Workplace Issues Astir As Washington Resumes

By William H. Miller As Congress and President George W. Bush resume work after their August vacations, industry lobbyists are girding for activity during the next few weeks on three issues of prime importance to manufacturers:

  • Immigration. Lobbyists are hoping that talks this week between Mr. Bush and Mexico President Vicente Fox Quesada will lead to Administration-backed legislation that would increase the number of workers who legally could enter the U.S. Employers eagerly want such a measure to combat broad-based worker shortages that persist despite the economic slowdown.
  • Health-care reform. A much-anticipated conference committee, slow to get underway, is due to begin meeting soon to address differences in House and Senate bills. The business community is ready to wage all-out war to prevent a final measure -- reflected most strongly in the Senate version -- that would expand liability of employers who offer voluntary health-care plans.
  • Minimum wage. In late September Sen. Edward Kennedy (D, Mass.), chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, is expected to bring up legislation calling for a $1.50-an-hour boost. Business will work with Republicans in shaping a countermeasure. Other battles loom -- especially over Senate legislation that would force the Labor Dept. to issue a new ergonomics regulation, expand the Family & Medical Leave Act, and ease labor organizing under the National Labor Relations Act. Yet, despite the bevy of activity, "no one is proposing anything radical," observes Randel Johnson, labor-policy vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "The arguments," he says, "are between the 45-yard lines,"
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