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Keep a watchful eye on Congress

While many Americans are enjoying a few final evenings of grilling out before the weather turns cold, Congress is cooking up ideas that would prove costly to small employers and their employees.

Since the last election, unions have been able to move their agenda to the forefront. Their intent is clear  unions want more members whose union dues would be spent to advance their political agenda.

The first indication of this was the union effort to take away voting rights from workers. Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill called the Employee Free Choice Act that would rewrite 60 years of labor law. Currently, thousands of labor-union elections are held every year in the United States. Sometimes the labor unions win; sometimes employers win. Regardless, the labor union and the employer can make their case to employees, who then cast their votes by secret ballot.

The legislation in question, however, would do away with the need to hold an election. Even if a state has a right-to-work law, employers would be subjected to countless union organizing drives. According to the National Labor Relations Board, 70 percent of these secret-ballot elections involved small employers with 50 employees or less. So instead of focusing on the next project or ways to expand their business, small-business owners worry whether their business will be the next one that a union will attempt to organize.

Unions are also strongly supporting legislation that would tie the hands of small employers and employees when negotiating benefits. The Healthy Families Act has little to do with improving healthcare for families, but everything to do with interfering with employer-employee relations.

The bill would create an entitlement of seven days of paid sick leave for employees who work for businesses with 15 or more employees. Employees would not be required to provide advanced notice of their leave; in fact, employees would be able to use their leave in hourly increments.

What the legislation fails to acknowledge is that many small businesses already offer paid sick leave. According to National Federation of Independent Business surveys, 75 percent of small businesses voluntarily provide paid sick leave, and a robust 96 percent provide flexible working hours for employees when personal situations arise. The real problem with this bill is, like many other parts of the union agenda, it allows the federal government to encroach further into the workplace.

Clearly, mandatory paid sick leave would increase labor costs, as would another Senate bill, the Worker Empowerment Act. This bill would impose a new federal wage insurance tax to boost the pay of unemployed workers who become reemployed in lower-paying jobs. In response, one small-business owner told me, Well, if the government is going to guarantee someone a wage, I want them to guarantee me a profit.

Entrepreneurs aren't anti-labor. They understand employee productivity is at the heart of free enterprise. Their message to Congress is clear, however  avoid union-driven government meddling that hurts free enterprise and our economy.

- Todd Stottlemyer is president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business in Washington, D.C.

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