— Posts About Congress

Recess Appointments Made to NLRB

President Obama this past week appointed three members to the National Labor Relations Board.  They include Sharon Block, who most recently served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional Affairs with the US Department of Labor; Terence Flynn, who was Chief Counsel to current NLRB Board Member Brian Hayes, and; Richard Griffin, formerly General Counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers.  More information on the new members of the Board may be found here and here.  The members were sworn in on Monday.  President Obama needed to appoint these members by recess appointment in order to keep the NLRB properly functioning.

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NLRB to Speed up Unionizing Elections

On December 21, The National Labor Relations Board voted 2-1 in favor of new steps to increase the speed of union elections.  The Board hopes to keep election and campaign time to less than 21 days.  Often, there are long delays to unionizing elections because of legal challenges brought by the employer.  The Board wants to require that these challenges be postponed until after the employees have voted for or against the union.  These changes were first proposed in June and the NLRB held public hearings and reviewed thousands of public comments.  The new rules will likely be challenged by employers in court.  More coverage here.

This was the Board’s last major policy decision before it lost one member, which leaves it without a quorum to act.  President Obama has nominated Sharon Block and Richard Griffin to the Board.  Ms. Block is currently deputy assistant secretary of Congressional affairs with the Labor Department.  Mr. Griffin has served on the board of the AFL-CIO Lawyers Coordinating Committee since 1994 and is general counsel to the International Union of Operating Engineers.  Republicans may well block these nominations in an effort to prevent the Board from functioning at all.  More coverage here.

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Congress Extends Unemployment Benefits for Two Months

Shortly before Christmas, House Republicans finally gave in and sensibly agreed to the two-month extension for extended unemployment benefits.  When Congress returns after recess, debate will resume on whether to further continue the vitally needed unemployment insurance programs.  For more information on North Carolina’s Extended and Emergency Unemployment benefits, see the Division of Employment Security’s site, here.

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Republicans Still Blocking Extended Unemployment Benefits

The House and Senate still have not come to an agreement on extending unemployment benefits for jobless workers.  The federal unemployment provisions for emergency and extended benefits are set to expire during the first week in January.  The U.S.  Labor Department estimates that 3.6 million jobless Americans will lose benefits by March if nothing is done to extend the federal program.  Currently the states finance up to 26 weeks of jobless benefits with the federal government adding up to 73 weeks of benefits, totaling 99 weeks of possible unemployment benefits.  The average unemployed workers is out of work for 41 weeks.  Republicans in Congress seek to reduce the maximum total number of weeks to 59, add unreasonable eligibility requirements, and implement pervasive drug-testing of all unemployed workers.  All of these proposals further prevent economic recovery, undermine the spirit of the unemployment system, and essentially tar the unemployed as drug addicts.  Republican obstructionism and inaction has reached a critical point, and without action on these issues the nation will face even greater hardship than the Great Recession has already inflicted.  More coverage here.

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Federal Unemployment Benefits Should be Renewed

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) published an excellent paper in October, arguing for a one-year extension of the Federal Unemployment Insurance benefits for unemployed workers.  The paper is entitled “Hanging On By a Thread: Renew Federal Unemployment Insurance to Aid Families, Boost Stalled Economy

The paper states: “Unless Congress reauthorizes the current federal extension programs before the December 31st deadline, millions of workers and their families will be left without their primary means of support to buy food, pay the rent or mortgage, and cover their other most basic necessities.”

NELP’s paper also argues that extending benefits will help families as well as give the economy a leg up:  “Consistent with the prior research, [Wayne Vroman of the Urban Institute] found that the nation’s economy grew by $2 for every dollar spent on unemployment insurance during the latest recession, as unemployed workers spent their benefits in their communities at grocery stores, gas stations, and other retailers and service providers.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid has vowed to keep Congress in session in D.C. until federal unemployment benefits are renewed for the coming year, even if they have to work through the holidays to do so.

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President Obama Signs Jobs Bill Helping Veterans

President Obama this week signed into law the first portion of his jobs package. The bill, H.R. 674, which had vast bipartisan support, also known as VOW to Hire Heroes Act, creates tax incentives for companies to hire veterans, especially those who have been unemployed for more than six months and those with service connected disabilities.  Though there has been very little action from Congress on the jobs front, this is an encouraging first step.  Hopefully the House and Senate can get their act together and start really helping unemployed workers secure employment, and in doing so jump-start the economy.  More on the bill here.

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Hank Attends Congressional Hearing on Workers’ Compensation

Last month, Hank Patterson attended a Congressional hearing held by the Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee, which examined state workers’ compensations systems.  The participants at the hearing discussed that “workers’ compensation systems have undergone numerous changes in the past decade as many states have begun strictly limiting workers’ compensation benefits – changes that may be stressing the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. Additionally, the American Medical Association’s (AMA) guide to assessing injured workers has undergone significant changes in its latest edition, which has made consequential changes to injured workers’ evaluation procedure.”  See the committee site for details, as well as the comprehensive opening statement by Representative Lynn Woolsey.

Hank behind witness John Burton

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Millions to Lose Unemployment Benefits, Even if Extension Passes; New Course of Action Needed

Even if Congress manages to extend emergency unemployment benefits for more the millions of workers who could receive them, about four million others will see their benefits end over the next year, unless an entirely new program is created.  This is according to a report recently issued by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.  So, the crisis facing some now is going to be experienced by even more later, unless serious job-creating actions are taken.

You would think that the latest, terrible monthly jobs report would convince those in power that the Great Recession continues unabated, doing terrible damage to working families.  Those unemployed for long periods face especially long odds of finding work in today’s economy.  And, even for those with good jobs, wages are continuing to be cut as even profitable employers take advantage of the ongoing crisis for workers.

Misguided worries about the budget deficit are allowing Republicans and the Deficit Commission to pursue Social-Security-cutting, Medicare-slashing, job-destroying agenda instead of a program that can end the Great Recession and put people back to work.  A new course of action is needed, and responsible policy options are out there.  For instance, check out the program set out by Our Fiscal Security, a collaborative effort of Demos, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), and The Century Foundation (TCF).

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Extended Unemployment Blocked by Republicans Again

Extended unemployment benefits — providing for up to 99 weeks of benefits — have expired again because of Republican obstruction.  Up to 2 million long-term job-seekers could lose their benefits by the end of the year.  Coverage can be found here.  Once again, Republicans oppose helping the unemployed in the name of the budget deficit, even as they stop all other business to protect tax cuts for the very wealthy.

Hopefully their obstruction can be overcome some time this month so that benefits do not lapse for long.  For the latest on benefits in North Carolina, look for information at the North Carolina Employment Security Commission.

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Congress Provides Funds to Save Teacher Jobs

Last week, the Senate finally passed the $26 billion package to aid states that are still reeling from the effects of the recession.  The legislation provides $10 billion to retain teachers who might otherwise lose jobs to cutbacks, and an additional $16 billion to help states with rising health care costs.  The bill was quickly passed by the House and signed by President Obama.

Of that amount, North Carolina received about $300 million to save teachers’ jobs.  North Carolina leaders are now figuring out when and how to use the money.  Obviously, one possibility would be to use some of the funds to re-hire teachers and teaching assistants who were recently laid off due to budget cuts.  Also, some amount may be saved till next year, when the state’s deficit will reach its highest level.

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