SHRM’s Kansas State Council Finds Political Voice, Clout

By Kathy Gurchiek Mar 15, 2012

A “get out the vote” campaign that built relationships and political clout with local and state officials in Kansas garnered a 2011 Pinnacle Award for the Kansas State Council of the Society for Human Resource Management (KS-SHRM).

KS-SHRM was among seven professional chapters and two state councils receiving the coveted 2011 award Nov. 18 during the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) 2011 Leadership Conference in Arlington, Va. Nearly 70 applicants vied for the annual award, which ADP Inc. sponsors. The council received $1,000, and state council directors received a diamond Pinnacle pin. Board members of each of the winning groups received replicas of the pin.

The KS-SHRM 2010 Election Committee was born when the council realized that volunteer efforts at the grassroots level on business issues such as immigration, workers’ compensation reform and unemployment underfunding weren’t capturing and keeping the attention of members of the state legislature, the council wrote in its application.

“It was very important for us to understand what the issues were, and we were seeing so many things fly under the radar at the state level,” said Chris Burger, MBA, SPHR, GPHR, and KS-SHRM’s legislative affairs director.

The council’s focus on having a voice in state legislation intensified when it realized that immigration-related legislation was coming before the state legislature, noted Burger, HR manager at NEW Customer Service Companies Inc.

“That is when we decided as a council we needed to hire a lobbyist to keep us in the game,” Burger explained in an e-mail.

Immigration was an issue in Kansas, she said, that would have impacted job creation “as a result of bad bills.” Among other things, it would have mandated E-Verify statewide. E-Verify is the federal government’s voluntary online system for employers to attempt to determine if job applicants are authorized to work in the U.S.

The council invited Michael Aitken, SHRM’s director of government affairs, to testify to the state’s legislative body against mandating E-Verify. “As a result of his testimony, and advocacy from SHRM members across the state, we were successful in defeating the legislation,” Burger recalled in an e-mail.

When the state’s immigration bill failed to pass, “we knew our voice was being heard,” Burger said. It became evident that the council needed to build relationships with the state’s legislators “so we are the go-to people from the HR standpoint,” she said.

Taking its cue from SHRM headquarters, which weighs in on national issues, “the idea for the 2010 Election Committee was born as a way to build clout with emerging legislative leaders and truly educate our members about the candidates’ positions on issues that would affect [HR professionals] and their business partners,” the council wrote in its Pinnacle application.

After all, Burger said, “we have to administer most of those laws that are coming through” the legislature.

Let’s Get Political

The state council created an 11-member task force. The task force recruited member volunteers from throughout the state to serve as the council’s liaisons with the council and lobbyist.

It produced a “Get Out the Vote” chapter activities guide that it distributed to every chapter, and it encouraged chapter presidents and their legislative affairs chairs to organize their own “Get Out the Vote” effort. Seven chapters statewide organized some sort of candidate event.

KS-SHRM invited candidates or their representatives to the state SHRM conference in September 2010 to meet attendees and distribute literature. A preliminary voter’s guide was distributed, and conference attendees were invited to complete a short poll.

It e-mailed Kansas SHRM members a one-stop-shop voting campaign resource and posted on the council’s website.

The voting resource included:

  • A survey of candidates on their positions on issues pertaining to key HR subject matter at the state level, including health care reform, unemployment, immigration and workforce readiness; the results were shared with chapter members.
  • A voter’s guide with comprehensive summaries on each candidate, judicial reviews for Kansas judges, and election finance information such as campaign and political action committee contributions.
  • Clarifications of constitutional amendments on the ballot.
  • A method for members to verify their voter registration, review ballot information and review their voting history.

“Not only should we know about the legislative issues, but we should get to know each of our delegations and have an impact on who gets put in these [elected] positions … so we can have a voice at the state level,” Burger said.

All of the work, which Burger called “education on steroids,” was accomplished with volunteer leaders and no budget. Work began in May 2010 in advance of the August primary and November general election, but Burger advised other councils considering a similar project to start by the first of the year.

After the election, notes of congratulation and conciliation were sent to all candidates, and KS-SHRM transformed its role to that of political advocacy.

Finding Their Voice

The impact of the council’s work includes political relationships the council forged and a change in employers’ perception of HR’s impact on business issues, according to Burger.

The state’s secretary of labor, Karin Brownlee, refers to herself as a friend of SHRM, has attended SHRM meetings across the state, attended Kansas SHRM’s 2012 Employment Law & Legislative Conference, and seeks input from Kansas SHRM members, Burger said.

“She’s been very receptive to our involvement, and that’s why she calls us her friend. It’s so important to have that political capital so we can be that voice of HR in the state of Kansas.”

The council continues to stay involved on issues relating to business.

Its website keeps chapter members updated on state issues and the work undertaken by its legislative committees, such as on state unemployment insurance. A blurb for that committee includes a link that provides:

  • Detailed information on pending legislation.
  • A link to research papers.
  • An HR “roadmap for reform.”
  • A request for members to review unemployment compensation and to make recommendations to be brought to the state legislature’s attention.
  • Contact information of the council member chairing that committee.

In conjunction with the fourth annual KS-SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference in 2011, 65 people attended the Senate Commerce Committee hearing of the proposed workers’ compensation legislation that KS-SHRM members helped draft. More than three dozen met with their senators and representatives to discuss Kansas SHRM issues.

The conference included a reception and dinner for the Senate Commerce Committee and House Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

Kansas SHRM members’ involvement in business-related legislation has impacted how employers view HR, Burger noted.

“All of these things have created great visibility,” Burger said of the council’s advocacy activities.

“Now employers are grateful to the HR professionals they hired for being advocates in this role, and they’re seeing an impact not only in their local business … [but also] statewide. There’s credibility across the board,” she said.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.


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