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Latest News - August 2015

August 12, 2015
White House to Hold Summit to Amplify Employees' Voice in Workplace
Source: WSJ.COM
By: Melanie Trottman

The White House will hold a summit in October to explore how American workers can amplify their voices on the job to get ahead, and it touted labor unions as a powerful way to enable that.

The “Worker Voice” summit will focus on how to ensure workers “are fully sharing in the benefits of the broad-based economic growth that they are helping to create,” the White House said in a statement Wednesday that announced the Oct. 7 event.

President Barack Obama said in March that he wanted to hold a summit but the details hadn’t been sorted yet. He said at the time that even as the economy was recovering many working families were still finding it hard to advance.

The summit is aimed at tackling income inequality and the administration made no secret of that. The White House said that as it continues to address economic inequality and adapt to workforce changes it wants “to energize a new generation of Americans to come together and recognize the potential power of their voice at work.”

The buzz words “come together” will likely raise eyebrows in the business community and in GOP offices in Congress. Business groups and Republican lawmakers have for years been accusing the Obama administration of promoting unionization at the expense of sound business.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a blog post Wednesday that the meeting will “highlight the value of collective bargaining” and dig into challenges workers face joining unions today. He cited Labor Department statistics that show union members earned $200 more a week on average last year than non-union workers did, and said that as union membership has steadily fallen in recent decades, the share of income for the top 10% in America has steadily climbed.

“There’s an inverse relationship between union membership and the size of the gap between rich and poor,” wrote Mr. Perez, who added real wages still aren’t climbing fast enough even though productivity is far higher than it was in the late 1970s.

Steve Caldeira, President of the International Franchise Association trade group, said his group plans to send a letter to Mr. Perez  to “express our views about how to address income inequality that balances the needs of both employers and employees.”

The organization will also reiterate its concerns about proposed regulatory changes that could negatively impact franchise businesses, he said, referring in part to the National Labor Relations Board re-evaluating its longtime standard for deciding when contractual business arrangements render one business a “joint employer” of workers employed by another.

Business groups have likewise challenged a new National Labor Relations Board rule that they said will unnecessarily speed union-organizing elections, and they have accused the Labor Department of embracing union-sought policies and enforcement tactics.

For its part, the White House said the worker summit would focus on how workers can make their voices heard in ways that are good for them and for businesses.

And Mr. Perez said in his blog post that the meeting will include not just workers, unions and organizers but also employers, workplace experts and others.

The pledge of inclusiveness is still likely to draw skepticism from administration critics.

Mr. Perez made clear that the administration remains firm in its support for policies that many of its critics oppose, such as higher minimum-wage mandates and laws granting workers paid sick leave and steadier work schedules.

The administration also said it launched an online tool to allow workers to tell the government how they’ve challenged their employers to treat them better at work.

“It can’t happen without your voice,” Mr. Perez wrote in his online post.



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