DPE Legislative and Public Policy Report
This report summarizes action on those issues that comprised the Department’s public policy agenda for the year 2002-03
- 1. Regulatory attack–In the spring of 2003 the Department of Labor proposed new regulations that would emasculate the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) 40 hour work week standard by canceling out overtime pay for millions of professional, technical, computer and administrative workers. In effect the new rules would force millions of workers to work longer hours for less pay, while depriving others of the overtime pay on which their families depend. For example, for the first time in the history of the act, the proposed regulations would classify any worker receiving a salary of $1,250 a week – $65,000 a year – and who meets other criteria as exempt and thus no longer required by law to receive overtime pay for overtime work. Worse, the proposed regulations would replace other standards for workers earning between $22,100 a year and $65,000 a year and thereby make it easier for them to be classified as a so-called “executive, administrative, or professional employee” and therefore exempt from overtime requirements. The DPE is working with the AFL-CIO and several affiliates, including the CWA, UFCW and IFPTE, on a multi phased regulatory, legislative, legal and public relations battle plan to thwart these rules. The DPE has developed a detailed summary–Fact Sheet # 2003-8 which explains all of the ramifications of this complex regulatory proposal.
- 2. Comp time instead of OT–On the legislative front, House GOP leadership was forced to withdraw H.R. 1119–legislation to allow employers to substitute compensatory time off for time-and-a-half overtime pay – when they realized too many in their own ranks opposed the legislation. Despite a lobbying blitz by employer groups and the Bush Administration, organized labor succeeded in peeling away over two dozen moderate Republicans to join Democrats in opposing the bill.
Foreign Guest Workers
- 1. H-1B visas–In anticipation of Congressional action later this year, DPE has developed long list of H-1B reforms including the reduction in the annual number of professional guest worker visas allowed back to the original level of 65,000. The cap, last approved by lawmakers in 2000 over DPE opposition, tripled to 195,000 the number of foreign professional/specialty workers allowed into the U.S. each year. Without congressional action, the cap would revert automatically back to the original level of 65,000. DPE has also begun to meet with members of Congress and key staff on the proposals as well as spearheading a drive to create a national coalition of organizations seeking changes in the H-1B program. Thus far 14 organizations representing professional/technical workers have signed on.
- 2. L-1 visas— As the heat has turned up on employer use and abuse of the H-1B guest worker visas, corporations have shifted and begin to use the L-1 “intra-company transfer” visa to bring in foreign workers. Last year nearly 60,000 of these foreign guest workers were admitted into the U.S. In many situations, they replaced U.S, workers. The 3/10/03 issue of Business Week Magazine contained an expose on the problem. In late May, the DPE and AFL-CIO met with the office of a House democrat whose constituents had complained about L-1 misuse. A number of reform ideas were discussed and legislation is expected to be introduced in the near future.
- 3. Visas and trade agreements— Ongoing efforts by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to negotiate into bi-lateral “fast track” trade agreements include separate numerical visa quotas for foreign professional/speciality workers (similar to the TN visa created under the NAFTA trade agreement). Two pending agreements with Singapore and Chile include 5400 and 1400 respectively in additional professional/speciality, one-year visas renewable for up to five or seven years depending upon the occupation. DPE had expressed its concerns about these visas in a 10/31/02 letter to USTR Robert Zoellick and again directly to him at a February meeting of the USTR’s Labor Advisory Committee (LAC). The full LAC outlined its objections in a formal critique of the trade agreements sent to Zoellick in March. In response the USTR said it intends to continue to offer up these visas in other trade agreements. At the request of the AFL-CIO key Congressional republicans have expressed their concerns to the USTR.
- 4. Labor contractors–Consulted with the staff of Rep George Miller (D-CA)–the ranking minority member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee–who is drafting legislation to regulate labor contractors outside of agriculture. There have been some well publicized examples of these brokers luring foreign workers (e.g. nurses) into the U.S. with false promises of training and education and forcing them to work in nursing homes and other facilities where they are treated as indentured servants.
Media Ownership Rules
Despite wave after wave of media mega-mergers over the last decade, the Federal Communications Commission–in the face of opposition from organized labor, consumer organization and dozens of major, national public interest organizations–voted to eradicate most of the remaining prohibitions on media cross-ownership. These public interest standards, some in effect for more than 60 years, had prevented monopoly control of news, information and entertainment in media markets throughout our nation by assuring a measure of marketplace accountability through competition.
The consolidated rule-making–described by FCC Chairman Michael Powell as the most sweeping regulatory action in FCC history – now has the potential to reshape radically the nation’s media landscape, with likely adverse consequences in media markets both big and small throughout the country. What will likely follow the Commissions action will be a feeding frenzy of corporate acquisitions that will lead to more monopolistic cross-ownership of radio, TV, newspapers, the Internet and other media pipelines. Citizen access to diverse sources of information and entertainment will be vastly reduced and the quality of news and entertainment will be further compromised as diversity and localism suffer. The Project for Excellence in Journalism and others have documented that growing consolidation in the news business has led to a serious decline in the quality of local news as distant corporate media executives demand cuts in news budgets to boost profits. Meanwhile, since June 2000, an estimated 70,000 media workers have been laid off.
For two years the DPE had spearheaded a campaign of its affiliates representing workers, performers and writers in news and entertainment to detour the FCC’s deregulation juggernaut. Working with the affiliates and the AFL-CIO the Department was engaged in a range of activities including the commissioning of studies and analysis assessing the impact of the proposed changes, working with the AFL-CIO on the submission of comments during the rule-making process, lobbying FCC members and staff, sponsoring media forums, coordinating strategies with allied organizations, encouraging members of Congress to intervene to slow down the process, assisting with grassroots efforts aimed at maximizing citizen input to the FCC and collaborating with House Democratic leadership by providing a detailed briefing book to assist with their response to the FCC’s action .
While ultimately the Commission’s GOP majority could not be deterred, their vote to deregulate created a firestorm of public outcry and adverse reaction on Capitol Hill. Various legislative proposals have been introduced to reverse some or all of the Commission’s action and several oversight hearings have been under the auspices of Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ). At one of these hearings Writers Guild member Tom Fontana, executive producer of such award winning shows as Oz, Homicide, Life on the Streets and St Elswhere testified opposite media baron Ruppert Murdoch.. Legislation to reverse one of the rule changes regarding audience caps is expected in late June.
BROADCASTING AND NEWS
- 1. War correspondents–Working with The Newspaper Guild-CWA, the DPE sent letters to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as well as members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees calling for an immediate independent investigation into U.S. military actions during the Iraqi war that resulted in the deaths and injuries of foreign media workers. The unions are seeking to develop specific measures to prevent such tragedies in the future and to ensure the continued safety of U.S. and international journalists and media staff still covering the war. The groups signing the letter, which represent over 100,000 media professionals and technicians, included AFTRA, NABET, the National Writers Union, Writers Guild of America East, the TNG and DPE.
- 2. Non-Competes – In continuing to support AFTRA’s national campaign to outlaw “non-compete” contract requirements for broadcasters, the DPE backed legislation–B14-0812, the Broadcast Industry Contracting Freedom Act – to ban them in the District of Columbia. Non-compete covenants are forced upon off and on-air talent in a way that forbids these employees from working within the same media market even if they are terminated–with or without cause–or their contracts are not renewed. These restrictions may be imposed for a year or more and can preclude a media professional from working within a broadcast market that can cover hundreds or even thousands of square miles. “Non competes” are a modern day equivalent of indentured servitude and they have a devastating effect upon the careers of these workers by, in effect, preventing them from earning a living in their chosen profession. For both aspiring and veteran broadcasters and journalists, these caveats are often the non-negotiable price of being hired in a take-it-or-leave-it environment that allows media employers to amass unreasonable economic leverage over these professionals.
- 3. Hispanic media–Working with AFTRA, DPE met with and successfully urged the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to actively support AFTRA efforts to extend existing NBC contract protections to Telemundo Hispanic broadcasters whose parent company had been purchased by NBC.
- 1. Payola–In 2002 Sen. Russ Feingold introduced legislation – S. 2691- to prohibit radio stations, principally Clear Channel Communications, from abusing its commanding marketplace position to engage in a series of anti-competitive practices including a new form of payola that victimized musicians and recording artists. DPE joined AFTRA and the AFM in supporting the legislation. Over four decades ago, Congress had outlawed payola which had infested and ultimately corrupted the music play segment of the radio industry. The newest iteration was a less obvious and more difficult to identify manifestation the banned practice. After hearings in the Senate Commerce Committee on media concentration that focused on Clear Channel and the Feingold bill, the company announced that its 1200 radio stations would stop working with the key culprits–independent music promoters who extract payments from record companies or recording artists to promote recordings on stations with which they have exclusive relationships. The unions continue to support the legislation’s other provision addressing industry abuses.
- 2. Royalty payments – In 2002 DPE joined AFM and AFTRA to turn around legislation that threatened the timely payment of royalties to musicians and recording artists by those who webcast copyrighted sound recordings on the Internet. Small webcasters had opposed the royalty rate set for them by the federal Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel (CARP). The compromise legislation supported by labor and the recording industry discounted the rate for small webcasters by basing the royalties on a percentage of the webcasters revenue rather than on the cost-per-song standard that had been established. With the help of House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who had introduced the original, problematic version of H.R. 5469, the House unanimously passed the bill. The Senate later approved it as well and it was signed into law by President Bush.
- 3. Contracts and Accounting Practices–At the state level, DPE also supported AFTRA and AFM in their campaigns to pass legislation introduced in California and New York to protect recording artists from being bound to excessive contractual term limits. In California the legislation – SB 1246 – repeals the exclusion of these artists from the seven year limit that the state already places on personal services contracts for other workers. The unions are also backing California state legislation (SB 1034) to reform royalty accounting practices in the record industry. The legislation was approved by the state Senate and is now before the State Assembly.
For years unions representing actors, musicians and other workers in the film industry have been faced with ever increasing job losses due to the flight of production abroad. Several countries, including Canada offer a range of incentives to lure this production out of the U.S. In 2003 the DPE joined the AFL-CIO and unions in manufacturing to support legislation replacing a federal tax laws that had encouraged U.S. exports. This law – the Federal Sales Corporation (FSC) had been ruled as non-compliant by the World Trade Organization with global trade treaties and the WTO was threatening to impose $4 billion in retaliatory trade sanctions unless the U. S. Congress repealed it. The legislation – H.R. 1769 – by phasing in a permanent corporate rate deduction that will reduce the corporate tax rate on the net income of domestic production activities would promote production and manufacturing–including production of film and music – here in the U.S.. According to a recent study, approximately 3.5 million jobs are attributable to U.S. companies that had benefited from the FSC/ETI tax benefit. Its repeal will result in a tax increase of over $50 billion over the next ten years on our nation’s manufacturing base, including not only large companies but many small and medium-sized manufacturers and suppliers as well. H.R. 1769 has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
Patient Care And Nurse Staffing
Inadequate nurse staffing is jeopardizing patient care and driving experienced, committed nurses from their profession. Safe staffing standards have been the top priority for nurses and their unions who have waged campaigns for safe staffing legislation in more than 15 states. On May 6, nurses from across the nation took their demands for safe staffing and quality patient care to Congress. Press conferences, rallies, meetings with legislators and other actions were also held across the country from May 4 – 10. DPE is working with AFGE, AFSCME, AFT, CWA, SEIU, UAN, UFCW and the AFL-CIO in the development of the Safe Staffing Campaign, assisting with the development of materials (including preparing a series of fact sheets) and on proposed federal legislation.
Attack On Collective Bargaining, Civil Service
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is pressing Congress to give the Department of Defense (DoD) sweeping powers to eliminate the rights of federal workers, direct billions of dollars in government contracts to corporate contributors, degrade the environment and operate beyond Congressional review in the name of “national security”. Among other things, the bill would: Eliminate collective bargaining rights; Eliminate the ability of employees to appeal disciplinary action and to obtain information about why they are being disciplined; Eliminate whistleblower protections and conflict of interest rules; Eliminate the current annual pay raises and step increases that federal employees rely on to provide for their families. The bill goes beyond the attack on federal employees recently included in legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security by sweeping aside an array of civil service and government accountability rules in the name of “flexibility”. The DPE supported efforts by the AFGE and the IFPTE to stop the Rumsfeld proposal which the GOP House voted to include in H. R. 1588, the FY 2004 DoD reauthorization bill. As of this writing, Senate consideration of the plan is underway.
Over the past three years the DPE has supported the efforts of IFPTE and the AFGE to pass legislation that would inject a higher level of accountability into the federal government’s procedures for contracting out – privatizing–government work and contracts. To this end, the unions had endorsed in the 107th Congress legislation, the Truthfulness, Responsibility, and Accountability in Contracting (TRAC) Act, H.R. 721 and S. 1152 introduced by Rep. Albert Wynn (D-MD) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL). The legislation was designed to ensure that the business of the Federal government is conducted in the public interest and in a manner that provides for public accountability, efficient delivery of services, reasonable cost savings, and prevention of unwarranted government expenses. Specifically the legislation would:
- direct agencies to track costs and savings from contracting-out in order to encourage contractors to perform better work or bring work back in-house when it could be performed more efficiently by Federal employees.
- prevent agencies from contracting out work without public-private competition. Almost all of the $115 billion worth of work performed annually by contractors is acquired with no public-private competition.
- allow agencies to hire additional Federal employees if they could perform the work more efficiently.
- require agencies to subject work done by contractors to the same level of public-private competition as work performed by Federal employees.
- mandate the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Labor to compare the wages and benefits of Federal employees and then report back to Congress.
Efforts in 2001-02 to attach the TRAC proposal to pending legislation were unsuccessful. New legislation is expected to be re-introduced shortly.
COPYRIGHTS AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS
The DPE joined with the Copyright Assembly – an alliance of unions and trade associations concerned about intellectual property rights–to oppose several bills in 2002 that would undermine the Digital Millennium Copyright act (DCMA) by weakening copyright protections for actors, writers, musicians, recording artists athletes and others. Although the legislation died at the end of the 106th Congress new proposals have been introduced in 2003. DPE also signed on to views submitted by the International Intellectual Property Alliance opposing special trade benefits for the Andean nations of Bolivia, Columbia, Equador and Peru because of their refusal to provide effective protection, such as anti-piracy sanctions, for U.S. copyright holders.
In 2002 the DPE, working with several affiliates–including CWA, SEIU and AFSCME–led efforts to stop President Bush from eradicating a key worker training program under which several DPE affiliates are training grant recipients. Bush’s fy 2003 proposed federal budget proposed the total elimination of the H-1B training account that had been specifically established by Congress to train American workers for employment opportunities in occupational areas, such as high tech and health care, where alleged shortages of qualified U.S. workers allegedly exist. The training initiative originally grew out of Congressional action taken in both 1998 and 2000 to expand the H-1B guest worker programs. When it did so, Congress imposed on employers a “user” fee for each guest worker visa issued to them. Of the funds generated, 55% are allocated to the Department of Labor (DOL) for job training grants for technical skills training programs. The fee, which is now $1,000 per visa, can produce $100 to $200 million annually depending upon how many visas are issued. For fy 2003 the Administration’s sought to shift some $138 million out of the current H-1B visa-generated training account and dedicate it and all future funds to faster processing of permanent foreign labor certifications. As a result, over the next several years nearly a half billion dollars earmarked for training would instead be lavished on the alien labor certification program in order to speed employer access to still more foreign workers. At a time of record unemployment in the high tech industry, this action represented a complete abandonment of an essential bi-partisan program to train our workers for many of the higher-skilled jobs in the new American economy–skills that IT leaders insist they currently don’t have. the Bush plan dead in its tracks. With the help of Senators Tom Harkin (D-IO) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) the proposal was rejected by the Senate Appropriations Committee.