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2012 Elections 
 

Presidential Debates Highlight HR Issues 
10/26/2012  Eric Reath, SHRM Government Affairs Intern 
 
 

As the presidential election heads into the final stretch, Americans have been treated to three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate. During these debates, issues important to human resource professionals were center stage. Here is what the candidates had to say on: the skills gap, pay equity, and immigration reform. 

Tackling the Skills Gap

During the first presidential candidate debate on October 3rd, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney addressed the skills gap issue.
 
“We’ve got to invest in education and training,” President Obama said during his introduction.

Governor Romney followed by saying, “[of his economic plan] Number three, make sure our people have the skills they need to succeed and the best schools in the world.”

According to Governor Romney, “Our training programs right now, we've got 47 of them, housed in the federal government, reporting to eight different agencies. Overhead is overwhelming. We've got to get those dollars back to the states and go to the workers so they can create their own pathways to get in the training they need for jobs that will really help them.”

President Obama, also generally agrees with a localized approach with an emphasis on partnerships with community colleges.

“When it comes to community colleges, we are seeing great work done out there all over the country because we have the opportunity to train people for jobs that exist right now.” President Obama said.

One tool utilized by employers to ensure their workforce stays globally competitive is employer provided education assistance. This valuable benefit available to employers under Internal Revenue Code Section 127, will expire on December 31, 2012, unless Congress takes steps to extend it.

As the co-chair of the Coalition to Protect Employer Provided Education Assistance (CPEPEA), SHRM is advocating to extend Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code. This section allows for an employee to exclude up to $5,250 of income, in the form of employer-provided tuition assistance, per year for undergraduate and graduate study. (Read more on Section 127 HERE).

When Congress returns to session on November 13th after the election, Section 127 will be among a number of expiring tax provisions discussed for renewal.

Compensation Equity

During the town hall debate October 16th, an audience member asked the candidates about the issues of compensation equity.

President Obama responded by discussing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which was a legislative response to Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. This bill was the first piece of legislation signed by the President.

The president explained: “women are increasingly the breadwinners in the family. This is not just a women's issue, this is a family issue, this is a middle-class issue, and that's why we've got to fight for it.”

SHRM strongly supports equal pay and the two existing federal laws – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 – that protect employees from gender-based pay discrimination.  However, SHRM opposed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act because the legislation eliminated the previous statute of limitations for when employees can file compensation discrimination claims against their employer. As a result of the Ledbetter Act, employers now must retain their employee compensation documents forever in order to protect against litigation that could come decades after an employee worked at an organization. Furthermore, the law allows individuals, such as dependents or parents, who are indirectly “affected” by pay discrimination to file claims as plaintiffs.

See SHRM’s complete statement on the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 HERE.

Workplace Flexibility

While answering the same compensation equity question, Governor Romney responded by discussing the merits of workplace flexibility by stating, “What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers that are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a flexible work schedule that gives women opportunities that they would otherwise not be able to afford.” 

During his administration, President Obama has also worked with organizations, including SHRM, to encourage the voluntary adoption of workplace flexibility polices by employers. The president has also advocated for employers to be required to provide employees with a minimum number of paid sick-leave days.

SHRM believes that the United States must have a 21st century workplace flexibility policy that meets the needs of both employers and employees. It should enable employees to balance work and personal needs and also provide predictability and stability to employers. Workflex policies should reflect different work environments, representation, industries and organizational size.

Obama and Romney Talk Immigration Reform 

Interest in immigration reform has peaked as the election draws nearer and while the candidates have only briefly discussed their support of fundamental changes to our immigration visa policies in the debates; the conversation always comes back to the central issue of worksite enforcement.

This was recently on display during the second Presidential debate when Governor Romney suggested his support of an increase in high-skilled immigration, by noting: “I also think that we should give visas to people — green cards, rather, to people who graduate with skills that we need. People around the world with accredited degrees in science and math get a green card stapled to their diploma, come to the U.S. of A” – a position President Obama, SHRM, and our  strategic affiliate, the American Council on International Personal (ACIP), support.

President Obama, in return, commented on Governor Romney’s stance on the DREAM Act along with the controversial Arizona immigration enforcement law: “Now, Governor Romney just said, you know he wants to help those young people too, but during the Republican primary, he (Gov. Romney) said, ‘I will veto the DREAM Act.’ […] He (also) called the Arizona law a model for the nation.” 

In response, Governor Romney countered, “I did not say that the Arizona law was a model for the nation in that aspect. I said that the E-Verify portion of the Arizona law […] was a model for the nation.” The pattern of the candidates’ discussion is telling of the central role that employer worksite enforcement and E-Verify will continue to play in future immigration debates. 

SHRM and ACIP supported the recent three year extension of the E-Verify program (P.L.112-176) on September 28th and worked to get a joint-statement submitted to the Congressional Record. The statement, submitted by House Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and supported by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), called on the government to work together over the next three years to reduce identity theft and fraud in the program.  In addition, to make the system more efficient, they recommended integrating the electronic I-9 into E-Verify through pilot programs. 

SHRM and ACIP also support a series of bipartisan measures pending before Congress designed to increase high-skilled, employment-based immigration.

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