BIRMINGHAM, AL. While acres of headlines and hours upon hours of newscasts have emphasized for months that the 60 votes the Democratic leadership of the U.S. Senate can now muster to pass legislation without fear of a GOP filibuster, a prominent labor lawyer argues that that fact alone does not give anywhere near the full picture of how much the American political landscape has changed since January, let alone how much trucking will be impacted by it.
Attorney R. Eddie Wayland, partner in the Nashville-based firm King & Ballow and a recognized expert on trucking employment and labor law issues, told attendees at McLeod Software’s Users’ Conference here that the full weight of change being wrought by the Obama administration to the agencies that regulate various truck fleet operations has yet to be fully felt. What’s more, he said, once these agencies are up to speed, trying to re-chart their direction will be “like trying to turn around the Titanic” and so the impact of any rule or enforcement changes they institute will be felt by trucking and other businesses for years to come.
“The last election amounted to a sea change,” said Wayland. “Change on this scale has not been seen in Washington since Jimmy Carter was elected president in the ‘70s.” The upshot, he said, is that trucking needs to quickly adapt to the new reality. “You can’t change the wind,” he observed, “but you can change your sails. That means you can’t maintain the practices [towards Washington] that you’d been going on with for the last ten years.
“Besides the Democrats now having the 60 votes in the Senate that prevents filibustering,” he continued, “in the House, 235 of 435 members are Democrats.” But Wayland indicated that arguably the biggest difference will be seen not in the legislative but in the executive branch, as appointees named by President Obama start to work at their posts.
An example Wayland gave of a political appointee whom he does not view as “business friendly” is Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. He said that as a U.S. Representative for California, Secy. Solis enjoyed a 97% voting approval record by the AFL CIO and was a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), also known as the card-check bill.
Wayland made virtually the same point about a host of Obama appointees, ranging from nominees for the National Labor Relations Board to the heads of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, to name just several.
“These officials will dictate the policy [of these agencies],” he stated. “And, like turning the Titanic, their actions will be felt for eight to ten years out from today. This change is important to understand from a day-to-day practical business standpoint.”
Along with EFCA and employment discrimination and workplace harassment issues, Wayland said the status of owner-operators as independent contractors will ramp up again. “The change in the political landscape is broader than Congress alone,” he stressed.