Democrats, Republicans Agree on 4 Top Concerns

Overtime rule now expected by July 4 recess

By Allen Smith, J.D. Mar 15, 2016
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Despite all the talk about how polarized the nation is politically, Democrats and Republicans agree that four issues are particularly important during this year’s presidential campaign, noted Michael Aitken, the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM’s) vice president of government affairs, speaking March 14 at SHRM’s Employment Law & Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.

Aitken also addressed the elephant in the room—the upcoming overtime regulations. The proposed rule recommended setting the salary threshold for exempt employees at $50,440 annually, up 113 percent from the current $23,660 annually. Aitken said the final rule may be out as early as late April, but that he expects it no later than the July 4 recess so that it will be out before the presidential nominating conventions.

The presidential election is “like getting a front-row seat to one of the toughest, longest job interviews in the world,” said Henry G. “Hank” Jackson, SHRM president and CEO. “As the candidates make the case for America to hire them, as HR professionals, we must pay attention.”

4 Top Issues

For members of both parties, four top issues are, according to a Feb. 1 Gallup poll:

  • Terrorism and national security.
  • The economy.
  • Employment and jobs.
  • Health care and the Affordable Care Act.

However, 92 percent of Republicans cited terrorism and national security and the economy as two issues of above-average importance. Only 82 of Democrats named terrorism as an above-average concern, and 85 percent of Democrats said the economy was an above-average concern.

Democrats’ No. 1 concern—with 88 percent naming it an above-average concern—is employment and jobs. Among Republicans, 80 percent said employment and jobs was a top concern.

As for health care and the Affordable Care Act, 83 percent of Democrats said it was a top concern; 75 percent of Republicans said the same.

Of course, what members of the different parties want to do about the top concerns is another matter entirely.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has created six “task forces to develop bold agenda for a confident America,” which includes a task force on health care reform, in order to be prepared to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act should Republicans win the White House and retain control of the Senate.

Battle for the Senate

The Senate will be more difficult for Republicans to keep control of than the House, as Democrats need to gain only five additional seats to effectively control that chamber. The Senate’s long-standing two independent members (Sens. Bernie Sanders, Vt., and Angus King, Maine) caucus with Democrats, Aitken noted. (This presumes that Sanders isn’t elected president; in the presidential race, Sanders calls himself a Democrat.)

In 2016, only 10 Democratic Senate seats will be up for grabs, compared to 24 Republican seats.

Aitken said that Republican senators who may be vulnerable this election include Kelly Ayotte, N.H.; Ron Johnson, Wis.; Mark Kirk, Ill.; and Pat Toomey, Pa.. There is also a seat left vacant by GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, Fla., who is running for president.

Paid Leave

One issue that is picking up steam for Democrats is paid family leave, Aitken noted. He said that if a Democrat is elected president it will be the “first issue advanced in the next Congress.”

Already, several states have enacted paid-sick-leave requirements, he noted, naming:

  • California.
  • Connecticut.
  • Massachusetts.
  • Oregon.
  • Vermont.

And some states, such as California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, have paid-family-leave insurance programs.

Paid leave has much support among the public. A June 3, 2015, New York Times survey showed 85 percent of Americans in favor of it.

Congress currently is considering the Healthy Families Act (HFA), which would require nearly all employers to provide employees with up to 56 hours of paid sick time in a calendar year. In addition, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act would provide partial wage replacement through a payroll tax for eligible Family and Medical Leave Act time off. Neither bill is likely to advance in the Republican-controlled Congress.

Rather than a one-size-fits-all government mandate, SHRM favors policy proposals that accommodate varying work environments, employee representation, industries and organizational size.

Bipartisan Support?

One issue that could gain bipartisan support, according to Aitken, is the Pregnancy Discrimination Amendment Act, which has been introduced by Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. It would amend the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to clarify that a pregnant employee temporarily unable to do her job must be treated the same as an employee who is also temporarily impaired to do a job. But the working conditions must be similar and both employees must work for the same employer.

Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMlegaleditor.

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