President Obama Shows His Cards

HR Roundtable panel member Bill Pinto analyzes recent moves by President Obama that will have an impact upon both the work force and HR professionals:

Recently, President Obama signed three Executive Orders and put to rest any questions about his views on the employee-employer relationship. The Executive Orders apply only to certain federal contractors, but they should also put HR professionals on notice concerning the direction the administration intends to take over the next 4 or 8 years.

Executive Order No. 13494 is called “Economy in Government Contracting” and limits how contractors can spend federal dollars. Specifically, the order prohibits federal contractors from spending monies on any efforts to persuade employees about bargaining collectively or not bargaining collectively. In effect, if a union wanted to organize a group of employees at a federal contractor, the Executive Order prohibits that contractor from using those monies to respond to the unionís arguments in support of unionization.

Executive Order No. 13496, called “Notification of Employee Rights Under Federal Labor Laws,” requires federal contractors and their subcontractors to post a notice regarding employees’ rights under the Federal labor law. This notice requirement is similar to other notices mandated by federal or state law that employers post in the workplace. However, the order also revokes President Bush’s Executive Order No. 13201 which required contractors to post a notice regarding an employee’s right not to join a union and not to pay agency fees for non-representational union expenses.

Finally, Executive Order No. 13502, called “Use of Project Labor Agreements for Federal Construction Projects,” encourages the use of project labor agreements (PLAs) on federal construction projects with a total cost of $25 million or more. PLAs are like collective bargaining agreements that a union might have with a company, but a PLA applies only to a specific project and encompasses all of the employees on the project and their respective employers. Although the order does not explicitly require the use of PLAs on these projects, it does include language that agencies can use to require PLAs “where use of such an agreement will … advance the Federal Government’s interest in achieving economy and efficiency in Federal procurement.” Further, this order revokes President Bush’s Executive Order Nos. 13202 and 13208 which expressly prohibited requiring the use of PLAs or eliminating contractors who refused to agree to union-only PLAs.

It is not necessary to view these new Executive Orders through a political prism to see which group they are intended to assist. Indeed, the President stated that the orders are intended to “level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests.” Even if your organization is not a federal contractor, HR professionals should be aware that the President is on the side of labor. And these are not the last attempts by the administration to “level the playing field.” The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which is designed to make it easier for employees to unionize their workplaces, is working its way through Congress, and the President has expressed his agreement with the legislation.

How can HR professionals moot the need for any additional intervention from the President or Congress? Are these Executive Orders good for workers? Good for business in light of the current economy? Are there additional laws that Congress should pass to help employees?

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