On Monday, the Senate voted to pass S.954, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013, better known as the farm bill, by a vote of 66-27. I voted for this legislation.
Much of the rest of the week was spent on S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.
I believe that first and foremost, it is imperative that we secure our borders, and I look forward to considering amendments that strengthen the bill's border security provisions. I believe any border security plan should focus especially on combatting illegal immigration, drug and alien smuggling and violent activity on the Southwest border. I also believe that a biometric ID should be part of our immigration enforcement system.
I have always drawn a clear distinction between legal and illegal immigration, and anyone who comes to our country legally should be welcomed to share in the pursuit of the American dream. At the same time, the defense of our nation begins with securing our borders and ending the opportunity for illegal entry. Our immigration laws must be followed and enforced, and I stand in full support of those who do both.
This bill will undergo many more changes during the amendment process on the Senate floor. I will reserve judgment on voting for final passage until I see the final product.
Legislation to Reverse Labor Board's Decision to Allow "Micro Unions'
This week, as the ranking Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee's Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, I reintroduced legislation that would reverse the National Labor Relations Board's 2011 decision allowing as few as two or three employees to form micro bargaining units, or "micro unions," to engage in collective bargaining with employers. My legislation, the Representation Fairness Restoration Act, has 12 original cosponsors.
I first introduced this legislation in the 112th Congress in response to the Aug. 26, 2011, decision by the federal labor board in the "Specialty Healthcare" case, which set a new precedent allowing unions to target small numbers of employees within a company for the purpose of organizing them into micro bargaining units. For example, in one grocery store, the cashiers could form one "micro union," the baggers could form another, the produce stockers could form yet another, and so on. This could potentially create several different unions within the same store location, making it easier for unions to gain access to employees and nearly impossible for employers to manage such fragmentation of the workforce.
Since the "Specialty Healthcare" case decision, micro unions have begun to form in multiple retail stores and manufacturing sites across the country.
My legislation would reinstate the traditional standard for determining which employees will constitute an appropriate bargaining unit, a standard that has been developed through years of careful consideration and Congressional guidance. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., has introduced the Representation Fairness Restoration Act in the House.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, will not likely let this legislation come to the floor, but lightning has struck before. I learned a long time ago that I should not quit fighting for what's right just because somebody else is probably not going to act. My job is to stay positive. I'm not a quitter.
I'm proud to reintroduce the Representation Fairness Restoration Act that reinstates the traditional standard for determining appropriate bargaining units. When the NLRB decided to allow micro unions, they significantly tipped the scales in favor of unions and neglected our nation's long-standing precedents of collective bargaining. This ruling makes it easier for unions to gain access to employees and makes it nearly impossible for employers to manage such fragmentation of their workforce. I will continue to fight this unfair practice, and I thank my colleagues in the House for their support.
Atlanta VA Medical Center
On Tuesday, as a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, I formally requested that the Senate VA Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders, D-Vt., and Ranking Member Richard Burr, R-N.C., hold a field hearing in Atlanta in August.
I requested this hearing in wake of the April 2013 reports from the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General detailing mismanagement of inpatient and contracted outpatient mental health programs at the Atlanta VA Medical Center that led to three veteran suicides.
I suggested that the Committee invite officials from the VA Central Office, the Office of the Inspector General, the Southeast Network, the Atlanta VAMC, as well as private-sector and community mental health care providers. I also requested that senators and staff have the opportunity to tour the Atlanta VAMC and the mental health unit that was the focus of the IG report.
It is imperative that the Committee follows up with the VA in a public forum to address the problems at the Atlanta VA Medical Center and any progress the VA has made in improving the mental health care provided in all of their facilities. We must ensure that veterans receive high-quality health care, including comprehensive mental health care, and make certain that veterans do not fall through the cracks when they seek the care they have earned and deserve. I believe we can have a constructive dialogue in Atlanta, and that we can learn from these incidents to make sure they are not happening elsewhere in the VA system.
Last week, Sen. Chambliss and I sent two letters to Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki demanding answers in response to the Inspector General reports that describe egregious mismanagement at the Atlanta VA Medical Center.
Every Child Ready for College or Career Act
Last week, I joined my several of my colleagues on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, including U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Richard Burr, R-N.C., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., to introduce the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act to fix the law known as "No Child Left Behind."
On Wednesday, during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee markup to reauthorize the nation's main K-12 education law, I voted for our legislation that would give states, local school districts, teachers and parents more flexibility and choice.
Sen. Alexander offered our 220-page proposal as an alternative to the Democrats' 1,150-page plan, S.1094, Strengthening America's Schools Act of 2013, which would keep many federal mandates in place, as well as create more than 25 new programs and more than 150 new reporting requirements for which states and local school districts must secure approval from the Secretary of Education.
I also supported Alexander's amendment to encourage states to develop and implement teacher evaluation standards, and cautioned that an overly prescriptive teacher evaluation system from Washington may result in unintended consequences, such as the recent teacher cheating scandal in Atlanta.
Additionally, I offered an amendment to allow states to have alternative standards as well as alternative and modified assessments for students with disabilities. I also offered an amendment to ensure that state and local reporting of school performance remains strong while freeing schools from over burdensome reporting requirements.
Unfortunately, the Republican proposal and my two amendments were rejected by the Democrat-controlled committee.
We have learned many lessons from "No Child Left Behind" over the last decade, including the lesson that education decisions are best left at the local level, rather than dictated by one-size-fits-all mandates from Washington. I am disappointed that some of my colleagues want to maintain the status quo. It is critically important that we continue to improve our education system because our children's futures are at stake.
What's on Tap?
Next week, the Senate will continue debate on reforming the immigration system.