Shortly before adjourning for the July 4th recess, the U.S. Senate, on the procedural vote, killed for this Congress the “Employee Free Choice Act” – a bill that would unionize a workplace if a majority of the employee simply sign a union authorization card. The bill would do away with current law, which requires that a majority of employees vote for the union in secret ballot before a union is authorized. The bill had previously been passed by the House of Representatives.
Congressman Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) has reintroduced “The American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act” (H.R. 1127), legislation that gives users of industrial materials the right to participate effectively in hearings before the International Trade Commission (ITC) and the Department of Commerce (DOC) in trade cases, such as anti-dumping complaints against foreign producers exporting to the United States.
In early March, the Democratic-dominated House of Representatives passed H.R. 800, the “Employee Free Choice Act.” Also called the “card check bill,” H.R. 800 allows a union to organize if a majority of employees sign an authorization card – no election to follow.
International trade issues have come quickly to the forefront of the new Congress that convened in late January. U.S. International Trade Representative (USTR) Susan Schwab, moving to head-off Congressional complaints of inaction, announced February 2 that the Administration was initiating a complaint to the World Trade Organization (WTO) over practices of the Chinese government that promote exports and discriminate against imports.
The new line-up in Washington, with Democrats in control of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, changes the political equation on many issues important to the foodservice equipment and supplies industry, and to the business community in general. While it would be an error to consider the Democratic majorities as hostile to business, there will be a noticeable shift from corporate-friendly to business-friendly. At least for the next two years, however, Congress will be limited by the potential veto power of President Bush. Many of the newly-elected Democrats are somewhat more conservative than the current Democratic House leadership.
The waste of Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Directive went into effect in August 2005 and is aimed at reducing the amount of EEE final disposal waste. The Restriction of use of certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive, aimed at reducing the hazardous substance content of electronic and electric equipment (EEE), went into effect July 1, 2006.
While stainless steel does not itself include hexavalent chrome, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) believes that it may be generated by welding, or in some cases, grinding. OSHA has not provided any specific information on whether or not it believes that welding would generate levels of hexavalent chrome that exceed the action or the permissible exposure levels, leaving it up to individual employers to make these determinations.
With recent action by the House Committee on Judiciary, Congress is finally moving ahead with action to prevent states from imposing “business activity taxes” on firms that make sales in their states but have no office or other physical presence.
Under a standard published in February, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has sharply reduced the permissible level (PEL) for workplace exposure to hexavalent chrome from 52 to 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air, measured on an eight hour time-weighted average. While OSHA has provided no data on likely levels of exposure, the agency believes that stainless steel welding can generate hexavalent chrome, and OSHA inspectors are likely to expect at least initial air monitoring by the compliance date of November 27, 2006. (Firms with fewer than 20 employees have until May 30, 2007.)