Association health plans, family flex time and other workforce and labor issues were at the top of the agenda at ABC’s national Legislative Conference. ABC members from across the country came to Washington, D.C., to meet with their lawmakers and Bush administration officials to discuss issues of key importance to merit shop contractors.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao; Bush-Cheney 2004 Campaign Manager Ken Mehlman; Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee John Boehner, R-OH; Reps. Richard Baker, R-LA; Pat Toomey, R-PA; George Nethercutt, R-WA; J.D. Hayworth, R-AZ; and Mike Rogers, R-MI; and Sen. Jim Talent, R-MO, were the featured speakers at the conference.
ABC Chairman Edward L. Rispone announced that ABC’s board of directors had voted to endorse President George W. Bush’s re-election effort. “It’s not a maybe that we’re going to re-elect George Bush and Dick Cheney. It’s a must. It’s imperative that we have leaders like Bush and Cheney.”
The conference occurred during a busy week on Capitol Hill, one in which a number of labor and workforce issues were either under consideration or at the forefront of debate. These included an ABC-supported family compensatory time bill, H.R. 1119 and legislation to allow for the creation of association health plans (AHPs).
In her remarks, Chao voiced her strong support for AHPs. “It is an area that I have worked on a great deal. We have 41-million uninsured in the United States. As you know very well, it is critical for employers to address the exploding costs of healthcare. We want to thank you for your help in addressing these costs through association health plans and look forward to working with you on that issue.”
Talent also discussed AHPs, calling rising healthcare premiums “the number-one problem small businesses are dealing with.” He noted that two-thirds of the 41-million uninsured people in America are “working people.”
Boehner, who serves as chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee, said he expects a committee markup of the AHP legislation in the near future. The bill, which would allow members of associations to obtain better healthcare rates by pooling their resources together, is expected to reach the House floor by the end of June, he said, adding that a favorable vote on the issue “can happen, but it’s going to take a lot of heavy lifting.”
Of more immediate concern the week of the Legislative Conference was a bill to allow employees of private firms to choose whether they collect overtime payments or receive compensatory time off after working extra hours.
The House leadership postponed a vote on the family flex time bill because the bill lacked the votes needed for approval but hoped to reschedule a vote during the 108th Congress.
Chao also discussed the Labor Department’s efforts to expand apprenticeship and described the agency’s Advancing Apprenticeship Initiative launched last fall. The program now trains more than 400,000 apprentices nationwide and includes 250,000 participating employers. “We must provide all qualified employers with equal access to quality apprenticeship programs to train workers.”
Chao said the agency was fortunate to have ABC’s assistance on the Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship (ACA). Philip Anderson, president of ABC’s Kentuckiana Chapter, and Fred Haag of Irby Construction in Mississippi, both sit on the committee, which is charged with recommending strategies for expanding apprenticeship in the United States. “This kind of involvement sends a clear signal about your industry’s commitment to apprenticeships, and we are very pleased to have you with us as we move forward,” Chao said.
Toomey, who is seeking to unseat fellow Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, PA, in the 2004 senatorial elections, thanked the ABC membership for its support in helping him get elected to the House of Representatives. “I would not be a representative in the U.S. Congress without [ABC].” Toomey said that Specter’s lack of support for free enterprise was pivotal in his decision to run for the Senate.
Hayworth voiced his support for a number of ABC-supported bills, including the Open Competition and Fairness Act (H.R. 106), which would ensure open competition in the awarding of federal construction projects. “Let’s [pass the legislation] to make sure we place the emphasis where it belongs, not on political payoffs to organized labor,” he said.
Nethercutt voiced his support for free enterprise and the merit shop. “We need to make sure that small businesses, contractors, builders, manufacturers and others have policies implemented at the federal level that allow them to do what they do best — create jobs make a profit, hire more people, increase equipment purchases — all the kinds of things that keep the economic engine of this country going.”
For more information, visit www.abc.org.