Last week, we met with a representative of the Senate leadership; Kansas Sec. of Labor Karin Brownlee; representatives for several business interests, such as the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Kansas NFIB, Kansas SHRM; and representatives of multiple Unions. The purpose of our meeting was to, first, provide some understanding as to the need for Senate Bill 413 and, second, to see if any compromise could be made between Brownlee / the business community and the representatives of workers on SB 413.
As a reminder, SB 413 is another version of Brownback Secretary of Labor Karin Brownlee’s court-packing scheme (HB 2531). It gives employers five (5) members of the seven (7) member nominating committee for work comp and UI judges. The sixth member is a “public employee representative” hand picked by the Sec. of Labor, and the final member is a representative of the Kansas AFL-CIO. Which means at best, when a pro-worker Sec. of Labor is in office, the nominating commission is stacked 5 to 2 against workers and in the current climate it would be 6 to 1. The proposed court packing scheme does not even attempt to display fairness. It is a pure political power grab that will have devastating consequences on the integrity of the workers compensation system and the unemployment system.
The current system for the selection of the Appeals Board members for workers compensation has been in effect since 1993. Essentially, when vacancies occur, the Kansas Chamber and Kansas AFL-CIO meet and send a nominee to the Secretary of Labor. The appointment is for four years, and the Appeals Board members are permitted to reapply. The system worked so well that it was extended for the selection of Administrative Law Judges, or ALJs.
Brownlee’s argument for this change to the current balanced process is that “organized labor only represents 7.6% of workers” (The Kansas DOL later tweeted 10.1% so there seems to be some interagency confusion on the facts, no surprise there). Brownlee feels that business interests should also have an opportunity to represent their employees in a system where the employee is making a claim against said business. While Brownlee’s logic is interesting, it’s completely wrong. Here’s the facts.
Kansas is a right to work state. Which means Unions are lawfully mandated to represent all workers in any type of negotiations, whether that worker is a dues paying member or not they are represented by the Union. You can’t have it both ways and say that Unions only represent 7.6% (or 10.1%) of the workforce while lawfully mandating them to represent everyone. Every worker is required to be represented, regardless of their dues paying status, if they are employed within a represented bargaining unit. That is the essence of Kansas’ right-to-work law.
Brownlee attempted to make an appeal about other Union organizations not being represented in the process. Specifically asking “What about the communications workers? Don’t they deserve a voice in this?” Come to find out Brownlee didn’t actually know that CWA is a member of the AFL-CIO or even know what the AFL-CIO is. She had no idea that the AFL-CIO is a Union of Unions. Interesting.
A few thing were made abundantly clear in the meeting.
- There would be no compromise. Brownlee quickly shut down that possibility, she wants SB 413 to come flying out of committee just as she wrote it, ensuring that Kansas workers won’t have a fair shot for years to come.
- In her second year on the job, the Kansas Secretary of Labor plainly illustrated that she has no idea what the AFL-CIO is or does. Only further showing that since Brownlee took office the Kansas Department of Labor hasn’t represented a single worker’s interest and has only catered to the Kansas Chamber’s extremist anti-worker agenda.
- Brownlee and the other business representatives in the room failed to name a single issue with the current process. SB 413 is a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.
Yesterday the Kansas Legislature returned for the last leg of the Legislative session — the wrap up session — with a lot left to do, including passing a budget, drawing the district maps fot this year’s elections and let’s not forget the conference committee of SB 416 (which you can read about here) that we will be keeping you up to date on in the near future.