Alexandria, Va. -- Following the President's State of the Union address, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) called upon the Bush administration and Congress to work together to fulfill their commitment to the American workforce by taking immediate action to ensure the United States has the capability to compete in the global marketplace, create jobs and provide a fair, flexible workplace.
"The promise of job-training grants is a positive investment in the future advancement of thousands of Americans in the workplace," says Susan R. Meisinger, SPHR, president and CEO of SHRM. "However, addressing the health care insurance crisis, making changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act, and bringing clarity to the Family and Medical Leave Act are the actions that will provide the most benefit to today's employees."
In a recent SHRM survey, HR professionals were asked to prioritize a list of important workplace-related issues they wanted the President to discuss in the State of the Union Speech. Health care topped the list at 52.8 percent, followed by the ability to compete in a global economy (19.9 percent); employment-based immigration (9.7 percent); social security (8.5 percent); and pension issues (1.7 percent).
It is with these and other workplace issues in mind that several SHRM members, who are HR executives at leading organizations across the country, watched this evening's address with great interest. Several were encouraged by the President's proposed 'Jobs for the 21st Century' and the 'Prisoner Reentry Program' as possible avenues for expanding America's pool of trained workers.
"For the first time ever, the United States finds itself threatened on multiple fronts in terms of the quality, affordability and competitive edge of its workers," remarked Steve Miranda, a human resources VP for a large high- tech firm. "How we respond as a nation and as individual employers will very likely determine the United States' role in the global stage -- both today and for a long time hereafter."
In regards to the President's focus on health care, Walter Grubbs, VP of Human Resources, VSP (Vision Service Plan) observed, "The rising cost of health care is a national crisis that impacts both employers and the workforce. There is no simple solution, and improvements will undoubtedly have to come through a combination of strategies."
"We've seen a sincere willingness by the administration to work positively with both employers and employees, but a lot remains to be done" Meisinger added. "We encourage the President and Congress to use this year filled with campaign promises to demonstrate needed changes for the American workforce."
SHRM specifically urged action this year on the following workforce issues:
- Allow the Department of Labor to Finalize Proposed FLSA Reform – The white-collar exemptions of the Fair Labor Standards Act govern who is, and who is not, exempt for overtime pay under the law. The current regulations are outdated, unclear and ambiguous. The regulations should be updated to offer proper guidance to enable HR professionals and their employers to correctly implement this wage law, for the benefit of workers.
- Address the Health Care Crisis -- In the administration of benefits, HR professionals believe that reforms should be based on a model that has built-in incentives to balance both quality and cost efficiencies. As part of efforts to control rising costs, both payers and patients must be informed consumers of health care.
- Facilitate the Growth of Employer-Sponsored Pension Plans -- HR professionals believe that individuals should have the primary responsibility for providing for their own retirement income. The government should facilitate the financial planning needs of American workers and their families, including voluntary employer education programs. The government should also facilitate the existence and growth of employer-sponsored programs by providing consistent tax incentives, tools to help them correctly determine their current and future liabilities to defined benefit plans, and simplified regulations that encourage employers to provide retirement benefits.
Address Retiree Health Benefits and the ADEA -- SHRM urges the EEOC to reverse its prior guidance stating that the reduction or end of retiree health benefits for retirees who become eligible for Medicare conflicts with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The EEOC should issue new guidance that would allow employers to provide employees with affordable health care when they leave the work place, while containing overall health care costs.