Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Time for a Cool Change

Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th U.S. President today, and what a ride it's been. To me, one of the most intriguing (and admirable) qualities of this man is how his pragmatism seems to defuse agendas.  In these past days, I've discussed this sea change in our national agenda with a number of friends, both Democrats and Republicans.  I find it very interesting that all but the most jaded Republicans -- who will never be happy with any Democratic President, regardless of what he is able to accomplish -- I've been speaking with acknowledge that Obama's still, cool waters run deep indeed, and that the fact that he is the best public speaker any of us has ever seen and a poster child for American intelligentsia does not, as previously alleged, imply a "Slick Willy-ness" beneath that impression.  Most see a good man with a good team seeking to reconcile a previously divided nation, and they are willing to give him a chance.

But the real surprise has been the number of those who ACTIVELY campaigned for and totally supported Obama and are now griping.  Everything from his decision to keep Gates as SOD to his nominees so far to his willingness to adjust his military agenda in accordance with what military leaders are telling him has been mentioned, and they all say the same thing: he promised one thing and now he's doing another. 

After his speech today -- what a speech, huh? -- I took my sons, Danny and Alex, out to lunch.  I wanted to spend some time with them today, and I probably sounded like an old codger when I explained to them why, to me, this day was so important not only for America, but for the world.  We had a lively conversation, and I told them to remember today because, one day, their grandkids will want to know about it.  Alex, my eldest (a junior at UF, my double alma mater), was in a hurry because he had his -- get this -- Korean History class at 1:50.  So we ate quickly, chatted more quickly, and Alex the sign-waving, mighty Democratic Reformer left me with a parting thought:  "Dad, I still support him fully but I would no longer call myself an Obama 'fan' ".

The reasons he said that were consistent with what most passionate Democrats are saying, the kind of stuff I mentioned above.  Basically, they want radical change and they want it now...but I am extremely glad that President Obama is, above all, a consensus-building reformer whose pragmatism dictates his actions.  We've had WAY too much of the opposite for eight years.

Yes, it is time for change.  BIG change.  But we have strayed so far from America's iconic role as THE global leader that an abrupt series of military, economic, immigration, etc. policy changes would turn this big tanker called the U.S. sideways with the momentum.  And going from upside down to sideways only causes more chaos, as we know from The Poseidon Adventure.  To continue with this analogy, it will take careful adjustments in the ballast to right this ship.  He who furiously lashes out against the quicksand is a goner, while he who studies his escape options has a fighting shot at freeing himself.

I believe that this dedication to understanding the facts is not only the OPPOSITE of inactivity, but the very essence of why this Chief Executive will excel in his new job.  Had this always been the case, we would not be at war, and the notion that carefully studying your options equals dilly-dallying is yesterday's tabloid news.  Reckless policy making has become standard in Washington, and knee-jerk responses to immigration enforcement, for example, have had devastating impact on both U.S. employers and working immigrants.  Grace under fire beats "damn the torpedoes", especially when everyone else has torpedoes, too.

It is indeed time for change, and since the election I've become a BIGGER fan of President Obama because under his leadership, it will be an intelligent, pragmatic change for the better.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Deciphering Obama's Views Toward Employer Compliance

Barack Obama has not yet been sworn in as President of the United States, but the past two months have revealed a great deal about his attitudes toward federal governance.  In fact, the histrionics emerging from the Republican camp during the final weeks before the election have made his pragmatic choices so far rather, well, boring.  So those on the left are complaining that he's doing too little to change the status quo while those on the right remain fearful of what happens when he takes office.  The only ones who seem to be winning in the guessing game are the gun dealers, who are selling a LOT of guns.

So what can we expect from Mr. Obama as far as corporate enforcement, compliance, prosecution of labor violations, etc?  Well, he hasn't said exactly,
but here is the complete, verbatim excerpt under the topic of "labor" from the new Administration's published economic agenda (Obama/Biden Labor Policy Comments )...you decide for yourself...


Obama and Biden will strengthen the ability of workers to organize
unions. He will fight for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.
Obama and Biden will ensure that his labor appointees support workers'
rights and will work to ban the permanent replacement of striking
workers. Obama and Biden will also increase the minimum wage and index
it to inflation to ensure it rises every year.

  • Ensure freedom to unionize: Obama and Biden
    believe that workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join
    a union without harassment or intimidation from their employers. Obama
    cosponsored and is a strong advocate for the Employee Free Choice Act
    (EFCA), a bipartisan effort that makes sure workers can exercise their
    right to organize. They will continue to fight for EFCA's passage and
    Obama will sign it into law.

  • Fight attacks on workers' right to organize: Obama
    has fought the Bush National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) efforts to
    strip workers of their right to organize. He is a cosponsor of
    legislation to overturn the NLRB's "Kentucky River" decisions
    classifying hundreds of thousands of nurses, construction workers, and
    professional workers as "supervisors" who are not protected by federal
    labor laws.

  • Protect striking workers: Obama and Biden support
    the right of workers to bargain collectively and strike if necessary.
    They will work to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers, so
    workers can stand up for themselves without worrying about losing their

  • Raise the minimum wage:
    Barack Obama and Joe Biden
    will raise the minimum wage, index it to inflation and increase the
    Earned Income Tax Credit to make sure that full-time workers earn a
    living wage that allows them to raise their families and pay for basic

I support Obama with enthusiasm, but even I recognize that the decision to address the topic in this fashion has Fortune 500 CEOs squirming and GCs sweating.  This official policy preamble, combined with the public outrage over the Wall Street/Detroit bailout efforts, leave little doubt that in the minds of both the majority of Americans AND in the Obama administration...the bad guys are the corporations.
So what can companies do to prepare?  Here's my short list of suggestions, based upon 20 years of witnessing the chaos of what we collectively describe as "federal corporate compliance":

  • Companies which have not already done so MUST initiate internal self-audits in the areas of I-9, SSN, EEO, and collective bargaining policy ASAP.  The warning shots have been fired by the "pro-business" Republicans for the last 4 years and as Tyson can tell you, some have not been warnings.  The Obama Administration is indebted to the egalitarian/"working man" population which led to its election and vilifying corporate America via strict enforcement will be their version of the Bush Administration's efforts to show how "tough on immigration" it was by separating families.

  • "Inventory" audits which merely bring things up to speed are worthless without the technological and operational tools to insure compliance becomes ingrained in the corporate culture.  Companies must not only invest in new technologies and compliance teams but their leadership needs to stop looking at compliance as a tangential pain in the neck and view it for what it has become...as critical to the bottom line as production of goods and services

  • States will be emboldened by tightened federal enforcement and national employers will need to keep tabs on the state laws most seem to ignore.

  • In an era of great change where virtually 100% of U.S. employers are unable to fully comply with the myriad federal laws affecting their workforce management, the watchwords for avoiding sanctions are "good faith".  Companies which move to comply and bend with the new administration's inevitable policy changes will be spared; those with their heads in the sand will see their heads roll.  Period.

Bottom line: my Nostradamus-like dire warnings for this past year seem to be validated by what is happening in Washington.  If your company is serious about meeting these challenges with the best compliance planning possible, contact Terry Madden at 1-8... or email me at jlatour@i9advantage.com. It's time to get busy, folks.