Government Affairs prepares for delegate lobbying efforts
WITH THE 20014 LEAP conference scheduled for April 28-May 1, the Department of Government Affairs has been busy analyzing legislative and policy developments in the nation’s capitol. As the conference nears, DGA will focus on four of the most important issues impacting Boilermakers and their families. These issues will then be discussed at the conference so delegates are armed with the facts before lobbying Congress. Summaries of the issues, along with the union’s position on each will be printed and will also be posted to the department’s website for all members to see.
As reported by Legislative Director Cecile Conroy, the issues listed below were under consideration at press time.
- Energy: A handful of energy bills will be introduced in 2014, including ones that will attempt to restrict EPA regulations, streamlining permitting for energy projects, and likely another attempt to pass coal ash legislation.
- Trade: We are still waiting to see if Congress tries to pass a renewal of “fast track” trade promotion authority in advance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (NAFTA on steroids) being finalized by the administration. We will most certainly lobby against the TPP, but if the recently introduced fast track bill has not been passed by the end of April, it will be our main focus. We do not want Congress to give up their authority of oversight on trade deals, which is what fast track would do. No hearings, no oversight. Just an up or down vote on a trade agreement that neither Congress nor the American public has seen.
- Ship Building: We remain committed to supporting the Jones Act and will be firm in our opposition against it becoming a possible bargaining chip with upcoming trade deals. We also support a recommitment to loan guarantees. As for defense spending, we will have to see what is agreed to with the upcoming two-year budget. Unfortunately, with sequestration, the budget for naval ships is not nearly as robust as it needs to be, and the budget agreement reached in December 2013 only gave a modest increase to the Pentagon. We will see shortly what has been appropriated for naval ship construction.
- Pension Reform: With the Pension Protection Act of 2006 expiring at the end of this year, some in and out of Congress have floated ideas about pension reform with respect to multi-employer pensions, or Taft-Hartley plans. If any such legislation is introduced before LEAP, we will address it specifically. If not, we may consider a fact sheet that lays out what we might or might not support with respect to multi-employer pension reform and issues related to the underfunding of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp (PBGC). We may also include issues related to single-employer pensions, if necessary.
- Affordable Care Act (ACA): We remain concerned about the impact on our health care plan(s) by a few parts of the ACA. Labor unions continue to press Congress and the administration to reconsider certain taxes that we believe should not be applied to Taft-Hartley or self-funded health insurance plans. We came close to getting temporary relief with the negotiations that re-opened the government in October, but unfortunately, certain Republicans were able to get that provision removed. We will actively monitor how this issue is handled in Congress over the next several months.
- Unemployment Insurance: Providing additional assistance for the long-term unemployed has been in the news daily since Congress left for holiday recess without an extension, leaving 1.3 million Americans with no UI benefits as of Dec. 28, 2013. Another 1.9 million will lose benefits in six months if nothing is done. Sadly, an effort to extend benefits for three months failed in the Senate Feb. 6, falling one vote short of the 60 needed to defeat a probable Republican filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has vowed to continue fighting for the extension.
- Immigration Reform: While we spent a lot of time on comprehensive immigration reform last year, it appears major reform is not likely, at least this year and instead, Congress may use a “piecemeal” approach. At this time, we will not include immigration reform unless legislation is proposed that is completely unacceptable to us, for example, broadening temporary visa programs, especially in construction, that would severely undercut American jobs in favor of cheaper immigrant labor with no wage or labor protections.
Conroy noted that suggestions for other main issues are always welcomed; how-ever, issues specific to a local lodge are not suitable as a lobbying topic for the entire conference. She said local issues are best presented by the particular lodge or lodges affected when they meet with their members of Congress.