Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Alternatives to Card Check: What does your sausage look like?

While the Obama Administration has made 'Card Check' legislation a priority, the Congress appears to have other ideas.

Legislators have started to propose alternative approaches to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA; H.R.1409, S. 560) which are more likely to satisfy constituents on both the labor and management sides of the issue.

The National Labor Relations Modernization Act (H.R. 1355), introduced by Delaware County Congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA), would apply only to employers of 20 or more. It establishes a 120 day period (versus 90 under EFCA) within which the employer and employee can attempt to bargain collectively, after which the parties are referred to mediation or arbitration.

The NLRMA has other provisions which expand the rights of organizing employees, increase civil penalties for violations, and requires employers to outline for organizing employees the activities in which they intend to engage to oppose any unionizing campaign. Some of these may actually be more onerous on employers than the EFCA, but the bill does not abolish the secret ballot requirement, and therefore avoids the most controversial provision of EFCA.

Watching legislation pass is comparable to watching sausage being made; but it is clear that one way or another, this sausage is going to be made. It will be interesting to see how the final legislation that lands on the President’s desk will compare with the original EFCA language.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I Have a Feeling We're Not in Texas Anymore

According to the website DisabilityInfo.gov the Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against JPI Construction L.P. and six JPI-affiliated companies in U.S. District Court in Dallas for failing to provide accessible features required by the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act at multi-family housing developments in Texas and other states.

The defendant has allegedly built more than 200 apartment, condominium and other housing complexes in 26 states as well as the District of Columbia. According to the DOJ's press release, the suit seeks a court order requiring the defendants to modify the complexes to bring them into compliance with federal disability access laws. The suit also seeks monetary damages and a civil penalty.

It is well known that the Obama administration is going to make enforcement of civil rights, accessibility and employment laws a top priority, and signs of this have already appeared.

Most noteworthy, however, is that one of the first such strikes is in the heart of the very state where the former occupant of the Oval Office once ruled.

This announcement, especially when juxtaposed with the White House's recent announcement it intends to review Bush's 'signing statements,' makes it pretty clear that we're not in Texas anymore, Toto.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Stimulus Package includes substantial COBRA changes to benefit the recently unemployed

The Stimulus Package just signed into law by President Obama (a/k/a “The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” (ARRA) contains significant changes to the COBRA laws designed to provide temporary relief for those affected by the economic downturn. These changes are effective with the March 1, 2009 health insurance policy period.

Employers already subject to COBRA (i.e., more than twenty employees) must subsidize 65% of an eligible individual’s COBRA premiums for as many as nine months. Persons who are eligible for this assistance (“assistance eligible individuals”) are employees who have been involuntarily terminated for other than gross misconduct between September 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009.
and their qualified beneficiaries.

The employer subsidy becomes taxable to the AEI whose adjusted gross income exceeds $125,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married filing jointly and is waivable by 'high income individuals' with adjusted gross income of $145,000 filing individually or $290,000 filing jointly.

Employers paying the benefit will receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit against payroll taxes in the year in which the subsidy is paid. The subsidy is retroactive, and therefore, employers who are subject to these amendments will have to re-notice AEI’s, even if they have already made their COBRA elections since employment termination.

Employers are permitted but not required to offer lower-cost benefit coverage to AEI’s within ninety days of the COBRA notice date, and allow such individuals to switch to such benefits to reduce costs.

For further information, see here and the entire text of ARRA is available here.