This presidential election has HR executives quaking in their boots.
Regardless of which party wins the White House, there will likely be an onslaught of legislation that could have a profound impact on HR — from unions to sick leave to ergonomics.
If the Democrats pick up seats in the House and Senate, as expected, a Republican administration might have difficulty stemming the tide, a variety of policy experts say. And if Barack Obama is elected president, human resource leaders could see more new workplace regulations than at any time in the last two decades.
“2009 will be the year of living dangerously for HR executives,” says Larry Lorber, a Washington-based employment-law attorney with Proskauer Rose and chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Equal Employment Opportunity Committee. “The Democrats are teeing up all these bills. There’s pent-up demand.”
Says John Sullivan, a management professor at San Francisco State University, “This could be the biggest change for HR since the Reagan administration.”
Healthcare and immigration remain major issues for HR, though policy experts say it’s not clear exactly what impact the upcoming elections might have in those areas. McCain and Obama have relatively similar approaches to immigration reform. And each candidate has put forth healthcare proposals that could be both good and bad for corporate America.
“There are no clear-cut friends or foes on healthcare,” says Dan Yager, senior vice president and general counsel of the HR Policy Association in Washington, a group of senior-level HR leaders.
One issue in the presidential race is much clearer, and looms far above all the others for HR — the Employee Free Choice Act, known as EFCA.
“It’s the big daddy of them all,” says Lorber.
EFCA would allow workers to join a union — without a secret-ballot election — if more than half of any bargaining unit sign union-authorization cards. Business groups contend employees, even ones who oppose a union, would be pressured by labor organizers and co-workers into signing authorization cards. Without a secret-ballot election, those workers would have no opportunity later to vote against the union.
EFCA opponents say that one-two punch — the pressure to sign and the lack of a vote — would lead to an explosion of unionization.
Also extremely troubling for business groups is a provision in EFCA that says when the employer and the union can’t agree on a contract within 90 days, either party can ask for federal mediation — which could lead to binding arbitration. Employers fear such “first-contract arbitration” would take away a great deal of their flexibility in employment decisions, and make them less competitive and profitable.