While IEC continues to monitor legislative developments across a broad spectrum of issues, several key issues stand out as immediate priorities on which we are focusing our current advocacy efforts and will serve as the cornerstones of IEC’s 2014 National Legislative Conference.
NLRB “Ambush Elections” Rule
On February 5, 2014, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) reintroduced previously proposed changes to representation-case procedures -- commonly referred to as the "ambush elections" rule -- which will dramatically shorten the election window during union organizing campaigns from the median of 38 days to as few as 10 days. This proposed change to election procedures would leave employers almost no time to speak with their employees about the impact of unionization on their workplace and benefits, and cuts the time workers have to review all of the facts and make an informed decision about their representation. The rule would also force employers to turn over confidential information about employees to union organizers such as e-mail addresses and telephone numbers. IEC supports H.R. 4320 and S. 2178, the “Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act”, and H.R. 4321, “The Employee Privacy Protection Act”, to roll back the NLRB’s damaging proposal.
Promoting Registered Apprenticeship
IEC strongly supports the expansion of registered apprenticeship opportunities to foster the knowledge, technical skills, and practical experience necessary to succeed in today’s electrical trade. The “Leveraging and Energizing America’s Apprenticeship Programs (LEAP)” Act would create a Federal tax credit for employers hiring new apprentices who are registered with the Department of Labor or a state apprenticeship agency, such as those participating in IEC’s apprenticeship program. The credit would be $1,500 for each new apprentice hired who is under the age of 25 and $1,000 for apprentices older than 25. Employers could take advantage of the tax credit for up to two years for each new apprentice with no limitation on the number of apprentices.
Another bill, the “Skills Gap Strategy Act” (S.1619) would help employers identify, train, and hire workers with skills to fill these highly technical job openings for which there are not enough qualified candidates. The bill would direct the Department of Labor to develop a strategy to close the “skills gap” that involves assessing existing resources, programs, and personnel and identifying best practices to be expanded as well as new opportunities for program growth and worker recruitment. DOL would be required to develop recommendations to better align career and technical education curriculums with in-demand occupations in industries such as construction, encourage pre-apprenticeship and college credit courses in secondary schools, and improve partnerships between educational institutions and employers and industry associations such as IEC. IEC strongly supports S. 2234 and S. 1619 as part of a much-needed effort to address the growing shortage of workers for highly skilled jobs in our nation’s construction sector.
Workforce Development Funding and Reform
IEC supports reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which provides funding and assistance that are integral to the education and training of the next generation of highly skilled electrical and systems contractors.
On July 22, 2014, President Obama signed the bipartisan, bicameral Workforce Opportunity and Innovation Act (WIOA) to reauthorize WIA for six years through 2020. WIOA modernizes the system of delivery and administration of funding and programs to improve reporting and administration; establishes important performance measures for programs authorized under the bill; eliminates several redundant or ineffective training programs; and ensures a business majority and chairmanship of state and local workforce investment boards.
Most importantly, WIOA places greater emphasis on targeted training programs that will help place job seekers on specific career tracks and includes an increased focus on the attainment of industry-recognized certificates and credentials linked to in-demand occupations, which are critical to skilled trades such as electrical contracting. WIOA will allow programs that train workers for skilled jobs in the construction sector, including those run by many IEC chapters across the US, greater access to federal funding.
Click here to visit IEC’s workforce investment page to learn how employers and associations can engage more actively in the workforce training system under WIOA.
Emphasizing Career and Technical Education in Schools
IEC believes that promoting a greater emphasis on career and technical education is integral to improving the skills-building and training offered at the high school level. Far too many students are leaving high school without basic STEM education, life skills, and employability training. Our educational system has become so focused on steering students towards college that high schools have excluded teaching the basic skills necessary for life and for any occupation. Parents, teachers, and advisors need to make students aware of all career options available to them, recognizing that students will likely hold multiple jobs over their working career and will need to pursue lifelong learning.
At the same time, high schools have cut funding to labs, workshops, and applied learning programs -- largely due to budget constraints and insufficient CTE funding. Students are therefore leaving school with limited mechanical ability or the technical skills necessary to pursue many successful careers.
Reauthorization of the Perkins Act and increased appropriations for career and technical education programs in schools is undoubtedly integral to improving the skills-building and training offered at the high school level. While no such reauthorization legislation has been introduced this Congress, IEC is working with House and Senate leaders to promote the expansion of pre-apprenticeship and a greater emphasis on industry partnerships in any legislation.
In order to build the skills and the workforce that our industry needs, IEC believes that sustaining both Perkins and Workforce Investment Act (WIA) funding is necessary. Support for one should not be to the exclusion of the other.