.

2012 Legislative Session Begins

At a committee meeting last Thursday, the Committee discussed a variety of items to be discussed and proposed as bills. 

Among the notable items that received a favorable nod to drafting:

  • An Act Concerning Discriminatory Hiring Toward the Unemployed
  • An Act Concerning State Employees and Bullying in the Workplace
  • An Act Concerning Family and Medical Leave for Certain Municipal Employees
  • An Act Concerning a Study on Changes to the Pay Frequency Laws
  • Act Allowing Employers to Pay Wages Using Payroll Cards

You can follow the Committee’s progress here.  The CBIA also provides a weekly recap of the events at the legislature here.   

After last year’s battle over paid sick leave, this session is not expected to be as bruising but as noted above, there is still plenty of things the legislature can get involved with.  In a short session, we’ll have to wait and see how much really gets done. 

If the legislature wants to do something unusual, then perhaps it can revisit my list from July 2011 of outdated employment laws that could be considered for repeal.  Of course, it’s easier to add laws than to repeal them, but hope springs eternal.

Although Connecticut’s own Rep. Rosa DeLauro was rumored to be on the short list for a Secretary of Labor post, reports Thursday evening suggest that Rep. Hilda Solis – a Democrat from California – has been tapped for that posDepartment of Labor - by Dan Schwartz - NOT public domainition.

So, what’s the immediate feedback from labor and business groups? Well, labor groups issued a press release praising the pick and business groups expressed concern. The New York Times sums it up here:

Ms. Solis has championed a bill, called the Employee Free Choice Act, that is the No. 1 priority of organized labor because it would make it far easier to unionize workers. The business community bitterly opposes the bill. She is the only member of Congress on the board of American Rights at Work, a pro-union group pushing for the bill.

“We’re thrilled at the prospect of having Representative Hilda Solis as our nation’s next labor secretary,” said John J. Sweeney, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “We’re confident that she will return to the Labor Department one of its core missions: to defend workers’ basic rights in our nation’s workplaces. She’s proven to be a passionate leader and advocate for all working families.”

Labor leaders say they are very pleased that Ms. Solis joined them in opposing the Central American Free Trade Agreement as well as the pending trade agreement with Colombia.

By contrast, the reaction of business groups to the choice of Ms. Solis ranged from tactful displeasure to sharp dismay.

“We’re disappointed that she supports the Employee Free Choice Act,” said Randel K. Johnson, the vice president of labor policy at the United States Chamber of Commerce. “We expected Obama to pick someone supported by the A.F.L.-C.I.O. She’s not a pick whose philosophy we didn’t expect. We will disagree with her on some issues and work with her on some.”

The Washington Labor & Employment Wire has some more specifics on Rep. Solis’s positions, including her support for EFCA and "green collar" jobs. 

For employers in Connecticut, there’s likely to be a lot of hype about Rep. Solis’ positions supporting labor.  But before you leap, ask yourself this — can you name the current Secretary of Labor? Chances are, probably not. (It’s Elaine Chao.

Why? Because the President has dictated and will dictate what the agenda will be and what his priorities are going to be.  Given President-Elect Obama’s desire to seek consensus on a variety of issues, time will tell just what that agenda is going to look like.

Looking to make a change? Or curious about what the new Obama administration will have on its agenda?

Then the new administration website, Change.gov, is for you. It’s now up (but as of 2 p.m., barely running — likely due to the massive traffic the site is facing so give it a little time).   Parts of the site are also still under construction, including a fascinating "America Serves" section.

You can sign up for information, get information about seeking a position in the new administration or get detailed information on the agenda that the new administration is setting in a variety of areas. 

Lest you think that Obama will shift course, the agenda is identical to what he had on his campaign site, but it’s important to revisit it in light of all the ink that’s been spilled on where his priorities will be.  A look at the Economy area lists his "labor" agenda as follows: 

  • Obama and Biden will strengthen the ability of workers to organize unions. He will fight for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. Obama and Biden will ensure that his labor appointees support workers’ rights and will work to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers. Obama and Biden will also increase the minimum wage and index it to inflation to ensure it rises every year.
  • Ensure Freedom to Unionize: Obama and Biden believe that workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join a union without harassment or intimidation from their employers. Obama cosponsored and is strong advocate for the Employee Free Choice Act, a bipartisan effort to assure that workers can exercise their right to organize. He will continue to fight for EFCA’s passage and sign it into law.
  • Fight Attacks on Workers’ Right to Organize: Obama has fought the Bush National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) efforts to strip workers of their right to organize. He is a cosponsor of legislation to overturn the NLRB’s "Kentucky River" decisions classifying hundreds of thousands of nurses, construction, and professional workers as "supervisors" who are not protected by federal labor laws.
  • Protect Striking Workers: Obama and Biden support the right of workers to bargain collectively and strike if necessary. They will work to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers, so workers can stand up for themselves without worrying about losing their livelihoods.
  • Raise the Minimum Wage: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will raise the minimum wage, index it to inflation and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit to make sure that full-time workers earn a living wage that allows them to raise their families and pay for basic needs.

In the "Work/Family" arena, he lists the following as his top priorities:

  • Obama and Biden will double funding for after-school programs, expand the Family Medical Leave Act, provide low-income families with a refundable tax credit to help with their child-care expenses, and encourage flexible work schedules.
  • Expand the Family and Medical Leave Act: The FMLA covers only certain employees of employers with 50 or more employees. Obama and Biden will expand it to cover businesses with 25 or more employees. They will expand the FMLA to cover more purposes as well, including allowing workers to take leave for elder care needs; allowing parents up to 24 hours of leave each year to participate in their children’s academic activities; and expanding FMLA to cover leave for employees to address domestic violence.
  • Encourage States to Adopt Paid Leave: As president, Obama will initiate a strategy to encourage all 50 states to adopt paid-leave systems. Obama and Biden will provide a $1.5 billion fund to assist states with start-up costs and to help states offset the costs for employees and employers. …
  • Protect Against Caregiver Discrimination: Workers with family obligations often are discriminated against in the workplace. Obama and Biden will enforce the recently-enacted Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines on caregiver discrimination.
  • Expand Flexible Work Arrangements: Obama and Biden will create a program to inform businesses about the benefits of flexible work schedules; help businesses create flexible work opportunities; and increase federal incentives for telecommuting. Obama and Biden will also make the federal government a model employer in terms of adopting flexible work schedules and permitting employees to request flexible arrangements.

Before employers and employees get too worked up about all of the above, remember that we are in the midst of the worst recession in at least a generation.  The problems weren’t created overnight and it’s unrealisitc to expect all of the above to be passed in the first 100 days — and probably not the first 500 days.