Labor: Business Battles Progressive Agenda
For years, a progressive majority has driven the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee’s agenda, forcing Connecticut’s business community to spend much of its time fighting new anti-business mandates.
The 2016 legislative session proved no different, with much of the business community’s success measured by what didn’t happen.
CBIA, often working with other groups, blocked all but one new mandate on businesses (where we went down swinging), while gaining several small victories.
Key Bills Blocked
SB 40 removed the right of certain employers to conduct credit checks on prospective employees.
It would have prevented some small businesses, like a jewelry store for example, from screening employees with access to valuable merchandise.
CBIA managed to dilute the bill in the Senate and stop it outright in the House.
SB 221 imposed a new paid family and medical leave mandate on businesses with two or more employees.
Employees would be eligible for up to 12 weeks of leave each year, at 100% of their pay in many cases, to deal with their own or a family member’s illness.
Although the wage benefit of the program would be funded by a deduction on employee wages, the business community stopped the measure by illustrating how cost projections made by advocates showed massive startup and ongoing costs to the state.
SB 223 allowed the labor commissioner to place a lien on an employer’s property during wage disputes. This bill was stopped in the Judiciary Committee.
SB 391 originally imposed a tax of up to $1 per hour worked by any employee making less than $15 per hour at a business with 500 or more employees, or at certain franchise businesses where all franchise owners in the state collectively have 500 or more employees.
Later, the language of this bill was stricken, and replaced with language that increased the minimum wage to $12 per hour by the year 2020.
CBIA and its allies stopped it in both forms.
HB 5371 guaranteed that janitors working in certain sized offices buildings receive a 30 hour workweek, regardless of whether the person employing them or contracting for their services needed them.
CBIA, often working with other groups, blocked all but one new mandate on businesses, with several small victories.
The bill was abandoned after the business community pointed out that this was a union's effort to eliminate part-time members in exchange for more full time members.
HB 5402 allowed employees to make whistle blowing complaints directly to a supervisor or manager at a business rather than to a public official.
Once a whistleblower claim is made, whether verbally or in writing, that employee is shielded from any disciplinary action by the employer.
Had this bill not been stopped by CBIA, employers could be prevented from ever taking disciplinary action against an employee without the risk of that employee claiming they were being retaliated against for a verbal claim they never made.
SB 262, which passed, requires businesses with 75 or more employees to allow family members of deployed veterans to take 16 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave rather than the 12 weeks allowed under federal law.
The pro-business HB 5367 made some of the same unemployment benefit reforms neighboring states use to promote the solvency of the Unemployment Trust Fund for future workers.
The bill received only seven no votes in the House of Representatives, but died on the Senate calendar.
The labor department lobbied against this bill, claiming it did not want to "lose negotiating position" in its effort to push for higher unemployment taxes next year.
In its original form, HB 5237 prohibited employers from asking about a prospective employee's criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment was made.
Further, certain felonies couldn't even be considered if the applicant committed them more than 10 years ago.
CBIA pushed advocates to understand the incredible burden businesses face to create a safe workplace for employees.
Ultimately, revisions to the bill required employers to remove the check box on job applications regarding criminal histories—unless state or federal law prohibits someone with a criminal background from being hired.
Further, once the interview process has begun, any employer can continue to use criminal background checks.
HB 5591 requires businesses with five or more employees to automatically enroll any full or part time employee not eligible for an employer sponsored plan into a pre-approved plan offered on a newly created state retirement exchange.
Employers will not be required to contribute to the plan, but will be forced to incur the cost and time needed to enroll employees and set up employee payroll deductions.
The business community tirelessly fought an uphill battle to stop this measure, and forced the Lieutenant Governor, Nancy Wyman, to cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate—a procedure done so rarely she needed to review the rules before making her vote.
CBIA called for a veto of the bill, as it imposes a variety of new time-consuming and costly administrative tasks on business.
Governor Dannel Malloy also threatened to veto the bill, but the changes he requested in order to prevent its veto were enacted in the special session.
CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan sent a letter to the Governor May 13 asking him to veto the bill as it "unnecessarily imposes a variety of new time-consuming and costly administrative tasks on business."
The passage of HB 5261 clarified that referees and coaches of youth athletic events are independent contractors absent an agreement to the contrary.
Approval of SB 211 now allows employers to give employees the choice of receiving their wages via a payroll card.
This new option helps employers save money on payroll processing costs.
Lawmakers are beginning to accept that the state cannot attract new businesses and grow the economy unless changes are made.
Unfortunately, that message has not yet been embraced by the progressive members of the majority—many of whom support these anti-business labor bills.
For more information, contact CBIA’s Eric Gjede (860.244.1931) | @egjede
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