7 People Who Will Bring Change to HR in 2009

Prepare for a Shock

These seven appointments by President Barack Obama are going to have a huge impact on practitioners in HR in 2009 and beyond.

Forget all the talk about what HR professionals need to do to make themselves more effective, and how our function needs to change itself in order to get a seat at the table.

There is a small group of people working outside the HR profession who are about to have a profound impact upon every HR professional working in the United States today.

You need to know who they are.

You need to know why these appointments matter.

You need to know what they will impact.

The Wh

Secretary of Labor
Hilda Solis was confirmed on February 24, 2009. Prior to confirmation, Solis represented the 32nd Congressional District in California from 2001 – 2009.

In Congress, Solis’ priorities included affordable health care, protecting the environment, improving the lives of working families., and the Green Jobs Act which provided funding for “green” collar job training for veterans, displaced workers, at risk youth, and individuals. She was also a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act in 2007, and served on the Board of American Rights at Work, a pro-labor union organization.

Mary Beth Maxwell, currently the executive director of American Rights at Work and a strong advocate for the Employee Free Choice Act, has been named a senior adviser to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. She will also act as an adviser and member of Vice President Joe Biden’s Middle Class Task Force.

Craig Becker and Mark Pearce, both having close ties to organized labor have been nominated to the National Labor Relations Board by President Obama.

Mr. Becker currently serves as Associate General Counsel to both the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of Labor & Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Mr. Pearce is a founding partner at Creighton, Pearce Johnson & Giroux and serves on the New York Industrial Board of Appeals, a labor-law oversight body. Pearce has taught several courses in the labor studies program at Cornell University’s School of Industrial Labor Relations Extension. He is a Fellow in the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers. Prior to 2002, Pearce practiced union side labor law and employment law at Lipsitz, Green, Fahringer, Roll, Salisbury & Cambria LLP.

Becker, Pearce, and Wilma Liebman, the newly designated Chair of the National Labor Relations Board will comprise a board dominated by Democrats, as well as much more sympathetic to labor unions.

Seth Harris has been named Deputy Labor Secretary by President Obama. Harris is a law professor active in the area of disability. He previously served in the Department of Labor in the Clinton administration.

President Obama has also named Jordan Barab as Deputy Assistant Secretary for OSHA and Acting Assistant Secretary. Barab served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Director of Labor for OSHA from 1998 to 2001, and directed the safety and health program for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees from 1982 to 1998. From 2003 to 2007, he is also the creator and author of the award-winning weblog, Confined Space.

The Why

Legislation is not the only means to enact significant reforms in existing labor policy. Much attention is currently being focused on the possible passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

In something very much like the "sleight of hand" tricks utilized by magicians to create their illusions, we are being distracted by EFCA while the infrastructure for much greater change is being assembled quietly behind the stage curtains at the White House.

Labor policy IS going to shift whether EFCA passes or not. Each of the people named above and the agencies they head have significant power when it comes to establishing labor policies, promulgating new regulations, rendering decisions on case law, or issuing executive orders. President Obama has begun the process with his extensive appointment of union-friendly agency heads, and their subordinates. I expect Hilda Solis to work closely with organized labor to expand the reach of power of unions. We have seen one such move already – when the DOL relaxed the reporting requirement s on union expenditures.

A Democrat controlled National Labor Relations Board will result in the inevitable change to many of the pro-business decisions issued by the Bush NLRB during the past eight years. The new chair of the NLRB has indicated her strong support of EFCA and other labor reforms as well.

The What

Changes seen may include:

  • Union organizing - we are likely to see shorter election periods, access to employer premises, and possibly, some sort of arbitration.
  • Redefining the meaning of a “supervisor” under the NLRA.
  • NLRB rulings – on email access, neutrality/card check agreements, and many others.
  • Increased penalties for employer unfair labor practice violations.
  • Targeted enforcement in safety, employment, and wage and hour laws.

Bottom line for HR professionals: Your world is going to change one way or the other. Get ready!

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